Rivera’s Implications

Following up on Eric Seidman’s piece today. Beyond my own skepticism on the wisdom of taking a three-year flyer on Juan Rivera, I would like to delve a little further into the defensive impact this has on the Angels.

Garret Anderson is gone, but with Rivera now signed, the Angels have Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero, Rivera and Gary Matthews Jr. hanging around as the likely suspects to man the starting outfield and designated hitter spot. There’s a chance the Angels demote Matthews out of full-time duty, but that’s a tough $33 million pill to swallow.

Assuming they don’t do that, the Angels are left with a defensive problem. Guerrero has been a stiff in the field for awhile now and his knees could really use the rest from tramping about the outfield grass. Hunter isn’t the fielder the Angels thought they were buying, as a three-year weighted UZR rates Hunter as about average for a corner outfielder. Similarly, Sarge Jr moved from an above average fielder in center to now well below average in a corner according to UZR.

Their “ideal” alignment looks like Vlad at DH, Rivera in LF, Hunter at CF and Matthews in RF. Using our above (and Seidman’s) estimates on defensive prowess, that alignment would be roughly 25 runs below average, and that’s assuming none of this post-30-year-old group gets any worse, which is optimistic to say the least. This puts some pressure on the roster flexibility, since DH gets locked up in this situation, but also on the infield to hopefully make up for the deficiencies of the outfield.

Unfortunately, if the Angels fail to re-sign Teixeira, they’re faced with another plus defender leaving and there’s already some questions as to how well they defend up the middle. In short, the Angels were lucky to win as many games as they did in 2008 and if they lose out on Tex, a big chuck of offense and defense goes away and they might be caught resting on their laurels too much.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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