When Mickey Hatcher played in the majors, his approach at the plate was pretty easy to describe: see ball, hit ball. He was an aggressive hitter who rarely struck out but also rarely took a free pass. During his years in the majors, 1979 to 1990, he had the 14th-best strikeout rate among players with 3,000 plate appearances ... and the seventh-worst walk rate. See ball, swing.
This philosophy extended over to his long tenure as hitting coach with the Angels, one that ended with his termination on Tuesday night, with the Angels 11th in the American League in runs scored, last in walks drawn, and first in the majors with eight shutouts. The Angels employed an aggressive approach that usually had them near the top of the AL in fewest strikeouts and near the bottom in walks drawn. "Get into hitter's counts, and when you get a good pitch, swing at it," Hatcher told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. "Don't take a pitch just to take a pitch or swing at one just to swing. We want guys to swing at fastballs in the zone. That might be the first pitch. The big thing is, we don't want to take the aggressiveness away from any of those guys."
Some years this worked, some years it didn't. When the Angels won the World Series in 2002, they led the AL batting average and fewest strikeouts and ranked fourth in runs scored. In 2009, they ranked second in the AL in runs scored, an impressive accomplishment considering their home park. But in many years, the offense was mediocre or worse, as relying on batting average to score runs is an inconsistent proposition. Power and walks are a more reliable means of offense; batting average can fluctuate year to year. In 2002, the team hit .282; the next year it hit .268. In 2009, the team hit .285; in 2010, it hit .248.
Here's where the Angels ranked among AL teams in various categories during Hatcher's tenure:
In recent seasons, the Angels' offense had sputtered as the team's batting average declined. This season, Albert Pujols isn't the only Angels hitter struggling. Howie Kendrick has 31 strikeouts and six walks; Vernon Wells has four walks and a .266 OBP; Erick Aybar is hitting .187 with four walks. The Angels have swung at more pitches outside the strike zone than any club in the AL. Not that Hatcher deserves more than a small amount of the blame -- in the end, the players have to produce -- but it was time for him to go.
Angels GM Jerry DiPoto is a big believer in a more patient approach and many were surprised that Hatcher returned this season. "Obviously, we've been struggling as an offensive club, really for the entirety of the season," Dipoto said after the firing. "Peeling back the layers of the onion, this is a problem that we've had as an offensive team for the last couple of years. It's something we've been monitoring, trying to change the way we approach our at-bats."
The issue for new hitting coach Jim Eppard isn't necessarily implementing a new philosophy, but whether he has the right players to do so. When Torii Hunter, once a notorious non-walker, is leading your team in free passes, the problem may more simply be that it's a lineup of bad hitters and one slumping superstar.