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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Petulantly Waiting To Fire Mickey Hatcher

From Stephen Smith's front page today:
For all the usual blather from the petulant crowd screaming for Mickey's Hatcher's scalp, the fact of the matter is that it's the defense to blame. Specifically, it's the lack of defense performed by certain players, not the blame of the coaching staff. Mike Scioscia, Alfredo Griffin, Mickey Hatcher and the rest of the staff don't take a glove or bat onto the field.
Sure, the team is bad defensively, but it's also bad offensively. This team is 12th in the league in runs scored, ahead of only the Devil Rays and the Royals, two teams noteworthy for their dysfunctionality. It is a direct result of handing large amounts of starting playing time to elderly guys like Anderson, an absence of any thumpers outside of Vlad, and giving large amounts of playing time to young guys who then are under the gun to produce; some of those guys (Mathis) simply forgot how to hit, some hit the DL (Kotchman), some burned bright for a while and then took time to adjust (Morales, and to some degree, McPherson), and some have been model citizens (Napoli). But to look at this lineup and then dodge the fact that it's basically not producing, declaring the team's problems to rest principally on faulty defense — that's absurd.

As to the third sentence, it's true that Hatcher takes nothing on to the field, but he represents the kind of hacktastic offense that's yielding one of the worst walk totals in the majors. OBP is one of this team's worst failings, and Hatcher has been generally destructive in its pursuit. Firing Mickey Hatcher may be no immediate tonic for the Angels' substandard offense, but it's a start; you weed the garden one square foot at a time. If it saves the Angels' ruining a generation of hitting talent, so much the better.

Somnambulistic wee-hours update: I say "Mickey Hatcher" needs to be fired, but in reality it's the Angels' entire offensive strategery that needs replacing. Following Jeff Weaver's June 11 loss, I published a Mike Scioscia quote excerpted from Management By Baseball, which I shall requote here:

We hit few home runs, our slugging percentage is down near the bottom of the league. Our on-base is like .325, so how can we compete with a team that has an on-base of .350? Some of those teams that have OB of .350 or .360, they can let on-base die on the vine because it's going to be there again. We've got to score runs by maximizing the on-base percentage we have. Ours is only going to be there, .325, and we'd better grasp the opportunity when we can or there's going to be stagnation.
I've been thinking for a while about the above comment, and I realize that while it might be acceptable to say that the Angels couldn't afford to stock an entire team with players who have high OBP and/or high SLG, it's also the case that there is simply no excuse for the Angels not to develop young talent with these skills. Mike Scioscia, were he to pay more than lip service to OBP, must surely have some input in the player development process; yet, organization-wide, RISP and RISP2 hitting are the team's most valued numbers in the minor leagues. I have a challenge for all comers: when you can show, statistically, that these numbers correlate more strongly to runs scored than OBP and ISO (isolated slugging percentage), I will henceforth and forever cease criticizing Mickey Hatcher. Until that day — why, off with his head.

Comments:
Why don't you seem to understand that the last two years' offenses were not designed to be powerhouses? These have been transition years in which the team is trying to move from the late-90s, early-00s team that was competitive (and ultimately won a World Series) to the late-00s team that should hopefully make the Angels into a dominant force. That means testing your hot prospects out (Kotchman and McPherson the previous two years, Kotchman, McPherson, Mathis, Napoli, Morales, etc. this year), which also means that you are forced to only sign people to short contracts (Steve Finley for 2 years, Jose Guillen for two years, etc.) and try a couple of the rookies at a time. They also have spent the last few years getting rid of the heroes from the WS champion, without trading a single one (which is unfortunate to not get anything for them but is a good PR move).

And as a matter of fact, some of the offensive ineptitude can be blamed on Guillen (and the front office for signing him). If he had been under control, they would have never gotten rid of him, which means they would not have picked up Finley and they would have another 30 HR bat over the last two years.

As for the organizational philosophy...not everyone is going to have the A's OBP/SLG-centric ideals. Part of the game is to try to figure out what works, and that can't be done unless you have a proper try at things that might not work. At least the Angels DO have a philosophy, which means taht everyone is on the same page and can learn skills to compliment each other. Besides, you don't know what kind of data that the Angels collect on guys, it may even be thinsg impossible to track just by box scores. Yes, the Angels need more power and some of their guys need more patience, but some players do much better for themselves because they aren't patient at the plate. The "best" philosophy is not always the one that wins (otherwise the A's would win every year, or at least some people think they would) and having an adequate or above-average philosophy can often work better. The Angels main failing this year seems to be their sloppiness on defense, which has probably lost them a few games, which in turn has them struggling in the win column.

I don't necessarily disagree with the call to fire Mickey Hatcher, but if it was going to be done, it would have to be done in a way that sends a message to the team that they need to get their bats in order or else they could also be gone.
 
Why don't you seem to understand that the last two years' offenses were not designed to be powerhouses?

