Results tagged ‘ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim ’

“Odd Man Out”: Update

Yesterday I posted a blog entry that listed various other blogs commenting on Odd Man Out. One of the blogs was written by Jeff Bercovici of

Bercovici is back tonight with another post, this time on how Sports Illustrated got taken into publishing an excerpt without properly vetting the article.

Chris Stone, the magazine’s baseball editor, says SI conducted its own, independent fact-check of the excerpt, but that its fact-checking doesn’t routinely extend to calling up people who are quoted and reading them back their quotes. (Some other magazines, including The New Yorker, do fact-check quotes.)

Stone says he’s troubled by the discrepancies brought to light in the Times but doesn’t think the book should be written off as a fraud. In the excerpt, he says, “there were some facts that needed to be amended and corrected, but not enough to suggest that this book was fundamentally wrong. These errors certainly speak to sloppiness and carelessness with the facts, and it’s inexcusable, but to compare it to the James Frey memoir — that’s a big leap.”

Bercovici quoted the lawyer for manager Tom Kotchman as saying that a lawsuit is under consideration.

Contactball 101

I’ve written many times about “Contactball,” my term for the Angels’ style of offense. Most recently, I discussed it in the comments posted by nardtwopper in the Kendry Morales blog on February 27.

Many people on fan boards, and some sportswriters, inaccurately describe how Contactball works. They claim it means the Angels teach their young hitters to swing at bad pitches, to “hack,” that hitting coach Mickey Hatcher forces every hitter to become just like him, etc., ad nauseam.

The truth is that the Angels want their young hitters to look for a pitch they can drive. With nobody on, it’s to look for a pitch that can be driven for a hit. With runners on base, the emphasis is on situational hitting. With a runner on second, for example, they want the batter to hit the ball to the right side so that runner can advance to third. That does not mean they deliberately want the batter to make an out. A hit would be nice, but if you’re going to hit the ball, hit it to the right side (unless it’s a nice big fat pitch, but the higher you go in pro ball the fewer mistakes you’re going to see).

Some people think “patience” means taking walks. But in Angels lexicon, it’s plate “discipline,” which means learning to look for a pitch that fits the situation.

An article by national baseball writer Bill Shaikin in today’s Los Angeles Times affirmed exactly what I’ve been saying.

… 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.”

A common fallacy circulated on fan boards is that Mickey Hatcher tells the batters what pitches to swing at, that he’s making them swing at anything and everything.

Of course, anyone who knows a smidgen of what a major league hitting coach does knows this is nonsense. His job is to know his hitters’ mechanics, to monitor those mechanics to assure they don’t fall into bad habits, and to be a sounding board when necessary.

At the lower levels, when a hitter begins his professional career, a hitting coach’s job is to teach the hitter to become his own hitting coach. Coaches come and go, so it’s vital for the hitter to understand his mechanics, what works, and what doesn’t. They’re also taught to have an idea of what they’ll do when they’re at the plate; longtime minor league manager Ty Boykin describes this as, “Plan your work, and work you plan.”

In discussions over the years with many minor league hitters and coaches, I’ve been told that as a general rule a hitter at the lowest levels may see one mistake pitch every at-bat. As he rises through the levels, he’ll see fewer and fewer mistake pitches. At the major league level, he might see a mistake once every three or four games.

That’s where Contactball comes into play.

Rather than wait for the pitcher to make a mistake, the batter should look for a pitch he can drive that will either get him on base and/or advance a runner. As Mike Scioscia said above, walks are not an accurate barometer of plate discipline, although they might be a byproduct. For example, if there’s a runner on third with one out and you see a pitch you could have driven deep enough to score the runner, but that pitch wasn’t a strike so you let it go by for a ball, the Angels’ philosophy is that you probably made a mistake. Those obsessed with walks argue that the batter did the right thing, but if he walks and the next guy grounds into a double play to end the inning without scoring a run, can you still argue he did the right thing by talking a walk?

A February 28 article by Angels beat writer Lyle Spencer showed what it is a major league hitting coach really does, and how it ties into the Angels’ Contactball philosophy.

The meeting was held in June in the office of Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who did the talking and demonstrating along with hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. Brandon Wood listened, intently absorbing every detail.

“Sosh had a fungo bat in his hands and was showing me some things, and Hatch was showing me how it would benefit me to move my hands down, get quicker to the ball,” Wood said.

“At first I thought, `I’ve been quick enough to hit home runs in the Minor Leagues.’ But I have a lot of respect for their knowledge and experience, and we started working on dropping my hands from the cocked position I’d always used.

“I couldn’t find a comfort zone for two or three weeks. But by July I had it down and began to have some success with it. In September, I was playing every day and I had some good at-bats. I could feel the difference.”

