Andrelton Simmons' average fell to .204 on June 22, which is about the time the Angels shortstop received a surprise text message from General Manager Billy Eppler, who sent a batch of statistics showing the type and location of pitches Simmons drives with authority and the ones he struggles to square up.
Simmons, 27, has not been an offensive force in five big league seasons. He's a defensive whiz who won two Gold Glove Awards with Atlanta before being traded to the Angels last November.
What did he have to lose? He absorbed the material from Eppler and, with input from hitting coaches Dave Hansen and Paul Sorrento, incorporated it into his approach over the next few months.
The results have been remarkable. In 70 games from June 23 to Thursday — almost half a season — Simmons hit .333 with an .819 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 72 points higher than his career .261 average and 146 points higher than his career .673 OPS.
Simmons had 15 doubles, three homers — all of them coming in two games this week — and 28 runs batted in during the clip, which raised his average to .288 Thursday.
Simmons went hitless in three at-bats and walked once in Friday night's 5-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, his average falling to .286. But his .328 mark since July 1 is the fourth-best among major league shortstops.
"Instead of just swinging at strikes, I'm looking for a particular pitch and waiting for that pitch," Simmons said. "It doesn't happen all the time, but I've been doing a better job in the second half. I'm swinging at better pitches.
"I'm not missing my pitches. I'm not fouling off pitches I should hit. I've been squaring up pitches I can hit, and it's showing. I'm trying to shrink [the zone] of what I'm looking for, and it's helping."
Neither Simmons nor Eppler wanted to divulge too much information. They don't want to hand scouting reports to opponents. But according to ESPN Stats & Information, Simmons' "hot zones" are middle-in, high and inside, and low and away, the latter of which may explain an increase in hits to right field.
"The concepts are out there," Eppler said, "but how we calculate them is proprietary."
Eppler said the information passed to Simmons is reflective of an approach the first-year general manager is implementing throughout the organization.
"We're trying to make our hitters conscious of what they are, what they've been, and to accentuate that as much as possible," Eppler said.
The bats of the Angels remained silent Friday night against knuckleball-throwing R.A. Dickey, who gave up seven hits and struck out five in five scoreless innings, and four Blue Jays relievers.
Toronto shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit a two-run homer to left field in the fourth, the only blemish on Angels right-hander Jered Weaver's six-inning, two-run, seven-hit start. Weaver (11-12) has given up an AL-high 36 homers.
Edwin Encarnacion sealed the win with a two-run homer, his 40th of the season, to cap a three-run rally off Angels reliever Andrew Bailey in the ninth.
The Angels have lost nine of 10 games, a stretch in which they scored 16 runs (1.6 a game) and hit .179 (56 for 313) overall and .090 (six for 67) with runners in scoring position.
The Angels failed to score after putting runners on second and third with one out in the first and loading the bases with no outs in the sixth.
The first rally fizzled when C.J. Cron struck out and Simmons popped to first with the bases loaded. The second ended when Toronto reliever Joe Biagini struck out Nick Buss, got Yunel Escobar to ground to the mound for a forceout at home and Kaleb Cowart to fly to center.
With his first-inning double into the left-field corner, Albert Pujols became the 16th player in baseball history to amass 600 doubles and the third with 575 homers and 600 doubles, joining Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron. … The Angels' rookie-league team at Orem, Utah, defeated Billings, Mont., 3-2, Friday to win the Pioneer League championship.