TEMPE, ARIZ. — 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.
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 have not finished in the top half of the American League in walks since 2000, Scioscia's first year as manager. He said he renewed the focus on plate discipline about three years ago, yet he insists walks are not the barometer of success.
Although some organizations demand prospects take a certain amount of pitches and walks, Scioscia said the Angels simply want their players to better distinguish between balls and strikes, to take the bad pitches and hit the good ones, to get the count in the hitter's favor and force the pitcher to throw a strike, preferably a fat one.
"It's a huge benefit for team offense to have people, plain and simple, not swing at balls," said Jim Eppard, the Angels' triple-A hitting instructor and an organizational coach since 2003.
Guerrero can swing at a bad ball and get away with it, but "most mortal hitters" cannot, Scioscia said.
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.
"To have someone be more disciplined at the plate, you can't just push a button," Eppard said. "It doesn't happen overnight.
"It's something we've talked about, and we're starting to see results."