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OC Register: Slumping Angels look to new hitting coaches Jeremy Reed and Shawn Wooten for answers


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ANAHEIM — After the Angels season-opening offensive malaise had reached six games, a few hitters were crowded around laptops in the quiet of the visitors clubhouse in Seattle.

As the hitters analyzed each swing, new hitting coaches Jeremy Reed and Shawn Wooten sat with them. They were deconstructing what needs to change and — as important — what doesn’t.

At the major league level, hitting coaches aren’t teaching anyone how to hit. The players got to the majors because they can already hit. What the coaches do is help the players identify what they’re doing when they are successful, and get them back there when they aren’t.

Right now, the Angels aren’t.

As they return for the home opener on Thursday with a 1-5 record, they are hitting .178. They have hit one home run, half as many as pitcher Zack Greinke hit on Tuesday. The cold bats are mostly responsible for the team’s worst start since 1961, the franchise’s inaugural season.

“It’s not lack of effort,” Manager Brad Ausmus said after the Angels had four hits in a 2-1 loss on Tuesday. “These guys are trying. They were taking early batting practice. They care. We’re struggling swinging the bats. There’s no mystery to it.”

Reed and Wooten are on the case, as is returning hitting coordinator Paul Sorrento.

“At the end of the day,” Wooten said, “it will work. Some will catch on really quick and some will take a little bit more time to get the feel of what the thought process should be. At the end of the day, you’ve got to get a good pitch to hit, and put a good swing on it. As much as we talk about video, it should be as simple as that.”

Of course, it’s not so simple.

Hitting, the saying goes, is the toughest thing in sports. You have milliseconds to react, trying to hit a round ball with a round bat, but to hit it solidly enough that it eludes the defense.

At times like now, that seems just about impossible.

Kole Calhoun has been here before. Last year, Calhoun spent the first two months of the season in a historic tailspin, batting .145 with a .374 OPS. His swing was, by his own admission, a mess. Then he went on the disabled list and went to the Angels spring training complex near his home in Arizona to work on his swing with a couple minor league hitting coaches.

Reed and Wooten.

Calhoun hit .276 with an .896 OPS over the next two months, all along giving full credit to Reed and Wooten for fixing his swing. He at one point referred to them as “masterminds” of hitting. This spring he said he didn’t take batting practice in the winter without one of them watching him.

“I think they have a really good understanding of how the body works and the mechanics of the swing and what helps certain guys and what doesn’t,” Calhoun said. “This game is real friggin’ tough. To get into understanding your mechanics and and knowing what’s helping and what’s hurting is a big thing.”

Peter Bourjos believed his career was on life support before he consulted Wooten and Reed in January and had them reconstruct his swing.

“They broke my swing down from the ground up,” Bourjos said. “I’ve learned more in the last two months about hitting than I have in my whole career. I wish I would have met them a long time ago.”

The changes to Bourjos’ swing resulted in a .283 average and an .892 OPS in spring training, although he’s hitless in his first 11 plate appearances of the season.

“I enjoy just going to the cage and listening to these guys talk about hitting,” Bourjos said. “I feel like I learn something every day.”

LDN-L-DODGERS-ANGELS-0326-KB2.jpg?fit=62
Angels assistant hitting instructor Shawn Wooten said he tries to simplify the approach of his players as much as possible. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

Reed, 37, played eight seasons in the majors and has spent five years as a hitting coach in the minors. Wooten, 46, played in the majors for six years, four years with the Angels, and he spent nine years as a minor league coach or manager.

The last two years, Reed and Wooten were the Angels’ minor league hitting coordinators, overseeing all the hitters and hitting coaches in the organization.

General manager Billy Eppler brought them to the majors — while retaining Sorrento, 53, after his three seasons on the Angels major league staff — because he was impressed with their modern approach to hitting.

“They seemed really adaptable to different methods of coaching and open to trying things, and taking kind of a data driven approach to their coaching,” Eppler said. “They have the approach that there’s not one way to do things, and they connect well with players too.”

Ausmus, who has been in professional baseball for 32 years, also was impressed enough with Reed and Wooten to have them on his staff.

“They are different,” he said. “They are very, very good, probably the best I’ve seen in terms of their analysis of the biomechanics of swinging a baseball bat and then being able to relay the message, either verbally or verbally with the aid of video.”

Which brings us back to that scene at the laptops after Tuesday’s game.

Video has been a common tool of hitters and hitting coaches for decades, but the Angels have taken it to a new level this year with Reed and Wooten. Every day in batting practice, they stand by the cage shooting video with their phones and showing the players as soon as they step out.

Wooten spends much of his time during the game inside the clubhouse watching on television, and then analyzing the video in real time to give players feedback between at-bats.

Wooten has a library of video on each player, often going back to high school. He spent much of his winter immersing himself into the hitting histories of every player.

“It tells a story about how they’ve progressed and where they’re at,” Wooten said. “You see a lot of swing changes. You try to dig into why they did it and stay away from those areas that caused them to go into some slumps.”

Ausmus said Wooten “gets no sleep at all” because “he’s doing video all night for these guys.”

Certainly, the Angels’ cold start has put more pressure on Reed, Wooten and Sorrento. Although what they’re doing has not yielded much in results in the first six games, it’s still a microscopic sample in a 162-game season.

There are also a few encouraging signs. They are coming off a spring training in which they scored the second most runs in the majors. So far this season, they have struck out only 30 times, fourth fewest in the majors. According to metrics that measure a team’s expected offensive performance based on the quality of contact, the Angels have been the second unluckiest team in the majors.

“It’s going to get a lot better,” Wooten said. “We’re just finding how they work during the season, finding what adjustments to make to find longevity, not just small spurts. In the end of the day, it’s going to work.”

And until it does, Reed, Wooten and Sorrento will feel the same frustration as the fans and the players.

Perhaps more.

“When you become a hitting coach, you put somebody else’s career in your hands,” Reed said. “We are trying to get the players to be the best versions of themselves. There’s a learning curve. There are times I’ve made mistakes, but you learn from them. When it’s someone else’s career, I do my best to learn from every situation and just make sure we get it right.”

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