Angels are chasing fewer pitches, fueling their rise to division lead

The Angels' Brandon Marsh hits a two-run homer in the fourth inning May 7, 2022.
Brandon Marsh hits a two-run homer for the Angels in the fourth inning of a 7-3 loss to the Washington Nationals on Saturday night. The home run came after he laid off a close pitch.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Brandon Marsh took an 85-mph curveball from Josiah Gray that was an inch off the inside corner in the fourth inning Saturday night, the Angels left fielder’s ability to lay off the 1-and-1 pitch putting him ahead instead of behind in the count.

Marsh drove the next pitch, a 95-mph down-the-middle fastball, 429 feet to center field for a two-run homer, one of his team’s highlights in a 7-3 loss to the Washington Nationals and yet another example of the kinds of at-bats that have helped fuel the Angels’ surge to the top of the American League West.

The Angels rank among baseball’s top four teams in runs, home runs, on-base-plus-slugging percentage and walks.


It is no coincidence that they also entered Saturday with a major league-low 26.9% chase rate according to FanGraphs, their percentage of pitches swung at outside the strike zone a shade lower than the Dodgers and a huge improvement over last season, when the Angels ranked 25th with a 33% chase rate.

Jhonathan Diaz, a 25-year left-hander called up to start, threw five scoreless innings as the Angels defeated the Washington Nationals 3-0.

May 6, 2022

“I think it’s all correlated,” Angels hitting coach Jeremy Reed said. “It’s definitely early — that’s a category you want to lead at the end of the season — but I think our scouting reports are better, our game plans are better, and the communication of player to player, helping one another out, is better.”

So is the personnel. Two veterans with discerning eyes who missed most of 2021 because of injuries have injected more plate discipline into the lineup, Anthony Rendon (20.5%) and Mike Trout (22.4%) possessing two of the lowest 14 chase rates for hitters with at least 80 plate appearances.

But the biggest difference-maker has been Taylor Ward, the right fielder who moved to the leadoff spot April 25 and entered Saturday with a 19.2% chase rate, the third lowest in baseball. Ward, who drew three walks in Friday night’s 3-0 win, had a 29% chase rate in 237 plate appearances last season.

The Angels' Taylor Ward follows through on a grand slam against the Cleveland Guardians on April 27.
The Angels’ Taylor Ward follows through on a grand slam against the Cleveland Guardians on April 27. He entered Saturday with a 19.2% chase rate, the third lowest in baseball.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

“He’s OK with accepting a walk,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It doesn’t bruise his ego to not get a hit or to at least try to get ahead [in the count]. He’s got that chip that was inserted at birth, and it’s working well right now. And he’s still a good hitter. He has power. But he really looks over a pitch.”


Plate discipline does not equal passivity. Trout, who is batting .321 with a 1.096 OPS, six homers and 13 RBIs, and Ward, who is batting .356 with a 1.169 OPS, six homers and 15 RBIs, have done considerable damage in the box.

“It’s not just laying off pitches,” Reed said. “It’s being ready to hit when they throw it where you’re looking to hit it.”

The benefits of laying off bad pitches include driving up the pitch counts of opposing starters, putting men on base with walks, and getting ahead in counts, which could result in more fastballs, as the Marsh at-bat that resulted in his homer showed Saturday night.

The Angels stress plate discipline every season — “It’s not like the message is different this year,” Reed said — but they seem to have made it a greater point of emphasis this season.

Shohei Ohtani’s 27.9% chase rate is better than the 30.1% rate he had during his AL most valuable player season in 2021. Jared Walsh, who hit a solo homer in the fourth inning Saturday night, has improved from 34.4% last season to 30.4% this season. Tyler Wade (25.6%) and Max Stassi (26.0%) have respectable chase rates.

The Angels' Mike Trout doubles to center field during the fifth inning May 6, 2022.
Mike Trout has a low chase rate (22.4%) and does damage when he does swing, like on this two-run double in the Angels’ 3-0 win over the Nationals on Friday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Even Marsh, who was mired in a two-for-25 slump with 17 strikeouts and no walks before Saturday, had a decent 27.6% chase rate.

David Fletcher is an outlier, the infielder known for his bad-ball swinging carrying a 41.9% chase rate into Saturday, up from 32.7% in 2021.

The Angels have garnered attention for their home run celebrations, in which a cowboy hat is placed on the head of the hitter who went deep, and that player gallops through the dugout accepting high-fives from his teammates.

As part of his stadium deal, Angels owner Arte Moreno paid $96 million to Anaheim to fund affordable housing projects elsewhere in Anaheim.

May 6, 2022

But just as important to their success — and their improved plate discipline — have been the low-key conversations in the on-deck circle and at the bat rack.

“We might have talked in a meeting about what a pitcher is doing, and then maybe he’s doing something slightly different out there,” Reed said. “They’re communicating it here in a way where it’s very noticeable.

“You’ll see a guy come back after an out and talk to the on-deck hitter about what the shape of the pitch was and what the pitcher was doing. So the guys are working together, helping each other out.”


Short hops

Angels starter Michael Lorenzen gave up five runs and five hits, including solo homers by Josh Bell and Yadiel Hernandez and a two-run single to Maikel Franco, in 4 2/3 innings Saturday night. Reliever Elvis Peguero gave up a two-run homer to Nelson Cruz in the fifth. … Catcher Kurt Suzuki was placed in the injured list without a designation, and catcher Chad Wallach was activated. Left-hander Jhonathan Diaz was optioned to triple A, and right-hander Kyle Barraclough, who threw two scoreless innings Saturday night, was called up to bolster the bullpen.