Let me pop open the hood on this clunker of an offense and see if I can’t figure out what’s wrong with the engine. Well, there’s your problem right there! Too many strikeouts. Take care of that and this old girl will be running like brand new.
Forgive my hacky impression of a mechanic, but this floundering Angel lineup really does need to figure out why it can’t seem to get into top gear and stay there. Mike Scioscia has already juggled the lineup every way he can dream of, but no permutation has had a lasting effect. Clearly there is a deeper problem plaguing the bats and it appears to be that said bats just aren’t actually making contact with the ball as much as they should.
Throughout Mike Scioscia’s storied tenure with the Halos, his squad has always finished in the bottom third in the majors when it comes to strikeouts (with the exception of his first season when they had the 16th most). Considering that Scioscia’s offensive philosophy relies so heavily on situational hitting, and thus putting the ball in play, it should be no surprise that he has always crafted his lineup to avoid the K. This year though, things are much different as the Angel batters lead the American League in strikeouts. Clearly that is something the Halos are going to have to address, but the question is if they really can correct it enough to fix the offense?
When your offense is almost entirely predicated around aggressive baserunning and good situational hitting, stirkeouts are your greatest enemy. The principle couldn’t be more simple, if you can’t put the ball in play, runners can’t advance or put pressure on the defense and you don’t score runs. You don’t need to be a MENSA member to figure that one out. Unfortunately, the Angels might need a genius to figure out why they are striking out in nearly 25% of their at-bats with runners in scoring position. Compare that to the Angels in previous seasons and you will see a team that has consistently kept the RISP strikeout rate under 20%, a substantial difference.
What accounts for that difference remains to be seen considering that the lineup is fairly similar from this year to last. What we can do is identify the primary offenders:
- Peter Bourjos – 31.7 K%
- Mark Trumbo – 25.0 K%
- Torii Hunter – 22.8 K%
- Bobby Abreu – 21.8 K%
- Howie Kendrick – 21.7 K%
The only real surprise on that list for me is that Vernon Wells is not included (he’s at a mere 19.0 K%). Seeing those whiff rates certainly explains why the offense is having such a hard time scoring runs what with over half the lineup fanning so very often. So how do we correct it?
First and foremost, patience. Both Kendrick and Hunter are striking out at a far greater rate than their career average. Give it enough time and both of them should regress to the mean and get their strikeouts under control. Hunter is getting older and his bat might be slowing a bit, so his K-rate might not come all the way back to his average, but it should still improve.
Up next is Abreu. Patience is a clearly a virtue he has in spades, but his strikeout rate is about on par for his career. Sorry, but you ain’t about to teach that old dog any new tricks.
The two kids, however, now there is some real room for education. Seeing youngsters strike out early and often is something we all expect, but Speedy Petey and the Trumbomber are taking it a little bit too far. All the whiffs were something the Angels knew they were getting themselves into when they put Trumbo in the lineup, but it might be time to reconsider that decision. As tantalizing as his power is, his high rate of swings-and-misses combined with generally poor situational hitting just makes him a odd fit in the Angel order. Until he brings a little something more to the table than the occasional longball, Trumbo needs to get his butt on the bench. I know Alberto Callaspo isn’t going to strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers like Trumbo’s power stroke does, but at least Callaspo puts the ball in play (10.3 K%).
That leaves just Bourjos to deal with. His preposterously high whiff rate does appear to be something of an aberration since he never K’d more than 19% of the time in his last three seasons in the minors, yet he is now striking out almost twice as often. I’d like to chalk that up to bad luck, but we’ve all seen him get badly over-matched in too many at-bats for us to actually believe that a four-leaf clover stapled to a rabbit’s foot is all he needs to correct his problem. And unlike Trumbo, Bourjos isn’t a real candidate to be dropped from the lineup because of his stellar defense. What Bourjos needs is probably something everyone in the lineup could use, a mental adjustment to his approach at the plate.
To put it mildly, the Angel hitters all need to take a Valium and calm the heck down. The offensive inefficiencies of the lineup have become a vicious cycle for many of the batters, knowing what a hard time they’ve had scoring runs, guys are trying to do to much at the plate. Instead of just trying to put the ball in play and stroke a single or at least advance the baserunner, many of the hitters are trying to hit an eight-run home run even when down 0-2 in the count (and Torii Hunter is the walking, talking example of this).
I hate to oversimplify it like that, but history has shown that striking out so much just isn’t the norm for this franchise and roster. Now it is up to the players to get back to basics and start getting some wood on the ball and the runs should follow.