Now that’s what Mickey Hatcher really does.

A March 3 Los Angeles Times article by beat writer Mike DiGiovanna noted that “Hatcher also stressed looking for one pitch to drive and laying off pitches he couldn’t hit hard.”

Hatcher found a way to tweak Wood’s mechanics, and also helped him be more selective at the plate. The advice wasn’t to take more walks, but to look for one pitch he can drive hard. The byproduct might be more walks, but I’d argue that the real byproduct will be more hits, more extra-base hits in particular. When that happens, he’ll get more walks because pitchers will have to be more careful with him. They’ll start to pitch around him. He won’t get more walks just because he’s looking to take a walk. With Wood’s power, his job will be to drive in runs.

A March 2 Orange County Register article by beat writer Bill Plunkett drew a comparison to Mike Schmidt’s early career, one I’ve made many times on this blog. He asked manager Mike Scioscia about the comparison, and Scioscia confirmed what I’ve said before — that Schmidt was given time to fail and learn because the Phillies were so bad in the early 1970s.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia points out that the Phillies indeed “were bottom-dwellers for how long?” when they handed Schmidt a job.

“Some young players just don’t get a two-year window to play at the major-league level and develop like Mike Schmidt,” Scioscia said …

“Coming up and getting playing time randomly here and there and not getting many consecutive at-bats, I didn’t put up very good numbers,” said Wood who would talk to his father during those stretches about feeling he needed to hit “800 feet worth of home runs” one day to get in Scioscia’s lineup the next.

“Playing every day, I was just playing baseball. … I had a chance to prove to myself that I had the ability to get hits and help a team win. I think that was a big hurdle for me because coming up you always have doubts. It doesn’t matter if you get two, three at-bats in a month – if you strike out all three times, you’re thinking, ‘Man, these guys are good. Can I play up here?’

“Once I got a chance to play every day and I did some things to help the team win … I enjoyed every minute of it and that was my motivation this off-season, to get back to that.”

We all saw how certain young hitters failed in last October’s ALDS against Boston because they were chasing bad pitches. That wasn’t because Scioscia or Hatcher made them chase bad pitches. It’s because they’re young and haven’t yet adapted to playing in a pressure environment.

I’m glad that the Angels’ beat writers are finally giving the world an accurate picture of how Contactball is taught in the minors. There will always be those who will lie about it because they get off on attacking a team they supposedly support. But the more the reporters write about it, and as the young hitters start to produce with experience and confidence, Contactball will be vindicated.

UPDATE March 5,2009 3:30 PM PST — The Orange County Register joins the fray with this article by Bill Plunkett about how the Angels will go about improving plate discipline.

Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said the emphasis includes some directives this spring for the younger players based on certain scenarios — take a strike when leading off an inning, see as many pitches as possible in your first at-bat against a pitcher, lay off breaking balls and change-ups to “keyhole” on fastballs in certain areas.

“It’s going to take us time but this spring training we’re really going to focus on that, especially down there with those (minor-league) guys,” Hatcher said. “They don’t even know what a pitcher’s throwing and they’re swinging. We preach it and preach it and we weren’t getting anything done with it. Now we’re going to make it mandatory.”

And Scioscia validates what I wrote yesterday.

Scioscia rejects the notion that a “wail and bail” approach is part of the team’s hitting philosophy.

“That’s not a philosophy. That’s a plate-discipline issue that some guys got a little out of what they need to do,” Scioscia said. “If you look at what our philosophy is in the minor leagues, it’s very clear. It’s all about getting into a hitting count, keyholing, getting a good pitch to hit and turning the bat loose, sure. But with the plate discipline that allows you to get into counts where you can pressure the pitcher.

“Our philosophy is very clear. Some times there’s a perception out there that I don’t know how it gets created.”

“Odd Man Out” Author Matt McCarthy in Fullerton March 4

Matt McCarthy, the author of Odd Man Out, is scheduled to appear in Fullerton tomorrow March 4 for a book signing.

Click Here for details about the book signing.

The event according to the web site is 7 PM at the Barnes & Noble at 1923 W. Malvern Avenue in Fullerton.

“Odd Man Out”: The Blogosphere Reacts to NYT  Article

Earlier today I posted an entry about an article in today’s New York Times which alleged that “many portions of [Odd Man Out] are incorrect, embellished or impossible.”

Several professional blogs have reacted to the story. Here are a few.

Orange County Register

OC Weekly

Regarding the latter, blogger Jeff Bercovici wrote:

Of course, for now, the author is sticking to his script, insisting there were, at most, a “handful of details” he might’ve invented to fill in memory gaps. But we’ve all seen how this plays out. The publisher — Viking, in this case — will dig in for a couple days as pressure mounts; then it will flip, toss McCarthy overboard and apologize to all and sundry.

