Peter Boyle was a genius.
An older generation of LAAngelsInsider readers are undoubtedly rolling their eyes at that opener because, well, they know that statement was written by a punk twenty two year old kid. This eye roll is one hundred and seventy seven percent warranted because I am not nearly old enough to be able to appreciate him as much as I should for his role in “Young Frankenstein.” To put it in context, when Young Frankenstein was made, I was fifteen years away from even kicking the inside of my mother’s stomach. However, do not think that my appreciation is ill-warranted. Growing up in the 1990’s, I was able to appreciate the sheer brilliance that he showed while playing the pivotal role as Father Time in the continually Oscar-snubbed “The Santa Clause” trilogy. The legend of Tim Allen as Scott Calvin lives on. I just wanted to be an elf.
Of course, my generation is most familiar with Peter Boyle’s stark, blunt humor opposite of Doris Roberts as Frank Barone in the second most Italian TV show in history “Everybody Loves Raymond” (and the second most hair gelled). Oh how it amuses me that whenever Ray and Deb have a nice evening planned and Frank and Marie knock on their door! Oh the hijinks that ensues! Between Robert, Frank, and Ray’s witty banter for twenty two minutes, there is too much humor for my fancies to not be tickled.
What brings me to write about how Peter Boyle is a genius is just how humorously he delivered his lines in one particular episode I was watching Monday night. Robert, Frank’s son, is a forty three year old police officer and was dating a twenty two year old apparent homewrecker. After a copious amount of funny lines and some surprisingly dramatic moments, Robert finally wised up and dumped that skank. As you can see, I’m #TeamRobbie. As you can also see, I get too emotionally invested in these sitcom episode reruns. As you can also also see, I make irresponsible choices with my hash tags. But the hijinks!
It was a rather peculiar set of circumstances that led me to watching this episode, however. You see, my elbow accidentally hit the remote control on my couch, that changed the channel to the show. I had no control of my elbows because my arms were tired from pulling out my hair and my hands were tired from covering my face and hiding my tears. In case you haven’t guessed it by now, it’s time for the spoiler. The reason I looked like a hormonal and crying Mr. Clean was that I had been, in fact, watching our beloved Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim trying to hit a baseball. If you look at my new Howie Mandel like glistening, “shaven” (don’t call me bald) head, it would be needless to say that they did not hit very well that game.
Tyson Ross was the lottery winning pitcher that got the pleasure to mow through the Angels lineup on this particular day; and Tyson Ross brought his John Deere. Ross pitched six scoreless innings, allowing five singles and one glorious walk to Kendrys “Where‘s my S at?” Morales. Was Tyson Ross’ “pure stuff” just simply so dominating that day? Judging by his ninety four pitches over six innings and only two strikeouts, that does not appear to be the case. Were the Angels resting their regulars? Torii Hunter and Howie Kendrick were not in the starting lineup, but they were replaced by at least league average regulars in Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis. In fact, Callaspo and Izturis combined for four of the team’s eight hits. So that cannot be the reason. Basically, Tyson Ross rode his John Deere through the Angels regular lineup on the road without having his best stuff and pitched a shutout. Watching “Everybody Loves Raymond” is like petting a unicorn at the pot of gold at the end of a double rainbow in comparison to watching these Angels hit. By the way, that’s a VERY specific feeling.
Obviously, the most frustrating of all of the Angels sub-.230 batting averages is the quarter of a billion dollar man Albert Pujols. I have seen my fair share of “maybe if he gets his batting average up over the number of millions he’s making, we’d be winning!” tweets graffiti my timeline. Yet, Albert Pujols deserves the benefit of the doubt in knowing that he will return to his once-in-a-generation type of offensive force. That is the kind of respect you earn when you hit like Lou Gehrig for more than a decade. That is the kind of respect you earn when you have more than 200 more career walks than strikeouts. That is the kind of respect you earn when you have over 5000 plate appearances showcasing your domination and only 150 showing your mortal side. I am keeping my faith, and you should probably delete those tweets and keep your faith too.
Even if Pujols was being Pujols, he would probably be getting those all of those hits and walks with nobody on base in front of him. Not much any one player can do when the rest of the team as a whole is getting on base at a .304 clip. The “table setters” atop the Angel lineup have not been producing nearly enough to warrant Pujols shouldering all the blame. The recent call-up and emergence of uber-prospect Mike Trout has immediately remedied this problem a bit; yet, as with any rookie, there are going to be inevitable bumps, bruises, and prolonged slumps along the way. It is during these unavoidable 20-year-old growing pains that a successful big league team has reliable, table setting veterans to stabilize a lineup. Veterans like Erick Aybar.
