Thursday, April 17, 2008

By Coral Rae - Columnist

Since the Mike Scioscia era began in Anaheim in 2000 the Angels have subscribed to a small-ball-with-a-DH theory of baseball, a la Billy-Ball of the Oakland A’s in the early 1980’s. During Scioscia’s first season the club had good power, but it has been declining steadily since that year, other than '04, when the Angels sported Vlad, Guillen, Glaus, Salmon and Anderson. It seems that Scioscia, along with the rest of the organization, has put an emphasis on the hit and run techniques made popular by Billy Martin in the aforementioned era. And so far it has worked well, with three division championships, and a World Series title to prove it.

Scioscia’s strategy makes sense, as he was a catcher in the National League.

Scioscia played twelve years for the Dodgers, and entertained countless battery-mates. As a catcher Scioscia was forced to be a leader on the field, a skill that has clearly useful in Scioscia’s time as the Angels’ manager. It is especially beneficial for Scioscia to have played in the National League where (many theorize) that small ball and strategy factor into the game more. And to add to the reasoning behind Scioscia’s game mentality, he was never a home run hitter himself, with a career high in homers coming in 1990 when he hit twelve. With the combination of Scioscia’s lack of power when he was in the majors, his history in the National League, and his leadership skills, it is only logical for him to manage in the way that he has.

But despite the success the Angels have achieved without a power hitting line-up, fans and ESPN analysts alike have not been able to refrain from criticizing the franchise. It seems that no matter how many Home Run Derby champions the club produces the lack of power cohesion on the field simply cannot satisfy the modern fan’s need for the home run. For every slap-hitting .300 hitter, the fans love the excitement of the long ball, especially to win a game in the latter innings.

This season the Angels are working hard to provide just what the fans have been asking for, as the Angels are currently first amongst American League teams in home runs. This is a huge departure from the 2007 season when the club ranked 12th out of 14 clubs in that department.

So since the manager is the same, what has changed?

Certainly not Scioscia’s philosophies on the game, as the Angels are still leading the American League in stolen bases with an impressive 16, after only 15 games.

Perhaps it is the off-season addition of Torii Hunter, which has helped the Angels hit 20 home runs already this young season. However, it isn't just Hunter, even though he is tied for the team lead in homers with Mike Napoli and Casey Kotchman with 4 at the moment, while Anderson, Vlad, Mathis and Matthews Jr. have all contributed with 2 a piece thus far in the young season.

I think it is the patience of the organization with its youngsters and a good mix of free agent additions such as Vlad ('04), Matthews ('07) and Hunter ('08). Some of the homegrown talent that was rumored to be going in trades for players such as Mike Sweeney, Miguel Tejada (Who aged 2 years today) and Carlos Lee, have rewarded the Angels patience with them. In fact the HR totals from just our catching spot in our lineup alone, totals more HR's than all 3 of those starting players mentioned above.

Oh and speaking of fun facts, albeit just three weeks into the season, how does this sit with you?

Torii Hunter (4 HR's) > Andrew Jones (0 HR's) - Had to get a local dig in
Casey Kotchman (4 HR's) > Albert Pujols (3 HR's)
Mathis-Napoli (6 HR's) > Adam Dunn (2), Prince Fielder (0), David Ortiz (1), Carlos Delgado (1), Gary Sheffield (1) & Troy Glaus (0) - (5 HR's total)

Obviously our guys will taper off a bit and these other proven sluggers will start cranking them out of the ballpark, but it shows the pundits that across the board, this team does have some pop and more importantly, come October, it won't be just 2-3 guys in the middle of the order that can crank one out of the ballpark in a crucial game, but hitters 2-8 in the lineup are all capable of changing the outcome of a game with one swing of the bat.

The season is still young, but with an addition of a healthy Kendrick (he has yet to homer, but is hitting .500 with a good share of doubles and should provide power as well), combined with having power off the bench in Juan Rivera, this could be a season when lightening and thunder is seen and heard in Anaheim, but struck off the Angels bats.
Love to hear what you think!


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