David Fletcher to set an aggressive tone for Angels with his old-school mentality
Joe Maddon wants the Angels to play “like it’s 1985,” an approach the manager describes as a “real assertive, aggressive, attitudinal kind of game, maybe pushing it on the bases. … It may be anti-analytical, but I think it’s going to benefit us.”
If playing with such an edge starts at the top, Maddon might have the ideal tone-setter in David Fletcher, the scrappy, throwback of a leadoff man who sprays line drives around the field, rarely strikes out and has no interest in launch angles.
While Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon are expected to provide the bulk of the power in the middle of the lineup this season, Fletcher, the infielder who hit .319 with a .376 on-base percentage, three homers, 13 doubles and 18 RBIs in 2020, will serve as an ignition switch.
“He’s just a baseball player,” Maddon said. “He likes to swing but knows when not to. He knows his job when he goes up to the plate. He reacts to the situation, knows what it calls for and then becomes that type of offensive player. … Some hitters have just enough power to be a bad hitter. He knows to stay in his lane.”
Health and safety precautions are enforced, so attending a Dodgers or Angels Cactus League game this spring looks to be an enjoyable experience.
Fletcher’s primary job is to get on base for the sluggers behind him. He said his approach changes slightly with runners in scoring position, but not by much.
“It’s more take what they give me, basically hit it where it’s pitched,” Fletcher, 26, said before Wednesday’s exhibition against the Texas Rangers in Tempe Diablo Stadium. “It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the simple version.”
Fletcher’s bat-to-ball skills are such that he lashed a pitch that was nearly over his head into the right-field corner for a double against Oakland on Aug. 22. The 5-foot-9 Fletcher was in protect mode on a two-strike, 89-mph fastball from Mike Fiers that was about even with the brim of Fletcher’s helmet.
Fletcher struck out only 25 times in 207 at-bats last season, a 10.9% rate that was the fifth lowest in baseball. He led all of baseball with a 92% contact rate. Of his batted balls, 54.6% were grounders, 29.7% were line drives and only 10.3% were fly balls. More than half (54.6%) were hit up the middle.
Fletcher, who earned one 10th-place vote in American League most valuable player balloting last season, also has a knack for dunking soft hits just beyond the reach of infielders and in front of outfielders, a function of skill as much as luck.
“For me, when I’m on plane and can stay through the ball, my misses are going to be line drives, which is ideal for me instead of ground balls and fly balls,” Fletcher said. “If I can stay on plane and stay through the ball like I want to, I’ll ideally get a lot of miss-hit singles.”
Fletcher, a product of Cypress High School and Loyola Marymount, has three walks and an opposite-field single off a 103-mph fastball in his first four spring plate appearances.
If there is one phase of the game Maddon would like to see Fletcher expand, it’s on the basepaths. Fletcher has 13 stolen bases and has been caught stealing four times in 283 big league games. Maddon thinks he could be more of a base-stealing threat.
“Not to where he’s going to go out there and steal 40, but more of a situational base-stealing threat,” Maddon said, “where we can take advantage of maybe a slow time to the plate, maybe a catcher that doesn’t throw [well], a combination thereof, picking a breaking ball for him to go on.”
Fletcher is open to running more, but he has to pick his spots. He doesn’t want to get thrown out attempting to steal with Trout or Rendon at the plate.
“There’s not a lot of good situations to run in front of those guys,” Fletcher said, “but I think there are some spots where it would be nice to run a little more.”
Coaching high school baseball at Scottsdale Christian Academy has become a passion for former Angels great Tim Salmon. “This scratches a great itch.”
The Angels tapped into Fletcher’s defensive versatility last season. He started 27 games at shortstop, many in place of the injured Andrelton Simmons, seven games at third in place of the injured Rendon and 15 games at second, committing just five errors on the season.
With Rendon at third and the newly acquired Jose Iglesias at shortstop, the Angels expect Fletcher to be anchored at second base this season and play a key role in what should be one baseball’s best defensive infields.
“You’re probably going to see the best version of him, if we’re able to leave him there,” Maddon said. “Barring any injuries, he will stay there. His focus will primarily be on one spot.”
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