Some of these bloggers have referred to A Million Little Pieces, author James Frey’s biography about his recovery from supposed alcoholism, drug addiction, and crime. The 2005 book, which earned Frey an appearance on Oprah, was exposed by to be a fraud.

Police reports, court records, interviews with law enforcement personnel, and other sources have put the lie to many key sections of Frey’s book. The 36-year-old author, these documents and interviews show, wholly fabricated or wildly embellished details of his purported criminal career, jail terms, and status as an outlaw “wanted in three states.”

Bercovici wrote last December about a phony Holocaust memoir and commented:

With the book business in a deep swoon, no one is going to seriously consider adopting measures that could add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of publishing a title. And the lesson of Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” was that readers don’t necessarily care whether a memoir is true as long as it packs a punch.

Still, while across-the-board fact-checking may be off the table, publishers interested in avoiding future humiliations would do well to take a page from the world of journalism. Here’s a little piece of advice every reporter hears not long after starting out: When a story sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Bercovici noted that the fake Holocaust book and another work about life in gangland L.A, that also turned out to be bogus were both published by Penguin — the same subsidiary of Viking that published Odd Man Out.

His December column was titled, “Phony Holocaust Memoir Won’t Be the Last.”

He was right.

UPDATE 7:45 PM PST — More articles on the New York Times revelations:

NBC Philadelphia “Baseball’s Million Little Pieces.

Village Voice “Times Pounces on Bogus Memoir, But Still Protects Another”.

The Sporting News “Baseball Memoir Turns Out To Be Fiction”. “Crazy Baseball Memoir Probably Didn’t Happen”.

PowellsBooks.Blog “Mound of Lies”.

Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf. “Matt McCarthy’s Baseball Memoir Stirs Questions About Truth-Telling”.

Can’t Stop the Bleeding “First Do No Harm To Easily Checked Facts: The Times on Matt McCarthy’s Memoir”. “Odd Man Out book under attack.” “Doctor’s tall tales fail to stand up to examination”.

The Common Man “Faulty Memories”.

The Perpetual Post “Odd Man Out, or Who Do You Trust?” “Washout pitcher’s book revealed to have massive errors”.

IvyGate “Kaavya Meets Aleksey Meets A Million Little Pieces”. “Another Memoir in Trouble? Baseball and Lilacs”. “Anti-Fan: Despite advice, I forge ahead”. “The New York Times: It Giveth and It Taketh Away”.

Yahoo! Finance “Odd Man Out is this year’s all-star baseball book”. “What’s The Truth Worth, Anyway?”.

Along with plenty of posts on amateur blogs across the nation …

Women’s Baseball Lecture Saturday March 7 at Fullerton Museum

The Fullerton Museum will have a lecture this Saturday on women’s baseball. Here’s the blurb from their web site:

“We Played Baseball” Luncheon
Saturday, March 7
noon-2:00 p.m.
$12-general/$8 museum members

Don’t miss this informative discussion with Jean Ardell, author of “Breaking Into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime” Learn about the 1940s All American Professional Girls Baseball League from players Shirley Burkovick who played on the Rockford Peaches and Maybelle Blair who played with the Peoria Redwings.You can ask questions and mingle with the pros! Includes lunch and viewings of our Line Drives and Lipstick exhibit. Space is limited and pre-registration is required.

Call the museum at (714) 738-6545 to register.

Jean is also the wife of Dan Ardell, an original “future Angel” who played in the minor league system 1961-1964 and was with the parent club for seven games in 1961.

Click Here for more information on the Line Drives & Lipstick exhibit.

Click Here for directions to the museum.

“Odd Man Out”: New York Times Review

Today’s New York Times weighs in on the Matt McCarthy controversy. Click Here to read the article.

… Statistics from that season, transaction listings and interviews with his former teammates indicate that many portions of the book are incorrect, embellished or impossible … When presented with evidence of his book’s wide-ranging errors and misquotations in an interview Monday morning, McCarthy said that he stood by the contents of “Odd Man Out.” He said the book, which was published last month by Viking Press and was ranked No. 29 on the most recent New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, was drawn from detailed journals he kept during his year in the Angels’ minor league system. He declined to show how those journals corroborated his stories.

There’s also a lengthy sidebar documenting many of the discrepancies; Click Here to read the sidebar.

Alan Schwarz, who co-wrote the article, is a longtime sportswriter for The New York Times and Baseball America.

Click Here to read all blog posts on Odd Man Out.

Orem – Great Falls Highlights

Will Smith
Will Smith was the starting pitcher for Orem on September 12, 2008 when the Owlz defeated Great Falls 3-2 in 13 innings to tie the Pioneer League championship series at one game apiece.


