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OC Register: Can David Fletcher reclaim his spot with the Angels?


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ANAHEIM — A day after David Fletcher began a spectacular double play to help the Angels win a game last weekend, he was asked if he felt any extra satisfaction in proving his value to a team that had relegated him to the minors for so much of the season.

“No,” Fletcher said. “Honestly not.”

Fletcher, who has been back in the majors for the past two weeks, has similarly shrugged off questions about the Angels keeping him in Triple-A while he was just short of the service time that would allow him to become a free agent.

“I don’t really care too much about that at this point,” he said. “It is what it is.”

Although many Angels fans have been puzzled and even upset by the situation with Fletcher, by all accounts he has simply gone about his business without complaint, whether it be in Anaheim or Salt Lake City.

“One thing about Fletch is that he’s the same guy, no matter where he’s at,” said infielder Michael Stefanic, who was with Fletcher in Triple-A most of the season. “He’s always hard working. He’s always out there playing hard, regardless of whether he’s at Triple-A or the big leagues. A lot of fun to have him in the clubhouse wherever you’re at.”

Manager Phil Nevin agreed that Fletcher handled the demotion as well as can be expected.

“He was a good teammate in Triple-A,” Nevin said. “It was a tough deal for him. Obviously, he’s been here for a long time. He’s been a good player on his team. To go down there, it could have gone sideways.

“But all the reports I got were he was just such a good teammate and good dude. He fit in with the guys. He wanted to play every day. He’s the same. He’s Fletch. We love him. He brings a lot to the team, obviously, defensively and I still think there’s a lot in there offensively.”

Fletcher’s popularity is unquestioned. The issue is his performance on the field, and that’s somewhat complicated.

Fletcher, 29, became an immediate fan favorite when he first reached the majors in 2018. An Orange County native who went to Angels games a kid, Fletcher drew comparisons to former Angels shortstop David Eckstein for his glove and his scrappy style of play.

In his first three seasons, Fletcher got better each year, culminating with a .319 average and an .801 OPS in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He even got a 10th-place MVP vote that season.

Overall, he had hit .292 with a .732 OPS in those three seasons. He was one of the toughest players in the majors to strike out. He was at times brilliant defensively, playing second, shortstop and third.

The Angels inked him to a five-year, $26-million deal on Opening Day in 2021.

Fast-forward to today, and there are still parts of his game that are exceptional.

His defense is still above average, as he showed with his play Saturday.

Fletcher also has a knack for hitting with runners in scoring position. Over his career, he’s got a .328 average with runners in scoring position, which is better than his overall .276 average.

“I take pride in hitting with runners in scoring position, having a good approach and giving myself the best chance to get a hit to drive the run in,” Fletcher said. “With my game, I think I’m a good guy to have up with runners in scoring position. I’ll make contract and I feel like I always have a chance to get a hit.”

The Angels have hit .235 this season with runners in scoring position, which ranks 28th in the majors. It’s been a major part of the story of why the team has struggled.

Those situations aside, though, Fletcher has not been the same hitter in the past three years as he was previously.

Since the start of the 2021 season, Fletcher has a .258 average and a .620 OPS over 976 plate appearances. His OPS ranks 244th of the 250 major-league players who have 900 plate appearances over those seasons.

That includes the first half of 2021, when he had a 26-game hitting streak that lifted his average to .318. Over the rest of that season, he hit .194. In 615 plate appearances from the end of the hitting streak to now, Fletcher has hit .223 with a .548 OPS.

His average exit velocity in the past three seasons is 82.4 mph, which ranks 618th out of 623 players who have seen at least 100 pitches in that time.

In Triple-A this season, Fletcher hit .331 with an .810 OPS. The average OPS in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, though, was .822. Stefanic’s OPS was .930.

The offensive struggles began in 2021, before Fletcher suffered the core muscle injury that cost him much of the 2022 season. He has insisted ever since, as recently as a few days ago, that his health has played no part in the offensive decline since 2021.

So what happened?

“I think it’s just normal ups and downs of a year,” Fletcher said. “I don’t think anything is different. I just had little stretches where I was a little off and didn’t feel as good at the plate. Nothing more than that.”

One of the most tangible differences is that Fletcher has steadily increased his swing rate. From 2018-2020, Fletcher swung at 37.5% of the pitches he saw. Since then, it’s been 47.3%. The major-league average over those years is 47.1%.

The difference is that he’s so much better at making contact than the average hitter that many of the swings that are whiffs for other hitters are softly hit outs for Fletcher.

Defenses have also increasingly played their right fielder shallow, which has taken away some of the hits he was dropping into the outfield.

Despite all of that, Fletcher said he “definitely” can get back to being the kind of hitter he was in his first three years.

