Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Today, Paul Gutierrez of the LA Times explores whether or not Mickey Hatcher is a fit batting coach.

Gutierrez paints a picture of woe for the 2005 Angel offense, especially in comparison to its 2004 counterpart. Behold:
The cause for concern? A year after tying a team record and leading the league with a .282 batting average, the Angels are batting .270, sixth in the AL.

Last year, the Angels tied a team record with 1,603 hits and this season they are on pace for 1,521. And though they pounded out 162 home runs in 2004, they are now on pace for 145. And after scoring 836 runs last year, they are on pace to finish with 751.
Sounds bad. And it is -- the Angels rank a mediocre eighth in the league in runs scored, tied with the ChiSox, another team not known for proficient offense. Obviously, being tied for eighth means the Lads are awfully close to ninth.

The Angels also rank 10th in home runs, 9th in OBP, and and 9th in slugging percentage. That's something important to remember when the Angel brass says things, "it's not about getting guys on base, it's about getting guys in scoring position." You can't get guys in scoring position if you don't get guys on base in the first place.

By the way, though the offense has been worse this season than last, the difference in terms of the league is not large. This year we rank 9th in runs scored; last year we ranked 7th. We have ranked 10th in home runs both years. We did get all the way up to 6th in OBP last year, but were 10th in SLG.

Anyone sense a pattern?

Mickey Hatcher took over as the Angel batting coach in the year 2000. Here is how the Angel offense has ranked in several categories since then:
Year   R   HR  AVG  OBP  SLG
2000 7 3 5 6t 1
2001 12 10 11 9 12
2002 4 10t 1 4 6
2003 11 12 7t 8t 9
2004 7 10 1t 6 10
2005 8 10 8 9 9
2002 is clearly the aberration across the board. Even so, it's an offense bit strictly around batting average -- when the hits aren't dropping in, the team struggles to score runs because of few walks and little power.

And even Mickey admits the hits aren't falling in -- it's part of his defense. Quoth the Hatcher:
You know, what's frustrating is people that watch the game don't understand that these guys are swinging the bats as good as we did in 2002 when we won it all. The hits aren't coming as easy ... you see a lot of line drives being caught, you see a lot of good defensive plays. A lot of the guys are having quality at-bats so I'm fine with that.
I don't know what to make of the claim that there are a lot of line drive outs: according to the Hardball Times, the Angels are exactly league-average at their line drive production, and in terms of getting hits on balls in play are just below the league-average. That's not a stunning disparity, and is hardly worth comment.

But an offense should, hopefully, be designed to work even without singles dropping in. Home runs, walks, stolen bases, good baserunning ... we have the last two covered, but the first two are woefully absent. We have a bunch of guys that hit like Mickey did when he played; this is a guy that hit 280/313/370 over his career.

But you know what? I don't think it's specifically Mickey's fault -- it's an organizational policy. Maybe it starts with Hatcher, but it certainly doesn't end there.

Look at the players this team has, and has acquired. Look at how they were expected to hit this year, and how they have hit. Here are Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Averages (basically park-adjusted runs created per out scaled to batting average, with .260 being average) for our key players, coming into 2005 and for 2005:
Player   Pre-05    2005
BMolina .231 .262 +31
Erstad .259 .248 - 9
Kennedy .251 .268 +13
Figgins .261 .263 + 2
Cabrera .247 .244 - 3
Anderson .264 .256 - 8
Finley .274 .217 -57
Vlad .314 .325 +11
Rivera .263 .254 - 9
As you see, players like Bengie and Kennedy are out-performing their career norms. And of the players severely underperforming, can those be blamed on Hatcher? Maybe you could make the case for Darin Erstad, who hit a lucky .355 during Mickey's first year with the team, and them commenced sucking, but maybe his injuries are more to blame.

Garret Anderson? He was a free swinger before Hatcher ever showed his face, and had his best years while Mickey has been here, so it seems disingenous to blame the decline of arthritic 33-year-old on the batting coach.

Rivera? Isn't that as much a function of playing time and normal variation, anyway? .254 isn't all that different from .263 in this stat.

Finley? The man's forty, and for all we can say about him, we cannot say his failures are because of a lack of effort and work. I just don't think we can pin this one on Hatcher.

It seems to me that, outside of Finley, overall the team has pretty much hit as expected, and maybe a little bit better. I don't see any real evidence that Hatcher could be doing more with these batters than he is. At some point, we're going to have to finger the parties most responsible for assembling this mediocre offense: the players and the management that put them there. Mickey might be part of the problem, but it ain't all him.

Sweet Toni Basil reference.
Yep. And the D-Mac injury hurt, too.

I would say the bigger coaching fault this year lies in lineup construction. We rank 3rd in RC/27 from the second base position, yet just 6th in 2B Runs Created, because Scioscia insists on batting Kennedy 9th. Our 9th spot in the lineup produces 4.76 RC/27, which is better than #2 (4.42), #5 (4.01), #6 (3.95), #7 (3.39) and #8 (4.22). The number two spot in the lineup -- where O-Cab and his .308 sits -- has 113 more plate appearances than #9.
Since Hatcher was comparing this team to the 2002 one, how did the 2002 team do in terms of line drives and getting hits on balls in play? I imagine it is better than this year, but it would be interesting to see if Hatcher's observation is real or imagined.
The Hardball Times' line drive data doesn't go back to 2002, but we hit .307 on balls in play (excluding home runs) in 2002 and .297 this year. A difference, obviously, but not terribly huge ... but roughly 47 hits over the course of a season, which can add up ...
That 10 points is roughly the difference in the team's batting average (.282 in 2002 and .270 this year). Which seems to imply they are hitting the ball at the other team more like Hatcher says (certainly not the only explanation, but it does lend weight to his theory).
If the problem was batting average, the problem is too many hitters content at hacking and too many coaches content at encouraging the hitters to hack. Their luck with line drives doesnt have anything to do with the serious lack of walks or hr's.
The point is that their walk rates and HR rates (and K rates, even) aren't that far off of the 2002 team that Hatcher was comparing them to. If he is correct in saying that the team is less lucky this year it should show up in line drive rates (if they hit those at the same rate as 2002, then they are being unlucky that they aren't falling in; if they hit them at a lower rate, they are not hitting the ball as well) and balls in play average (if they are the same, then the team batting average is lower due to something else (fewer home runs, more Ks)). If the balls in play average is lower (which it is), then it could be due to the team just having less luck as to where they hit the ball. Which is Hatcher's point. Basically he is saying they hacked away in 2002 and produced similar results off of the bat, but that the ball found its way away from gloves more. So the problem is not necessarily the fundamental idea of hacking (at least, according to Hatcher).
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