There are plenty of things that bother me about the 2012 Angels season to this point. Big things and little things but since hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired I've been thinking about the lack of offense and how it could be that a team with so much talent and potential could be doing so poorly. Although since Hatcher left, Pujols has shown some signs of life, the bats are not suddenly smoking hot. Could be it's the players and not the coach or manager?
So many players not producing is not caused by the marine layer, although there’s a wet blanket on the year so far. I’m convinced it’s a problem with that fraction of a second that allows someone to hit baseballs for a living, to decide whether to swing or not. It’s an amazing talent which I recognize by its absence in myself: the fact that I don't have it makes it more wondrous and valuable to me. Not only would I be over-matched with a bat in my hand in batting practice much less at game speed, I’m nervous about swinging a golf club in front of people I care about because someone could get hurt.
MLB hitters are humans that have the ability to see the spin on the ball as well as amazing reactions and eye-hand coordination. They have the God-given talent to somehow swing at and hit the ball but also assess whether it will be a ball or strike. It seems almost like a second dimension to the task, that judgment of whether the pitch will enter an abstract and sometimes inconsistent zone. A good eye, it's called. Of course some players don't worry too much about balls and strikes, Vladdy comes to mind. For all his reputation as a bad-ball hitter, in almost 2150 games Guerrero's OBP was .379, more than 60 points higher than his career average of .318. This leads me to believe it's more than a good eye, that there's some guesswork or gambling that goes into the process, likely based on the count. Or in Vlad's case, sometimes he decided to swing at the next pitch if he could see it. Didn't matter if it was two feet outside, he wasn't going to take the pitch because he had already decided to swing and he was sure he was going to hit it. So a player that successfully gets on base can hit, has judgment, a little luck and confidence.
I'm saying it's a delicate thing, this ability to hit and get on base. I realize these are professional ballplayers, many of them seasoned veterans with MLB big game and playoff experience, still I think it's the pressure that is throwing them off by just a fraction. Pressure can be contagious and somehow most of the offensive has caught it. Even pros can try too hard.
Dipoto wants OBP and has made that clear from his first day as the General Manager. The Angels will create that philosophy one way or another but I doubt it starts with major league players. Making it a priority will harm rather than help some of the players but now is the time to do it as things can’t get much worse. After adding two players, Pujols and Iannetta, that seemed sure to improve it, the Angels team OBP is .304, 25th out of 30 MLB teams. Last year it was .313 for the entire year, 21st out of 30. And the difference between batting average and OBP has declined slightly since last year, not what was hoped for or expected.
In case you’re wondering, the Angels team OBP during 2009, when they last made the playoffs, was .350.