This wasn’t the season the Angels were supposed to have. They had signed Albert Pujols, the best hitter of a generation in free agency. Kendrys Morales, who finished fifth in the MVP voting last time he finished a season, was finally going to get back on the field. The team was determined to find a spot in the lineup for Mark Trumbo‘s big swing. Vernon Wells couldn’t possibly be as bad as he was last year…right? This was supposed to be one of the best offensive teams in the league…but that’s why they don’t award the World Series trophy after Spring Training.
Instead of offensive proficiency, the team ranks 12th in the AL in runs scored, 12th in on-base percentage, 11th in slugging percentage, and only have as many home runs as the Seattle Mariners, who are not exactly the 1995 “Refuse to Lose” Seattle Mariners at this point. Instead of striking fear into opposing pitching, the Halos lead the league in getting shut out, and it’s not even close. Through the first 36 games, they matched the record for suffering the most shutouts in the last 96 years. Something had to change, so the Angels announced after last night’s game that they had fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher and promoted Jim Eppard from Triple-A Salt Lake to replace him.
The move was met with great rejoicing from Angels fans, who had grown disgruntled with Hatcher’s work watching the team struggle to score runs over the last two seasons. When this season started out similarly, and Pujols stuck in the worst hitting slump of his career, GM Jerry Dipoto decided it was time to let Hatcher go. While Dipoto has nothing but great things to say about Hatcher and his ability as a hitting coach, the organization felt it was time for a “fresh breeze” to blow through the clubhouse to see if a new voice could get this team turned around.
The move also reflects a difference in philosophy between the old regime in Anaheim and Dipoto’s term now. Hatcher promoted an aggressive approach at the plate, which didn’t help the team get on base which conflicts with Dipoto’s increased emphasis on on-base percentage and the incorporation of advanced analytics into the team’s approach. Hatcher was old school, and the Angels are moving into the new school, leaving the old pieces behind as they fall. But what could that mean for Mike Scioscia going forward?
Scioscia is the longest-tenured manager in baseball who has a fierce loyalty for “his guys,” which comes through in most of the managerial decisions he makes. That includes keeping Hatcher around for as long as he did. Hatcher is a longtime friend and former teammate of Scioscia’s, playing on the Dodgers’ 1988 World Series team with Scioscia and also acting as the hitting coach for the 2002 World Series run for the Angels. He was hired on in 2000, shortly after Scioscia got the Angels job, and many feel overstayed his welcome, at least according to fans who have watched this team flail at the plate the last two years. With this move, Jerry Dipoto is laying claim to the Angels as his team, and not Scioscia’s any longer.
Dipoto has shown a strong, decisive hand so far as GM of the Angels, and has begun putting his own people in place around the organization who are more in tune with his philosophy on baseball, particularly on patience at the plate. Back in November, Dipoto vowed that he would do whatever it took to raise the Angels on-base percentage by being more patient and drawing more walks. Scioscia and Hatcher, however, have continued to preach patience only as a means to an end (geting a good pitch to hit) rather than an end in itselt (a walk). The disconnect could be partially to blame for the Angels disapointing offense this season and could be the beginning of a complete regime change for the Halos.