Sportsline: Contrasting A's and Angels on hitting

The preview of the LAAOA is all about the difference between the Angels' hitting philosophy and that of the A's.

There are many phrases you might hear if you hang around manager Mike Scioscia's Angels long enough during the course of a season. "A walk is as good as a hit" probably won't be one of them.

In an American League West containing the calculating and picky Oakland Athletics in one corner, the Angels are the undisciplined cousin who lives life by impulse.

In an AL West in which the Athletics have enjoyed great success by choosing pitches with more care and selection than your grandmother uses in picking out eggs at the supermarket, the Angels last year ranked 14th -- last -- in the league in walks.

You can improve your OBP by getting hits, not just walks, say the Angels:

The Angels share a belief with the Athletics in the importance of on-base percentage. But they do not share a belief with Oakland that walks are an integral part of boosting it.

While the Angels ranked 14th in the AL and 28th in baseball last year with 450 walks, Oakland was third in the AL and fifth in the majors with 608.

Yet, in on-base percentage, while Oakland ranked fifth in the AL and ninth in the majors at .343, the Angels were right with them -- sixth in the AL and 13th in the majors at .341. And on the final weekend of the season, the Swingin' Angels won the first two games of a series in Oakland to steal the division title.

Garret Anderson, perhaps unintentionally, agrees with something I've always said:  "A walk is as good as a hit" only when the bases are empty.  A walk, obviously, won't score the tying run from scoring position with two outs in the eighth.

"Pitchers throw strikes, and you've got to swing the bat," left fielder Garret Anderson says. "In theory, (walking) sounds good, but you've still got to swing the bat and get those guys to score."

Ah, but then we get to one big reason for the difference in philosophy:

Certainly, the Athletics have had terrific success with their style of play -- especially when you consider that the Angels payroll the past few seasons has dwarfed Oakland's, allowing them in theory to sign a few more talented players (last year and again this season, the Angels payroll will be around $100 million and Oakland's will be little more than half of that, roughly $60 million). While Oakland, partly due to financial limitations, is very specific in searching for players who fit into its philosophy -- the Scott Hattebergs and Erubiel Durazos -- the Angels concentrate on finding players who will play well in Scioscia's move-runners-over, keep-the-pressure-on-the-defense style.

Absolutely, if I can afford Vladimir Guerrero, I won't tell him to stand there with the bat on his shoulder.  If all I can afford is Hatty and Ruby, then maybe I tell them to just get on base any way they can.  Duh.

Still, though, beyond the money, it is a difference in philosophy between Beaneball and Scioscia's 1970s-era approach to generating runs:

"When you hit and run, certain percentages in your game are going to go down," Erstad says. "There are not going to be many walks because you're swinging early in the count. That's just the way it is.

"You know what? It's aggressive, but it's not crazy. You still understand there are parts of the game where you need to take advantage of certain situations. Compared to other teams, we sure don't walk much."

But compared to other teams, well ... the Angels won the World Series in '02 and gave themselves a chance to win again in '04. Whatever gets you through the night.

"There are different philosophies, but who's to say which one is right?" Erstad says. "You can analyze it until you're blue in the face, but this is the way Sosh wants to play ball. This is the way they set this team up.

"This is the way we're going to do it."

Vive la difference.  Let's start the season.

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