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Angels in the Outfield?

The Seattle Mariners have become a bit of an item in the sabermetric community with their emphasis on outfield defense and subsequent turnaround. Division rival Anaheim didn’t exactly employ a multiple-CF outfield in 2009, and going into 2010, new addition Hideki Matsui expects playing time in the outfield. Torii Hunter‘s current defensive exploits can be wildly exaggerated, and Bobby Abreu hasn’t been a productive defensive outfielder since 2003, according to UZR. Gary Matthews Jr. fell off the face of his earth immediately after receiving a big contract. Juan Rivera did have a very solid year last year, but it was his first positive UZR season since 2005.

Looking at the numbers for this quintet, it’s not pretty. Here we have, in order, fan projections, CHONE defensive projections, and a Marcel-type 3 year weighted average. Finally, there is the average of these three measurements.

Abreu -11.2, -3, -11.8, -8.7
Hunter -2.8, -4, -5.1, -4.0
Matsui -2.5, N/A, -3.6, -3.1
Rivera +3.6, -4, +2.4, +0.6
Matthews, Jr. (CF) N/A, -11, -10.5, -10.8

Matthews Jr. could possibly play the corner spots at an average or better level, but he doesn’t have the bat to play there. Abreu is nearing DH-level defense, and Matsui appears to already be there, as these measurements (outside of fan projections) don’t account for the fact that Matsui DHed all of last year. As such, we have a below average CF in Hunter, a roughly average COF in Rivera – not accounting for aging – and a statue in the other corner in either Abreu or Matsui.

As the Angels attempt to replace John Lackey in their starting rotation, they will have to do so with a poor and rapidly aging outfield. For the most part, this outfield can hit. There is a very high potential for regression with Rivera, but Abreu, Hunter, and Matsui are all legitimate sluggers. Still, the Angels starting rotation’s loss of Lackey will only be exacerbated by regression and decline in the outfield.