Catching up on my video archives … I just uploaded a 30-minute video highlights from Game #2 of the 2008 Pioneer League championship series between the Orem Owlz and the Great Falls Voyagers. In the eleven years I’ve been running, this game is in the top five. Great pitching. A see-saw lead. A bad call by the home plate umpire that led to the first ejection ever of an Orem player. A 9th inning rally to send the game into extra innings.

This video begins on the field with batting practice, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at pre-game activities before the gates open. It takes you through the game, highlights and lowlights, up to the winning hit in the bottom of the 13th and post-game celebration.

Click Here to watch the video. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

“Odd Man Out”: Blog Reviews

As Odd Man Out works its way into the mainstream, I’ve found a few blog reviews here and there. Click on each site’s name below to read the reviews.

Various Observations in Written Form

The White Sox Blog

The Daily Grind

Winning at Fantasy Sports Live

If you know of any other reviews in magazines, newspapers, or blogs, please post the link or e-mail me at

“Odd Man Out”: OC Weekly Interview

OC Weekly, an alternative weekly magazine here in Orange County, has posted a review of Odd Man Out. Click Here to read the review, written by reporter Matt Coker.

A warning — OC Weekly has no problem with publishing R-rated language, so if you’re sensitive to such things you may not want to read it. The review does excerpt some of the more explicit passages I’ve written about.

Click Here to read all blog articles about Odd Man Out.

Splitting Kendry Morales

Kendry Morales
Kendry Morales


First base is Kendry Morales’ job to lose this year, so sabermetricians are spinning their statistical heads trying to prove he’s the next big bust.

Sam Miller at the Orange County Register, who’s doing quite a nice job breathing fresh air into the paper’s Angels coverage, posted a blog entry on February 25 reporting that a formula concocted by Baseball Prospectus writer Nate Silver called PECOTA predicts that in 2009 Morales will post an AVG/OBP/SLG of .253/.295/.389.

Part of the denigration, Sam writes, is due to PECOTA trying to adjust for Triple-A Salt Lake’s hitting friendly environment.

What PECOTA knows is that Morales has spent most of his minor league career in extreme hitting environments. It adjusts his minor league numbers to Major League Equivalent numbers. Going from Salt Lake City (elevation: 4226), in the Pacific Coast League, to the majors strips Morales’ numbers of most of their shine.

For instance, his .341/.376/.543 Salt Lake line of 2008 translates to .262/.297/.422 in the majors. The first line looks like a star; the second line doesn’t deserve a starting job in the majors. Giving credibility to PECOTA’s translations, Morales has hit a very similar .249/.302/.408 in 307 real major league at bats, which gives us more reason to be suspicious.

To quote Shakespeare, “Ay, there’s the rub.”

If you’re a regular reader of my blogs, you know I’m hard on statheads, and this is one reason why. They look for macro-trends and then apply them in individual examples, which is the lazy way out. What they should be doing is analysis of the individual player.

I’ve written many articles in the last couple years about how to properly analyze Salt Lake players. You don’t just look at home/road split, or the nonsensical Major League Equivalent formula.

In the PCL, there are five hitter-friendly parks — Salt Lake, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, and Tucson. So what you do is look at a player’s performance in those five parks versus the rest of the league.

It requires a little bit of effort, namely collecting the game-by-game data in a year for a player, then sorting them into “hitter-friendly” versus the rest.

I spent a half-hour last night looking at Kendry’s splits for 2007 and 2008. Here’s what I found (AVG/OBP/SLG):

2007 (Age 24):
OVERALL: .341/.385/.486 (255 AB)
HITTER-FRIENDLY: .359/.406/.503 (181 AB)
THE REST: .297/.342/.446 (74 AB)

2008 (Age 25):
OVERALL: .341/.376/.543 (317 AB)
HITTER-FRIENDLY: .323/.362/.494 (164 AB)
THE REST: .359/.404/.595 (153 AB)

2007 is what you’d expect, better numbers in the hitter-friendly parks. But in 2008, Morales had much better numbers in the neutral/pitcher-friendly parks!

I checked those 2008 numbers looking for any mistake I may have made, but it looks legitimate. And the sample size is about the same for both groups (164 vs. 153 AB).

So does this mean that Morales is a future Hall of Famer?

Of course not.

But what it does show is that off-the-shelf statistical formulas designed for fantasy leagues are no substitute for context.

If Morales had posted that .359/.404/.595 line in a neutral park instead of Salt Lake, he might not have been dismissed so easily by the calculator crowd.

The Register‘s Angels blog is becoming quite the place to be. Sam and the paper’s other sports writers participate all day long, interacting with readers. Click Here to read the blog and join in the fun.