Mickey Hatcher Fired: What Coach's Firing Means for Albert Pujols and Angels

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterMay 16, 2012

Mickey Hatcher had more than enough time to solve the Albert Pujols puzzle.
Mickey Hatcher had more than enough time to solve the Albert Pujols puzzle.Jason Miller/Getty Images

It's too bad the Los Angeles Angels didn't just fire Ron "Papa Jack" Jackson. His "somebody's gotta pay" mantra would have been quite appropriate for the situation.

The Angels fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher on Tuesday night (see Los Angeles Times report), simply because somebody had to pay. The Angels currently rank 22nd in the majors in runs scored, 14th in team batting average, 27th in on-base percentage and 22nd in slugging percentage. The team hasn't been hitting this season, and pinning it all on the hitting coach was the convenient thing to do.

It was also the sensible thing to do. The Angels don't have as much offensive talent as, say, the Texas Rangers, but they certainly have more talented hitters than most clubs. They should not be as offensively inept as they are.

And of course, there's the big guy. Albert Pujols started his first season with the Angels as a lifetime .328 hitter, and he's hitting .212 in the middle of May. The only reason his average is that high is because he collected three infield hits on Tuesday. He hasn't been driving the ball this season, and it's been painful to watch.

As the team's hitting coach, it is (excuse me, was) Hatcher's job to figure out what Pujols was doing wrong and fix it. He had a month and a half to get the job done, and failed to do so. 

Pujols hit his one and only home run this season on May 6th.
Pujols hit his one and only home run this season on May 6th.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Prince Albert's struggles at the plate were a sign that he and Hatcher simply weren't on the same page. Earlier this month Pujols called out Hatcher for speaking to the media about a speech the slugger gave during a closed-doors meeting.

"Mickey shouldn't have said that," Pujols said when he learned that Hatcher had spilled the beans, according to the Los Angeles Times. "No disrespect, but I'll talk to Mickey about that."

After that incident, Pujols kept on struggling, and he kept struggling because he was still doing the same things that led to a .217 average in the month of April.

I am not a professional hitting coach, but even I can tell Pujols' approach at the plate has been a mess this season. He's starting his swing too early, resulting in a lot of can-of-corn fly balls and weak ground balls to the left side of the infield. He's also swinging at a lot of pitches outside the strike zone. Per FanGraphs, he's swinging at 38.6 percent of the pitches outside the zone, to be exact. 

Despite the obviousness of Pujols' flawed approach at the plate, Hatcher was unable to get the team's star slugger back on the right track.

One of them had to go. The fact of the matter is, Hatcher isn't the guy with a 10-year contract worth well over $200 million. Now that Hatcher's gone, it's a good bet that new hitting coach Jim Eppard will have Pujols looking more like himself in no time.

This isn't all about Pujols, though. Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto made that abundantly clear when he opened up about Hatcher's firing to the media.

According to ESPNLosAngeles.com, Dipoto offered all the usual cliches, such as baseball being a "results-oriented business" and the notion that the Angels simply needed a "different voice."

Then there was this:

"We've struggled with situational hitting, we've struggled to get on base in ways other than the safely hit ball. Good hitters are also patient hitters. This is not necessarily about the individual message as much as the team-wide message we need to stress with our players."

The rough translation: We fired Hatcher because he wasn't the right man for this lineup.

Hatcher's and Scioscia's offensive philosophy worked like a charm in 2002.
Hatcher's and Scioscia's offensive philosophy worked like a charm in 2002.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

This is true. Hatcher was hired to be the team's hitting coach shortly after Mike Scioscia was hired to be the team's manager in 2000, and it was his job to put Scioscia's offensive philosophy into action. The Angels' current lineup isn't constructed to abide by that offensive philosophy.

The Angels of the early 2000s were renowned for being an aggressive, National League-style ballclub. It was all about getting 'em on, getting 'em over, and getting 'em in. Angels players were aggressive at the plate, and even more aggressive on the basepaths.

When the Angels won the World Series in 2002, the "Moneyball" movement was just starting to gain traction. They were the anti-Moneyball team, and they remained an anti-Moneyball team for quite a while.

The times have been a'changing in Anaheim in recent seasons. Slowly but surely, the Angels have transformed from a scrappy ballclub with aggressive hitters to a ballclub full of station-to-station guys. They have become a Moneyball team.

The numbers suggest that Hatcher just wasn't quite sure how to react to the changing times. In 2009, the Angels finished second in the American League in runs scored and third in team OBP. In 2010, they finished ninth in the league in runs scored, and 13th in team OBP. In 2011, they finished 10th in runs scored once again, and 11th in team OBP.

So despite the fact the Angels had been transforming into a Moneyball club over the last couple seasons, they clearly hadn't been performing like one. 

The transformation was completed this past offseason when the Angels inked Pujols. They ceased being the Angels, and became more like a West Coast version of the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox– a high-priced team comprised of base-clogging sluggers.

Hatcher lost his job because he couldn't adjust to the new way of doing things in Anaheim, and he may not be the only man to lose his job over a failure to adjust.

The Angels decided to pin the team's struggles on Hatcher now, but nobody should overlook the fact that Hatcher answered to Scioscia. He was Scioscia's guy, and he's gone now. If the team continues to struggle, how much longer will it be before the Angels' brass concludes that Scioscia is just as bad a fit for this team as Hatcher was?

At the rate the Angels are going, it may not be long. The Angels sent a clear message when they fired Hatcher, and that message is that the franchise has shifted into a "What have you done for me lately?" mode.

If the Angels don't shape up, more heads are going to roll. Somebody's gotta pay.

 

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