The Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels have played almost 60 seasons of baseball. As the baseball world is suspended due to circumstances outside its control, it is time to look back at the history of this organization. There have been many talented players to put on the uniform, and we at Crashing the Pearly Gates wish to highlight the best who have ever represented the Angels. Without further ado, here we go!
#17 – Erick Aybar
There might not be a better duo than Angels and great shortstops. Erick Aybar definitely embodied this fact. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2002, Aybar, also known as The Admiral, was a fun and energetic shortstop for the Angels, taking over the position after fellow Top 100 Player Orlando Cabrera left in 2008.
The switch hitter made his debut in 2006 as a 22-year old utility player and filled in when necessary at short and second, primarily as a defensive replacement late in games. But with a glut of rostered infielders (Figgins even had to play center to get onto the field), Aybar did not see much action. He only appeared in 34 games and had 40 plate appearances, a very small sample.
The departure of Adam Kennedy post-2006 gave Aybar more chances in 2007, although he was still a superutility player, as he played second, short, third, left, right, and DH in 2007. He was useful basically everywhere. What he lacked with the bat he made up with the glove, and it carried him onto the 2007 ALDS roster. Not that it would be much help, as the Boston Red Sox swept the Angels en route to a World Series title.
Starting SS in the Playoffs
In 2008, Aybar finally had a chance to play more or less every day with Cabrera leaving. As the Angels’ starting SS, he had big shoes to fill. Live up to them he did, garnering with a nice 2.7 BWAR season in just 98 games. His defense was above-average, and despite just a .699 OPS, he wasn’t a black hole at the plate.
That season, it was a playoff series yet again against the familiar Red Sox. While there was frustration everywhere, there was one good thing to come out of that series:
Aybar has big fans in the Angels community. On the flip side, he also has his detractors. One large reason is that he couldn’t execute a suicide squeeze that same series that cost the Angels an opportunity to force a Game 5 (the merits of that call notwithstanding).
The following season, Aybar stepped it up in his first real full season. He slashed .312/.353/.423 for a .776 OPS and a 104 OPS+. Anything above 100 for a SS is a bonus, since defense is still valued over offense at the position. Aybar’s defense certainly was above-average that season. He also showed that he could lay down a bunt, as he ended up with the most bunt hits in the AL. That .776 OPS is the third-highest for a SS in Angels history and was in part why he had a 3.4 bWAR that season.
To prove that his gaffe last ALDS was a fluke, Aybar was a pivotal part of the ALDS sweep vs Boston in 2009 with a double in Game 1 that ended up in the first run of the game. He had a triple in Game 2 which scored two and chased Sox starter Josh Beckett. And in the Top of the 9th in Game 3 down 6-4 with two outs, it was the Admiral himself who kept the hopes alive with a single up the middle. He would score one of three runs that inning, and the Angels went on to sweep the Red Sox.
Aybar embodied the persona of never giving up. Even though the 2009 ALCS did not go as planned, Aybar really showed his ability and attitude in the playoffs.
Reliable and Underrated
The 2010s were not as fruitful as the 2000s for the Angels. Nonetheless, Aybar was there, just doing his thing, making great plays and being so fun. He never had a bad year during a decade where many big splashes kept having bad years.
2010 was another 2.2 BWAR season for Aybar, as he kept playing above-average SS and stole 22 bases. Compared to 2009, it was a step back, but it wasn’t a bad season. 2 bWAR is an average starting player in the majors. and he didn’t fall below that from 2008 to 2012.
In 2011, Aybar was truly great. Not only was it by far his best offensive season, with a 110 OPS+, 30 stolen bases, and a 4.4 BWAR, it was also the year the Admiral went down in Angels Lore.
It was July 31st, 2011. The Angels were in Detroit, and Justin Verlander was on the mound carrying a no-hitter into the 8th. It was still only 3-0 Tigers, so when Erick Aybar went to bat, he did something he was quite good at to try and get on base. He bunted for a base hit. (It was counted as an error to preserve the no-no._ Verlander was LIVID. Bunting during a no no? That was “Bush league” and debated heavily across the Internet. To this day, I hate Verlander in part because of this moment, and the Admiral was etched into Angels lore. Verlander gave up a hit and didn’t even pitch the full nine innings anyway so that was sweet.
With a Gold Glove, 10 home runs, and pissing off Verlander, 2011 was great for Aybar. And he just kept turning out good seasons.
2012 was another 4-win season, as Aybar had a 4.1 bWAR with a 107 OPS+ and 20 more stolen bases. Aybar was just making great plays as usual. In normal Angels fashion, 2012 would have been his final season too. After all, the Angels had a SS prospect ready to take his place just like he took Cabrera’s.
But instead, Aybar was kept and the prospect was traded for half a year of Zack Greinke. Sure, the Angels missed the playoffs and Zack left in free agency, but that meant Aybar was staying, which, didn’t really happen that much. After all, Aybar played 572 games at SS, something that only three others have done in Angels history.
Three more years
2013 brought major concern if it was the right call to trade that prospect. Jean Segura was an All-Star in Milwaukee, while Aybar had his worst season to date. It was his defense which was concerning, as his defensive WAR fell to a negative value in an overall year of just 1 bWAR. Even his offense was looking shaky, with only a .301 OBP. He was 29, in his prime, but maybe keeping Aybar the wrong move. Especially when the other Angel moves that year were not so good. (Josh Hamilton)
But just like that it was 2014 and like waking up from a nightmare, all seemed well. Aybar was good again. Even better now, HE was an All Star. With a 103 OPS+ and 3.9 BWAR, his offense was back and his defense was again above-average. He was looking good, and Jean Segura was not. The Angels even made the playoffs. It was a good time in Anaheim with the best record in baseball, and nothing could stop the team now!
I have a story to tell: the very fist postseason game I attended to in person was game 2 of the 2014 ALDS. My dad finally got tickets to a game that was happening and I was so excited. Sure, Angels were down 1-0 in the series, but it was an extra innings loss; they could turn it around. Well, they didn’t. I sat there and tried to cheer on Josh Hamilton, begging him to do SOMETHING. But he didn’t. My reaction to the whole thing. Aybar had an OPS of 1.000 that series. Didn’t matter: stupid Royals.
2015 was another good Aybar year. He garnered a 2.2 bWAR, played above-average defense, and ultimately had a good solid year, his 7th such season as an Angel. Aybar would leave after the 2015 season in a trade with Atlanta for Simba. He was a fan favorite and it was sad to see him go, but unlike many that came before him, he was able to play shortstop for the Angels for a long time.
Keeping him those extra three years looks to have been a good move as well. Without that move, Jean Segura would have had the opportunity to be the starting shortstop, and the Angels may not have traded for Andrelton Simmons. Since 2016, Simba has Segura beat, and Simba and Aybar since 2013 is a better combo than Jean Segura over that timeframe. That is just a bunch of “What Ifs” anyway. Who knows what would have happened?
His peak of 7 years is the 88th-best in MLB SS history. Which considering everything, was better than Jean Segura, Orlando Cabrera, David Eckstein, Asdrubal Cabrera, and HOF SS George Wright. His peak was 22.9 BWAR, a 3.27 average per year. Consistency matters.
Aybar is 9th in franchise position players bWAR at 23 and sits at 15th overall. The only SS that stayed on for more games was Jim Fregosi. Aybar is 7th all time in Angels history in games played, 9th in runs scored, 7th in hits, 7th in doubles, 4th in triples, 6th in stolen bases, and 8th in plate appearances. So few Angels have been around as long and done as much as the Admiral has. When it comes to SS in Angels history, Aybar is a clear number 2.