By Jason Sinner - Angelswin.com Columnist
An unusual turn of events. This year has been strange so far to say the least. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been a perennial pitching powerhouse or at least a team that has relied upon those that toe the rubber to propel them to a world championship and four division titles in the last seven years. That and a guy named Vlad. Yes, there have been occasional hitting frenzies for short stretches that have been just enough to supplement the team’s offensive mainstay that has been aptly named ‘little ball’. These frenzies certainly came in handy during the 2002 playoffs yet have been few and far between otherwise. Innumerable bunts, productive outs, and several offensive dry spells during the playoffs later had the pundits begging and pleading for that elusive big bat to provide that extra postseason punch. Well, that big bat has come and gone with the supposed recipe for success leaving a bad taste in our mouths.
The offseason came and went with a bit of a fizzle as the team was left with their secondary choices to fill several spots. Although reasonably well received, it was anticipated that the changes would necessitate another campaign of get them on, get them over, and get them in. Little did we know that after 115 games, a slew of injuries, and an unfortunate tragedy we would be left clamoring for ‘Clyde McStrongarm’ while the offense has carried the team.
Yes, for those of you who have been stranded on a desert island for the last five months, I will write it again. The offense has carried the team. To mention this is almost an understatement without truly detailing what has been accomplished when the halos have stepped into the batter’s box.
Currently, the Halos have a team batting average of .291. To put this into historical perspective, they have a chance to finish the season with one of the best averages in league history since the 1930s. The Red Sox hit .301 in 1950, The Indians .293 in 1996, and the Rangers .293 in 1999. So a couple of points and the squad will record the highest team average in the AL in over 50 years.
What’s most impressive is that it hasn’t been just a couple of guys or even those who we would normally expect carrying the team. They have had their fair share of injuries to deal with including extended time from what many considered two of their best offensive weapons at the beginning of the season. Yet, if the halos were to field what many would consider their everyday players tomorrow, all but one would have at least a .300 average, and the outlier would need only a hit in his first at bat to get there.
So with all the obstacles to overcome, how is it possible that the team has performed so well on the offensive side of the ball this year? It was clear in the offseason that the staff would encourage a more patient approach at the plate yet many were skeptical (including myself) as to whether that would take hold. Lo and behold, the team is seeing 3.87 pitches per plate appearance this year. Whereas from 2002-2008 they saw 3.60, 3.65, 3.66, 3.66, 3.66, 3.66, and 3.65 p/pa. I was amazed at the level of consistency in previous years, and even more amazed at how they have seemed to flip a switch and alter their approach. About 0.2 p/pa equates to nearly an inning’s worth of pitches per game they above what they saw the previous seven years.
Whether it has been the instruction of Mickey Hatcher, the addition of Bobby Abreu, or a lucky horseshoe they hung in the clubhouse, it’s working. Let’s hope that it keeps on working through October.