Asked what he has to do to get there, he said: “I don’t think I have to do anything. I think it’s there. Just making sure I’m right at the plate and staying consistent with that.”

Fletcher’s offensive issues were part of the reason he was sent to Triple-A in April. Another part was that the Angels wanted better defense at shortstop, so they brought up Zach Neto.

Fletcher ended up playing 85 games at Triple-A. Whenever general manager Perry Minasian has been asked during the season about Fletcher’s continued time at Triple-A, he’s answered vaguely. When the Angels didn’t select Fletcher to fill any of the six vacant roster spots they had after losing four players on waivers on Sept. 1, Minasian said: “We have a lot of players that we could have called up that are playing really hard and performing to a certain degree. You only have so many roster spots.”

Fletcher was powerless to find an opportunity elsewhere because of his service time.

Fletcher is just short of five years of major-league service time, which meant that he couldn’t reject the Angels outright to the minors without forfeiting what was left of his contract. In April, that was about $21 million through 2025. Fletcher made $6 million this season. No other team claimed Fletcher on waivers because it would have had to take on the remainder of the contract.

Fletcher spent so much time in Triple-A that he’s going to finish the season still barely shy of five years, so the Angels will again have control over him through the winter.

Once Fletcher plays a couple weeks in the majors next season, he will have his five years, though. The Angels will have to keep him in the majors, trade him or allow him to go as a free agent. Another team could then sign him for the major-league minimum, with the Angels paying his salary.

His future will be determined by how the Angels – or another team – value his defense, as well as whether he can turn around the trajectory of his offensive performance.

If Fletcher could find a way to simply do what he did offensively in his first three years, he would be an everyday big-leaguer.

When Nevin was asked if Fletcher can do that, he answered indirectly.

“He’s a major-league player is the best way I can answer it,” Nevin said. “I think he can help a team in certain roles. I’m not ruling out the fact that he can go out and play every day. He is playing every day right now and he’s helping us.”


Angels (RHP Chase Silseth, 4-1, 4.10) vs. A’s  (LHP Ken Waldichuk, 4-8, 5.29), 6:38 p.m. Friday, Angel Stadium, Bally Sports West, 830 AM

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36 minutes ago, AngelsWin.com said:

Asked what he has to do to get there, he said: “I don’t think I have to do anything. I think it’s there. Just making sure I’m right at the plate and staying consistent with that.”

This right here is why Fletcher will not find offensive success again.

The league adjusted to him and he has done nothing to adjust back.

His attitude of “I don’t think I have to do anything” to get back to being that hitter explains why Perry and Nevin have been so evasive.

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I have always rooted for Fletcher, but with his current skillset he will never be more than a defensive replacement at best. And i think the organization thinks this way as well. At his current pace, he is locked in as our infield bench guy next season, with the risk of being cut during the season if he doesn't improve. 

I saw a thread on here suggested the Angels fully adopt Schanuel's batting cage routine and i think that would be career-altering for a guy like Fletcher.

If he could learn to take a BB or at least have a more solidified approach on which pitches he offers at, he would be a lock as a steady 2 WAR starter. 

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4 hours ago, BTH said:

This right here is why Fletcher will not find offensive success again.

The league adjusted to him and he has done nothing to adjust back.

His attitude of “I don’t think I have to do anything” to get back to being that hitter explains why Perry and Nevin have been so evasive.

Reminds me of Darin Erstad who, when asked what his plate approach was, said "I tinker." They are somewhat similar hitters, really - swing at almost everything, try to get the ball into play. "Slap-happy" hitters. The problem, of course, is that it leads to no consistency and lots of easy ground outs. Erstad had one of the all-time great fluke seasons 2000 when he hit .355/.409/.541 with a 140 wRC+ and 8.7 WAR. His next best wRC+ was 115, and next best WAR was 3.6.

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56 minutes ago, Angels 1961 said:

Fletcher is not the worse depth to have. He also got 27 million in a contract and is set for life. He can cash those checks in SLC or Anaheim so why would he be upset with demotion. 

You can cash your paycheck in Compton or Newport Beach, guess where you'd rather be? 

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7 hours ago, Jeff Fletcher said:

I just want to point out that about 75 percent of people who commented or replied about this story read it as “Fletch is great and the Angels screwed him.”

People see what they want to see, I guess 

I thought it was a pretty fair article, whoever wrote it…😉…..

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If you want to win and are sick of losing, let’s take off the rose-colored glasses and admit that Fletcher is, at best, an end of the bench utility guy.

Yeah, he is a likable guy.  But I can only like him in a role where he doesn’t hurt the team.

”His average exit velocity in the past three seasons is 82.4 mph, which ranks 618th out of 623 players who have seen at least 100 pitches in that time.”

If you want to win, you would have to be crazy to want to see Fletcher in the batters box.

Edited by Dtwncbad
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