It has been a long season for the Angels and the blame has to start somewhere. The number of at-bats given to Jeff Mathis at the expense of Mike Napoli is a popular, recurring topic of discussion. Nobody can forget the almost team-inflicted sense to the Kendry Morales injury. And the disappearance of Brandon Wood was as saddening as it was demoralizing for fans. It was truly crippling for the team.
But when I look at the 2010 season, I am going to think of a milk carton from the 1990s. There will be a whole panel of this carton devoted to a missing child. His name: Erick Aybar. After a great 2009, Mike Scioscia put him into the high visibility leadoff spot for the Angels, and he promptly went missing.
You can look at the numbers or you can watch him play everyday. You will come to the same conclusion: the visibility of an exciting player on offense and defense in 2009 has morphed into a non-factor. This season it was the old adage of a highlight reel grab in a blowout and a bobble in a close game. After watching a pop fly land on the infield in between Aybar and Alberto Callaspo earlier this week, Brandon Wood started at shortstop. It was Wood's fourth appearance in the starting lineup since the All-Star Break. It came a week after the Angels announced that Wood will be playing in the Arizona Fall League. Mike Scioscia has sent Wood to the special project salvage yard but he sent a message that he may be tiring of Aybar altogether as well to have sent in Brandon as Erick's replacement - if only for one game, perhaps one last warning. Callaspo can play shortstop and Adrian Beltre is a free agent. Don't think the Angels won't take a dip in the Scott Boras pool this offseason. They might be closer to jettisoning Aybar, once rumored to be owner Arte Moreno's favorite player but now a spectator of infield flies at his feet.
The numbers are no kinder to Aybar than any visual observation. He is within 25 plate appearances of his 2009 total of 556 but no other offensive number even comes close to matching last year. He has 31 fewer hits and has lost almost 50 points in his batting average (.312 to .265). His OPS is over 100 points off its 2009 peak of .776. His OBP of .353 last year might have cut it as a leadoff hitter with bunting and baserunning skill, but it is down to .319 this season, and striking out 72 times is not something a first inning weapon should be doing. Mercifully removed from the top spot late in the season, it did little to improve his average fielding. For all the hype about Aybar's glove, his range factor has never been measured significantly higher than the league average.
Aybar will always be a part of Angels negative lore with his missed suicide bunt in the 2008 ALDS at Fenway Park. As historically epic a fail as that was, the sum total of his 2010 campaign is easily the more damaging blow to his status as a pro and as an Angel.