The statistics appear to be misprints, at least at first glance: The Angels lead the major leagues in walks this spring. The Angels are the only club with more walks than strikeouts.That is, until you get to this paragraph at the end:
This is not an accident. While Vladimir Guerrero remains the face of a free-swinging offense in Anaheim, the Angels have quietly revamped their minor league instructional program over the last three years to emphasize plate discipline.
"We're starting to get some tendencies with younger guys coming through the system," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're excited because we're seeing it at the major league level
The Angels, who did not play a game Tuesday, have yet to play their regulars in spring games, and the walk totals assuredly will drop as Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar start to play. Yet the Angels are encouraged with the progress of such young players as infielders Kendry Morales, Brandon Wood and Sean Rodriguez, catchers Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli and outfielder Reggie Willits.In other words, don't expect to see any difference this season. Napoli and Willits have always taken a ton of walks, posting ISO OBPs over .100 every season (almost - Willits was .098 in 2007). Of the other three young players listed, only Morales projects to see a lot of at bats this season, and for his career, he walks about once every fifteen plate appearances. Wood has four walks in 188 PAs for his young career. These are not take and rake hitters. Sean Rodriguez has been a little more patient, walking once every 13 PAs or so at the major league level. He's been much better in the minors, walking once for nine PAs, which is actually pretty good, though those numbers are a bit skewed by two outlier seasons in Provo (1BB/5.4PA) and Cedar Rapids (1BB/6.7PA). And honestly, if Willits and Mathis are going to see a lot of time at the dish, it probably means things aren't going well this season.
At the very least, it's nice to see the Angels pay lip service to plate discipline, but the problem can't be attributed to simply having a current group of major leaguers who don't walk very much. Their history of acquisitions shows that plate discipline simply hasn't been a priority, though that may be changing with the addition of Bobby Abreu.
What's more, there hasn't been much organizational turnover at the instructional levels. Maybe I'm wrong, but when the same guys who have told me that walks don't matter suddenly start singing a different tune, well, let's just say actions will speak louder than words. As AAA hitting instructor Jim Eppard said:
"To have someone be more disciplined at the plate, you can't just push a button. It doesn't happen overnight."And he's right. Unfortunately, he's been there since 2003. Without an infusion of new blood, I'm skeptical that we'll see a real change in organizational philosophy. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with the success of this decade, and I'm not calling for anyone's head. I think they're OK the way they are, though they could be better.
You don't just suddenly see old dogs learning new tricks. I'll be watching the minor league numbers this year, and I'll be looking for that light.