Why don't you seem to understand that it's up to management to actually put an offense on the diamond that can actually, y'know, produce? Everything else is excusifying, or self-delusion. I'm not against letting the kids play, and I realize that there are sunken hazards in that, but Smith's just plain off his rocker by claiming the Angels' problems come exclusively or even primarily from the club's fielding.

As for the organizational philosophy...not everyone is going to have the A's OBP/SLG-centric ideals. Part of the game is to try to figure out what works, and that can't be done unless you have a proper try at things that might not work.

We have this thing called Pearson's "r". Use it. Love it. Show that whatever the frell the team's doing makes sense in correlation to actual scoring of runs. What we do know of the Angels' FO is that they value a stat that doesn't correlate well with scoring runs. It's not entirely coincidental that they aren't.
 
I am not trying to blame everything on the fielding, although as far as the expectations go that and the team's batting average (but not so much the other aspects of batting, which are at about the levels that they were last year) are the things that have done the worst. The bad offense that they have right now is one that would be the same as last year's if their batting average went up 15 points (which was a mediocre offense). This BA drop includes Figgins' 39 point BA drop, AK's 30 point drop, plus significant at bats given to Jose Molina (.223), Erstad (.220), Kotchman (.152), Alfonzo (.104), and Mathis (.128). The only one among those that could have been expected to do remotely that bad is Jose Molina. So, it is not, by any means, out of the realm of expectations that the Angels should be batting .270 (which would make their offense significantly more effective).

And just because YOU haven't proven something doesn't mean that it is nonexistant. If I remember correctly, Jeff Angus interview with Scioscia mentioned that the team had reams of statistical data that it poured through. Why would they let the world know about the details of said data? It could only hurt them if they let it out (the competition either starts strategizing against them to beat the philosophy that comes from the data or other teams start copying them, making it more expensive to retain a team built that way or making them retool).

Finally, isn't it better to have a couple of years of mediocre offense if it will lead you to a time period of complete offensive dominance? Now, that is by no means certain, but they have a really shot at that in just a couple of years. This happens with every team in a youth movement. The key is to make this down cycle transition as short as possible.
 
Show that whatever the frell the team's doing makes sense in correlation to actual scoring of runs.

It has made sense in correlation to the actual winning of games (at least in three of the last four full seasons), which should count for something. And this year's struggles notwithstanding, the organization is incredibly well set-up to compete at a high level (and with a strikingly better offensive team) for years to come.

Don't get me wrong; I think Hatcher should be fired, etc. But I'm not ready to damn the entire organizational philosophy just yet.
 
And just because YOU haven't proven something doesn't mean that it is nonexistant.

Scioscia's own statements show he knows that OBP is more important that RISP, and yet the organization chooses to ignore it... still can't figure that one out.

I'm not arguing that there shouldn't be a learning curve for the kids; that's a given. But the question before the house is whether the kids they're bringing up are all loaded with nonsense and ruined by the time they get to the big club. Earl Weaver style masher offenses just plain work; this RISP2 voodoo may or may not, but judging on last year's postseason (and to some degree this year's regular season), I'd have to say — not.
 
It has made sense in correlation to the actual winning of games (at least in three of the last four full seasons), which should count for something.

No. The issue here is whether this numerology accounts for actual improved offensive performance. By making the claim that offenses ought to be judged on wins, you're making the same mistake — only on the opposite side of the mound — as people who judge pitchers by won-lost records. And in this case, it's the pitchers the 2005 Angels should be thanking for their wins, not their mediocre offense.

And this year's struggles notwithstanding, the organization is incredibly well set-up to compete at a high level (and with a strikingly better offensive team) for years to come.
 
I think you should look at organizational philosophy on a win-level more than anything else. For example, the team has shifted from all-bats-no-pitching (2000) to all-pitching-no-bats (2006); I'm less interested in the fact that the Angels had a McMillinesque offense in 2000 than I am in the fact that the team has been winning at a high level since 2002.

Maybe the RISP voodoo is good for defense-and-pitching teams to get by in the lean years before they produce a new generation of mashers at key defensive positions. Maybe having *any* identifiable organizational philosophy is inherently good for morale and organizational purposes. Who knows?

The real questions to me, vis-a-vis Hatcher, are:
1) Is the RISP/aggressiveness/Hudler voodoo having negative impact on developing hitters? I think it probably is.
2) Is it reducing effectiveness of established hitters? Again, I vote yes. (look at the walk-rates & OBP of players who leave his care)
3) Is he unable to see the positive attributes in unorthodox hitters, like Adam Kennedy's uppercut? I think that one's yes, too.

And yeah, the hacktastic taste in younguns is worrying, too. But just because this year's offense sux just as bad as last year, doesn't mean to me that you can say this philosophy has failed. The overall philosophy of the team has served them well the last four years.
 
How can you even claimn that they are screwing their kids up with this philosophy? Which prospect has been hurt by this philosophy? And not all OBP/SLG guys do well in the majors. Since you are talking all about statistics, why not provide data to show, without a doubt, that players in OBP/SLG heavy systems are more successful at the major leagues than others? In reality, because of the human nature of things it is more about each prospects ability to make it on their own (Prospect A may make it by being coddled and taught to work counts, while Prospect B may make it only by being pushed and told to take an aggressive approach to the plate). No one knows how each person will handle things...that's why they are prospects and not guaranteed stars. The Angels have a philiosophy to focus their prospects on contact hitting, etc. Is it always correct? No. Do they use it on every prospect? Well, Mike Napoli suggests no.
 
