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OC Register: The Angels’ hitting struggles defy obvious explanation


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What ails the Angels is not in question.

The “why” is not so obvious.

The team is hitting a paltry .218 in August, with a .288 on-base average and a powerless .336 slugging percentage. Only the lowly Texas Rangers have a lower batting average and slugging percentage among American League teams.

The reason for the Angels’ struggles at the plate became a focal point again after Sunday’s 3-0 loss to Cleveland at the “Little League Classic” in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. They scored only two runs while suffering a three-game sweep.

Manager Joe Maddon said he and hitting coach Jeremy Reed attempted to pinpoint the source of the team’s struggles during Sunday’s game.

“We’ve come out of our zones in certain moments,” Maddon told reporters. “We have to be perfect on a nightly basis or get as close to it as possible. When we have opportunities to take advantage of moments, we have to.

“Overall I think we’ve been expanding a little bit too much. We have to force the pitcher back into the strike zone primarily.”

Only one problem with that explanation: the Angels haven’t been swinging at balls out of the strike zone any more in August than they did in July. According to FanGraphs, the Angels have been among the most free-swinging teams in baseball all season. Their swing rate on pitches outside of the strike zone rose to a league-high 35.5 percent in July, then fell to 34.0 percent in August.

For some, a high chase rate is acceptable. Infielder David Fletcher, for one, routinely collects base hits on letter-high pitches. Long-limbed slugger Shohei Ohtani covers the inside and the outside corners of the plate with unrivaled power.

Even where solid contact is possible, swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone comes at a cost. Maddon suggested Sunday that the team is leaving free walks on the table.

“When you’re walking you’re hitting,” he said. “I’m not an advocate of walking all the time. My point is that you’re not expanding your strike zone. As we tighten things up at the plate regarding what we’re swinging at, we’re going to get better pitches to hit. Then you’re going to see the result you’re looking for. I believe it comes down to that.”

The trouble with that analysis is that the Angels are walking more, not less. In July, 6 percent of their plate appearances ended in a walk. So far in August, that number has risen to 8.6 percent. The Angels are walking more but hitting less. What’s really going on?

Perhaps the biggest change this month is the Angels’ success on balls in play. They had a .310 batting average on balls in play in July, among the best rates in the league. Their .278 batting average on balls in play in August is among the league’s worst.

Sometimes this is a result of weaker contact ― a symptom of hitting pitches thrown outside the strike zone into fair territory. Yet the Angels’ hard-hit rate has remained virtually unchanged (30.3 percent in July, 29.6 percent in August). Opposing defenses are simply having more success fielding what the Angels hit at them.

This comes with several possible explanations. The most obvious is bad luck. Teams might also be having more success positioning fielders in the right place as the league attunes to the tendencies of rookies such as Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh, who have struggled to hit for average. A series of games against a particularly athletic defensive team might also lead to this kind of regression.

Whatever the reason for the Angels’ struggles, it’s coming at a bad time. Their pitching staff has largely improved at the same time their hitting has regressed. The three-game sweep left them with a predictable record since the beginning of July: 23-23, an appropriate reflection of a team whose strength and weakness crossed paths like ships in the night.

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2 hours ago, jsnpritchett said:

Maybe the answer is simply that guys like Walsh, Stassi, Gosselin, etc. were hitting above their true talent level for portions of the year and now they're all coming back down to earth.

Remember the awful season Stassi had in 2019? Almost historically bad. Gosselin's a fill-in player and Walsh, who knows...

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19 minutes ago, UndertheHalo said:

@True Grichalready took care of this and he’s right but I’ll also add that presumably it’s difficult for the players to give that much of a shit about this in late august when the season is more or less over.  They’re going through the motions.   

If only we still had a 20-year veteran, first-ballot-Hall-of-Famer on the team to keep them focused. 

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Jared Walsh:

Through May 25: .321/.383/.588, 11 HR in 183 PA, 163 wRC+

May 26 - Aug 22: .222/.282/.423, 11 HR in 259 PA, 90 wRC+

The worrisome part is that the latter range is now considerably more playing time. I'm not so sure Walsh is the guy we hoped he was back in May, and maybe not much more than we expected him to be a couple years ago: a decent, fill-in guy, but not the type of player that locks down a position for years to come.

Hope that's incorrect, but...

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13 minutes ago, Angelsjunky said:

Jared Walsh:

Through May 25: .321/.383/.588, 11 HR in 183 PA, 163 wRC+

May 26 - Aug 22: .222/.282/.423, 11 HR in 259 PA, 90 wRC+

The worrisome part is that the latter range is now considerably more playing time. I'm not so sure Walsh is the guy we hoped he was back in May, and maybe not much more than we expected him to be a couple years ago: a decent, fill-in guy, but not the type of player that locks down a position for years to come.

Hope that's incorrect, but...

I think the odds are not in our favor of him him being the 1B of the future. He's going to be there next season for sure so hopefully he makes adjustments  

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4 hours ago, Jason said:

I think the odds are not in our favor of him him being the 1B of the future. He's going to be there next season for sure so hopefully he makes adjustments  

Maybe he settles into being a .260/.330/.470 type. That's pretty much what he's been overall this year. There are worse players to have, it's just that he's not that fourth star hitter that he looked like for a couple months. He's Kole Calhoun, but without the good defense.

Again, I hope I'm wrong. He was really good from last year through May this year, so that's a solid 3-4 months of elite performance. Who knows, maybe he's more like .280/.340/.520. That's my hope.

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I love these stupid articles when teams struggle to score or scoring like crazy.  One of the first things you learn in statistics is the concept of variance.  When your true success rate is in the 30 percent range, you'll go through dry spells more often than not.  One month you're at 35 percent and scoring a bunch of runs, the next month you're at 25 and can't score at all.  @jsnpritchett is dead on with some players also coming back down to earth after a hot start. 

 

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Walsh basically hit like Juan Soto for about 2.5 months going back to last year. That was definitely not sustainable. 

He's entering sort of the 'sophomore slump' stage in his career, and he's likely put some extra pressure on himself to produce with Trout, Rendon, and Upton out for most of the time - I think the fact he's seemingly swinging for the long-ball according to his slash backs that up. 

He's a good bet to be a solid .800-.850ish bat with good defense at 1B for a couple seasons still I think. Not too worried. I can also see him being better still, because it's hard to fluke what he did in that 2.5 month stretch.

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i would imagine that missing their best offensive players for the entirety of the 2021 season might have something to do with the angels offensive struggles. complementary players are called that for a reason.

gosselin is a nice complementary player, he's not supposed to be hitting clean up. just for an example.

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On 8/23/2021 at 12:38 PM, jsnpritchett said:

Maybe the answer is simply that guys like Walsh, Stassi, Gosselin, etc. were hitting above their true talent level for portions of the year and now they're all coming back down to earth.

I think its more that they are young and the league is always adjusting. It takes a while for younger players to understand this (speaking more about Walsh, Adell, and Marsh).

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