What can the LA Angels expect from Luis Valbuena?

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 06: Luis Valbuena
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 06: Luis Valbuena /

Luis Valbuena started off 2017 season on the disabled list & seemed like he was playing catch-up all season long.  Valbuena has emerged as the LA Angels primary 1st baseman in 2018.  How will he do?

Valbuena finished the 2017 season with with 22 homers and 65 RBIs in 347 at-bats, but only a .199 batting average and a .294 OBP.  Both averages were career-lows for Valbuena, while the 22 home runs were Valbuena’s second-best season total of his career and his 65 RBIs were a career-high for a season.

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While Valbuena has only hit above .250 in season once in his career and he carries a career batting average of .228, he had only finished a season under .200 one other tie in his nine-year major league career.

With this being said there were some people who questioned whether or not the Angels should even keep Valbuena for another season.  However, when the Angels traded C.J. Cron to the Tampa Bay Rays in early February, it was apparent that the team was committed to Valbuena being the main first baseman in the 2018 season.

On the plus side Valbuena has good power hitting a home run once every 15.7 at-bats.  Not only does Valbuena have power he has power from the left-hand side of the plate which was a big reason why the Angels got him last winter.

Valbuena is also very versatile as he can play both third and first base well and could even fill in, in left field in a pinch as well as being a DH.  So the question then becomes how much of an improvement will Valbuena make in 2018 if any.

My belief is that Valbuena’s home run and RBI totals will be similar and I can’t help but believe he will raise his average at least 20 to 30 points this season as well.  Valbuena will probably play in about 100 to 110 games barring injuries or ineffectiveness.  This is close to the 117 games he played for the Angels in 2017.  He will probably get close to 400 at-bats which will also be comparable to his 2017 total.

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One number beside his batting average that the Angels will hope to see an improvement on by Valbuena is his strike out total.  Last season in those same 347 at-bats Valbuena struck out which means his struck out every 3.3 times he came to the plate which is alarming and was a big reason his batting average was below .200 and his OBP below .300.

Valbuena will platoon with Albert Pujols at first base and depending on how well Shohei Ohtani does as a DH will determine how much Pujols will play at first base and also how much Valbuena will be used as a DH.  Valbuena will probably get a few starts at third base as well.

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One wild-card in the mix is Jefry Marte who can play all the spots Valbuena can. Marte only played in 45 games last season logging 127 at-bats and hitting a paltry .173 with four homers and 14 RBIs.

Marte has had a strong Spring hitting .333 with one homer and six RBIs which has him on the verge of making the opening day roster.  If Marte does indeed make the team, he could cut into Valbuena’s playing time if he continues to hit for a high average and is able to hit for power.

Next: What questions are still left unanswered for the Angels?

Hopefully for the Angels Valbuena will find his groove and have a productive season, but only time will tell.  For now the Angels are hopeful for a better batting average and less strike outs for Valbuena in 2018.