A few days ago, the first shot was heard in the accountability game of major league baseball. It was not a manager or a GM, but a hitting coach. Not just any hitting coach, but longtime Angel and Mike Scioscia‘s right-hand man, Mickey Hatcher. Hatcher and Scioscia go way back to the late 1980s Dodgers teams and are central figures of the legends and lore surrounding the 1988 Dodgers.
With all of the talk of cheaper beer prices and huge Angels billboards on the freeway less than a mile from Dodger Stadium, Moreno wants to win. He wants to be the King of Los Angeles and wants to be right up there in the conversation with the Yankees and Red Sox as the big-spending, win-at-all-costs ballclubs. But with Pujols obviously pressing and the rest of the offense sputtering, somebody had to take a fall, and that fall had to be one that would be felt throughout the clubhouse, even in (especially) the manager’s office.
Did Hatcher deserve it? No matter whose fault it actually is when the offense is under-performing, all signs point to the hitting coach.
Is it his fault that Pujols’ walk rate is in a free fall and he was hitting .213 with two home runs a quarter of the way through the season? Is it his fault that the criminally overpaid Vernon Wells is never going to be the guy he was five years ago, or that Torii Hunter is playing like the slowly declining 36-year-old outfielder he is?
Perhaps not, but if you do look at most of the Angels lineup, almost nobody is having a good offensive year. Three starters, two of whom (Erick Aybar, Peter Bourjos) have played their entire major league careers under his tutelage, are hitting under .200. Yes, Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout are looking strong, and Kendrys Morales looks like his comeback is going well, but Howie Kendrick and Alberto Callaspo are also off to relatively slow starts. You’re not going to fire Scioscia, and the pitching staff seems to be pretty much doing its job, so if someone is going to be on the chopping block, Hatcher is as good a candidate as anyone.
Like all pro sports, it’s “what have you done for me lately.” It doesn’t matter that Hatcher is part of by far the most successful coaching staff in Angels history. It does not matter that as recently as 2009 they went to the ALCS. While playoff appearances in six of 12 seasons would be a disappointment to the Yankees or Red Sox, it would be an immovable dynasty to anyone else. Moreno, however, is looking for that kind of success, and the fact that the Angels have had two “down” years in a row and are limping out of the starting gate in the third has he and Dipoto concerned. They invested a lot in the team in the offseason, and as of now are not seeing results.
In Hatcher’s best seasons, the Angels pretty much adopted a hitting style similar to the one he had as a player. In 2002, the Angels led the majors in runs per game with 5.25 but did it without the gargantuan power that many other teams relied on. Troy Glaus hit 30 homers, Garret Anderson had 29 and Tim Salmon had 22, but ultimately they were 21st in the majors in home runs.
They were, however, seventh in slugging and third in RBIs, which showed they had gap power. They did led the majors in batting average at .282 and were sixth in on-base percentage at .331. The Angels relied on good contact hitting, good power and smart baserunning over daunting power.
The last few years, though, the offense hasn’t been horrible, but it also hardly has been champion-like. In 2011, where they were 86-76, the Angels offense was not so bad, but they also were never really a challenge to the Texas Rangers in their division, or the Rays or Red Sox in the Wild Card race. Most of their numbers were middle-of-the-road.
Their runs-per-game tally was 4.12 (18th in the majors), their .253 batting average 15th, and their OBP of .313 was 21st. The teams’ power numbers were average, with their 155 homers ranked 13th and the .402 slugging percentage at 14th. Their pitching was decent but—combined with an average offense—made them only the fringe Wild Card contender they ended up being and not the championship contender Moreno wanted. For 25 or so teams, that is okay, but with Moreno’s visions of perennial World Series contention and unseating the Dodgers as the Kings of Los Angeles, it is not good enough.
Management figures Pujols will pull out of his doldrums sooner or later and hopes guys like Trout and Trumbo will ease into carrying the team, but aside from a trade or two, they are stuck with Wells, Hunter and this team. To make a change, Hatcher was the easiest one to let go and give a little jolt to the team and the iconic manager, who may have to start worrying about himself if the Angels don’t turn it around this year.