However, when veterans like Erick Aybar are hitting less than the weight of Alexi Amarista’s shadow, it is hard to project success for a team. Aybar is currently “hitting” .190/.215/.238 with five extra base hits and a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals has four extra base hits- as a pitcher. Former Angel legend and current Blue Jays great Jeff Mathis has four extra base hits- and he closes his eyes every time the ball is released. It is usually around this point in my article where I would lament that Aybar is simply the victim or poor luck and use his current .224 BABIP stat against his career .302 mark to prove that. But, like Everybody Loves Raymond, I am just full of surprises. Even I, the blogger who uses BABIP like Peter Boyle used an ear hair trimmer, cannot use that as an argument in Aybar’s favor. With a brutally low line drive percentage (6%), a 2% increase in strikeout percentage (career: 12.2% to 14.4% this year) and a 2% decrease in walk percentage (career: 4.9% to 3.0% this year), it is clear that Aybar’s misfortunes at the plate have nothing to do with misfortune at all.
If we dig a little deeper (and no matter how far we dig, we will still be higher than Aybar’s average), we notice that, when he does make contact, the quality of ball Aybar is hitting is quite concerning. As a prototypical “speed” guy, Aybar’s career 0.92 GB/FB ratio (ground ball to fly ball) has always been a tick above the league average of 0.80. His game relies on ground balls sneaking through holes in the infield and occasionally beating out an infield single or a bunt. Generally speaking, ground balls are not hit as hard as fly balls or line drives, which is exactly why ground ball hitters have to rely partly on their speed. Aybar has been relatively successful at the plate hitting the majority of his balls on the ground as shown by his unspectacular yet respectable career .271 average. Judging solely on batting average, Aybar has hit his best in years in which his GB/FB ratio was lowest. In the three years he has been a regular, Aybar’s averages has fluctuated from .312 in 2009, to .253 in 2010, and back up to .279 in 2011. Not surprisingly, his GB/FB ratio in 2009 was 0.87, up to 0.97 in 2010, and back down to 0.92 in 2011. These numbers verify the notion that the more balls you hit off the ground, the better you are going to hit.
This notion brings me to a disconcerting trend in Aybar’s game this year. His GB/FB ratio is at an Ichiro-esque 1.55. I do not think any Angels fans are under the impression that Aybar is anywhere near the hitter nor the runner that Ichiro was, and still is. Basically, when you hit the ball on the ground as much as Ichiro, and are not Ichiro, you are going to have some ugly numbers. To compound the problem, when Aybar does lift the ball, twenty one percent of those balls are not leaving the infield. Simply put, Aybar is not hitting the ball like the forty million dollar contract he has shown us he is.
Odds are, fans that have consistently watched this team did not need a bunch of percentages to know that Aybar is not hitting the ball hard. In fact, those people are probably mad at me for inducing a math-too-close-to-the-weekend headache. And, now that you’re over 1500 words into this blog, that puts the pressure on me to tell you something you did not know. Not to mention about 750 of those words were a pathetic description of me watching Everybody Loves Raymond. Fear not, however, as I revel in those next level stats that may give us a glimpse into what is really going on. For this, I am electing to turn to my best friend FanGraphs.com.
An awesome portion of FanGraphs is dedicated to recording the pitches every batter in the league sees. Given Aybar’s struggles this year with the lack of walks, the increase in strikeouts and hitting the ball soundly, one would assume that he must be seeing a ridiculous amount of off-speed pitches. FanGraphs debunks this preconceived notion as well. In the three years Aybar has been a regular fixture at shortstop in Anaheim, he has seen about sixty percent fastballs. This year, he is seeing more than sixty six percent. In addition, he is seeing an increase in the amount of cutters he is seeing. These facts also allow one to notice that Aybar is seeing significantly less sliders, curve balls and changeups than ever before in his career. Usually, you hear about professional big league hitters having a tough time adjusting to the off-speed pitches. If you turn on FOX Saturday Baseball this weekend I guarantee you that you’ll hear Eric Karros saying something along the lines of “big league hitters can hit a fastball, no matter how hard you throw it.” That’ll be only one of the many things that Eric Karros gets wrong during the telecast. What he probably meant to say is that “every big league hitter can hit a fastball, no matter how hard you throw it, that is not named Erick Aybar.”
Furthermore, this inability to hit the fastball seems to be a reflection of Aybar, and not a reflection of the pitchers he is seeing. Fastballs to Aybar are coming in at 91.8 mph this year, which is the exact same speed as they were last year. It is also not as if Aybar’s plate discipline has suffered. He is swinging at fewer pitches altogether (47.6% compared to 49.9% last year). His contact percentage has even improved from 87.4% to 89.7% overall. Overall, the fastballs are the same speed, he is swinging at fewer of them, yet he is hitting more of them and STILL he is having a hard time squaring them up.
This being said, I am a blogger that deals with statistical analysis. I am not a scout nor have never claimed to be a scout. I do not know why Erick Aybar is not squaring these balls up. I do not know if his shoulder is dipping, if he is out on his front foot, or even if he has his best socks on that day. What I do know, is that now I have two reasons to cringe whenever I see Erick Aybar. First, I cringe on behalf of his dentist. (Have you seen his teeth? Every time he smiles I feel like I need to slow down.) Second, I cringe every time I see Aybar in the on deck circle because I know a ground ball is coming. I never cringe when I see Peter Boyle on the screen. Especially when he smiles.