I'm less interested in the fact that the Angels had a McMillinesque offense in 2000 than I am in the fact that the team has been winning at a high level since 2002.

In which case, don't come to me telling me that their current offensive philosophy works, because you're intentionally confusing it with team wins.

But just because this year's offense sux just as bad as last year, doesn't mean to me that you can say this philosophy has failed.

Why not? The offense isn't working! They've only scored more runs than Kansas City and Tampa Bay! Saying the team's winning because the pitching is holding the other guys down is a capital misdirection.

How can you even claimn that they are screwing their kids up with this philosophy?

How about Dallas McPherson as Exhibit A? He's struck out more at every level. Brandon Wood's having similar problems.

And not all OBP/SLG guys do well in the majors.

LOTS of players don't do well in the minors. That's beside the point, which is to find guys who will help the offense score runs at the major league level. RISP and RISP2 hitting are nothing compared to the power of OBP. Nothing at all.
 
Don't most players strike out more every time they move up a level?

And I have to agree with Matt: the goal of the game is to get wins, not to have a spectacular offense. Otherwise texas would be in the hunt every year. Yes, it would be great to have an offense that scores 6 runs a game and a pitching staff that gives up 3, but teams have to make tradeoffs for a few reasons, among them money. The Angels have chosen as an organization to try to pick up certain types of hitters and pitchers. Once those guys are in the organization, they then teach them their philosophies. I would say that the Angels' organization has done fairly well for itself considering that over the past decade (plus a couple years) they have brought up a rookie of the year, an All Star Game MVP, a league leader in home runs, one of the best defensive players to ever play the game, a guy who won 5 games in the playoffs before he had a win in the regular season, a guy who won game 7 of the World Series in his rookie year, a guy who beat the Yankees in game 5 of the ALDS in relief his rookie year, a guy who has four major league starts and 4 wins to go with it, plus an unusually high number of "can't miss" prospects due to make the majors within the next three years. And during this time, the team has picked up 40% of the franchise's division titles plus its only World Series win. If that's not a solid organizational philosophy I don't know what is.
 
You guys are unbelievable. Either we are talking about improving the offense or we are not. Why does nobody want a pitcher who goes 15-6 but has a 5.25 ERA? The notion of judging an offense by the wins it generates is just as absurd. As I've pointed out before, the Angels were hitting WAY over their heads during the World Series. They appear to have learned nothing from it.
 
Here's the point that some seem to be missing. It's not so much about whether a particular offensive philosophy is good for any one player; what matters is developing an offensive philosophy that scores the most possible runs.

Contrary to what someone else claimed, there is no need to make "tradeoffs" - spending less on offense to spend more on pitching. Player salaries are not at issue; what is at issue is what kind of players are drafted and how they are developed in the minor leagues.

The Angels' recent success has nothing to do with having adopted a particular offensive philosophy to score fewer runs. It is completely disingenuous to attribute team wins to scoring fewer runs.

The team has had very good pitching lately, which has allowed it to be successful without leading the league in runs scored. But it would be better (and the Angels would win more games, guaranteed) if they scored more runs and pitched well.

And so the question is, why has the organization intentionally adopted an offensive philosophy that is likely to lead to fewer runs scored than one that places more emphasis on OBP?
 
Well said.
 
If you build a team (2004-2006 Angels) on defense, pitching, athleticism and coachability, it is conceivable that an interventionist offensive strategy plays into the strengths of the roster, and/or papers over the inevitable weaknesses in the meantime, while providing organizational structure & purpose.

It is in that vein that this still *might* be a non-terrible approach, and that it's appropriate to talk about wins when you're evaulating & assailing the way an organization builds and bills itself.

To take another tack, the Angels have run the bases effectively for a few years now, haven't they? Hit into fewer double plays than their stats would suggest? Actually performed better than just about any other team in those dreaded RISP and RISP2 situations, partially because they are hard to strike out. No?

Meanwhile -- and this is I think pretty important -- gave a defensive backdrop (arguably until this confounded year) that eased the development of Lackey, Escobar and Santana into good starting pitchers.

Meanwhile, the future is filled with legions of non-Erstad, non-G.A.s -- Wood, Kendrick, Morales, Kotchman, Napoli. All with better power probably right now, some with actual walking ability.

Anyway, happy weekend & all that. You just hate the word "might" and "fog" and anything else that screams uncertainty, is what I think. Me, I love that stuff.
 
No, Matt — I just hate it when people keep changing the subject.
 
If the subject is "how the Angels' offensive philosophy doesn't work," then I'll look forward to seeing you explain why the team is scoring so many damned runs the rest of the decade.
 
Assuming, of course, that Wood doesn't follow McPherson's dubious path.
 

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