Erick Aybar: 2012 Sleeper

Currently, Erick Aybar is being touted as the lead off hitter for the Angels. Even though he has held this position in the batting order before, it is even more important with Albert Pujols on the team. If he is able to get on base at any decent clip, he will be an excellent source of Runs.

Batting first for the Angels has been good for Aybar over his career. Here are a few of his stats while at each position in the lineup (min 50 PAs):

Position, Runs/600 PA, SBs/600 PAs, AVG
Batting 1st, 79, 28, 0.284
Batting 2nd, 76 15, 0.274
Batting 6th, 66, 16, 0.267
Batting 7th, 54, 20, 0.247
Batting 8th, 52, 24, 0.257
Batting 9th, 77, 12, 0.296

He has put up decent stats in the first spot in the lineup. His 9th spot numbers aren’t bad either. As the 9th hitter, he would have about 140 less plate appearances during the season compared to hitting 1st.

In 2011, the 28-year-old switch-hitting Aybar started out the season as the lead off hitter. He struggled hitting left-handed pitchers while mashing righties.

vs LHP: 0.216/0.284/0.324
vs RHP: 0.308/0.341/0.466

Because of the large split, he was moved from the lead spot. The difference was mainly because of his BABIP vs RHP (0.336) was much better than against LHP (0.227). Historically, he has hit all pitchers about the same, so there was not real reason for the move.

vs LHH: 0.270/0.312/0.366
vs RHH: 0.278/0.322/0.385

He really doesn’t have enough of a split to warrant a platoon situation. The key will be for Mike Sociosia, the Angels manager, to agree with me. If Aybar struggles against LHP, he may be dropped in the lineup or platooned when a LHP starts against the Angels.

With Pujols batting 3rd, opposing pitcher are going to try to make the batters ahead of him beat them instead of Albert. Those hitters are more likely to see more strikes. Aybar won’t see much of a drop in his walk rate since it is already fairly low (5.1% career). He will just see more pitches in the strike zone. In the past, he has made contact at a decent clip (2011’s contact %: Aybar at 87% vs league at 81%). Much of his 2012 value will be tied up in the Luck Dragons.

Players batting first usually have a good number of SBs. Erick is becoming more of a stolen base threat as he ages. Here are his SB numbers over the past 3 seasons along with his success rates:

2009: 14 SBs (66%)
2010: 22 SBs (73%)
2011: 30 SBs (83%)

His stolen bases have increased every year along with his success rate. While he probably will not be able to continue this trend, it shows that he is becoming a smarter runner.

The one worry I have about him is if he will get as many green lights with Sir Albert hitting behind him. If he happens to be on 2nd with Pujols up, pitchers may be inclined to intentionally walk Pujols instead of pitching to him. Sociosia may limit the amount of steals Aybar takes so pitchers will be more likely to pitch to Pujols.

Aybar has the chance to have a good fantasy season with the addition of Albert Pujols to the Angles lineup. This prime Run generating spot could be easily lost if he struggles to start the season. I would be careful of paying too much for him, but if he can be taken cheaply, pick up this sleeper.

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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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