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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mickey Hatcher: Walks "A False Stat"

Just confirming what I already believed.
The Angels have four potential batting champions in their lineup, less of a curiosity than a necessity for an offense dependent on batting average. Although fans and analysts sometimes bemoan how few walks the Angels draw, batting coach Mickey Hatcher said the club does not evaluate its hitters on walks.

"That's a false stat," Hatcher said.

In the context of their high-contact, low-power offense, Hatcher explained, the relative lack of walks indicates less that the Angels are free swingers and more that opposing pitchers challenge them more often, because a fat pitch is not as likely to end up as a home run.

"If they're throwing strikes, we'll hit them. If they're not, we'll walk," Hatcher said. "But we don't have a lot of home-run threats.

"When you look at Detroit's lineup, they'll have a lot more walks, because they're a lot more dangerous."

I mean, I understand that there's a line between patience and passivity, one that Hee Seop Choi eventually crossed, but this sounds like Hatcher is just begging to be made fun of.

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Hatcher has a point, to an extent - the Angels probably do see more hittable pitches in certain situations than a team with a lineup like Detroit's. The real question is whether Hatcher (and the Halos' organization) understands that it's better to have guys who'll draw walks. I'm not sure Hatcher really understands this, though.
I think it's red meat for people like me, honestly. He hasn't said anything at the level of Dusty Baker's infamous "walks clog up the basepaths" comment back when he was running the Cubs, but Hatcher strikes me as resonating at a similar frequency as Baker. The similarities and failings of both, while more directly limited in Hatcher's case, are also more profound. As I have repeatedly said, the problem with the Angels' offense is its stubborn inability to reliably get men on base, amplified by an organizational eschewing of ball four. It's not that they actively shun the walk so much as they don't curry its favor particularly. I know there are others who disagree with my take on this situation (Matt Welch is famously one of them), but when you read about how far down this goes... why, it becomes the stuff of legend.
I'm buying a bit of what Mickey's selling. Mashers probably get pitched to a bit more carefully than slap or gap hitters. And a patient masher is the best weapon in baseball short of a patient masher with speed. And I know there are exceptions, and that some slap or gap hitters draw walks (Wade Boggs comes to mind). If I weren't lazy I'd research it and substantiate the claim that mashers draw more walks. But for now I'm going with that. And so, it's probably harder for Chone Figgins, Reggie Willits, Howie Kendrick, et al to draw walks. And hey, the Angels were 4th in the AL, and 6th in MLB, in runs last year, so that ain't terrible. I guess the point of all this is that the Angels certainly aren't optimizing their offense, but it's not too bad either.
Just as a note to myself, since I keep coming back to this post (and it's shockingly highly rated on Google), a good link for the original quote is here at Cubsnet, which sources a MLB.com Carrie Muskat piece that quotes Baker as follows:

"On-base percentage is great if you can score runs and do something with that on-base percentage," Baker said. "Clogging up the bases isn't that great to me. The problem we have to address more than anything is the home run problem."

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