Angels manager Mike Scioscia is taking a lot of heat locally for continuing to play struggling 42-year-old Raul Ibanez, especially after the team called up first base prospect C.J. Cron to provide an alternative at designated hitter.
Ibanez is hitting .153 with three homers and a .514 OPS in 56 games. By comparison, Cron is hitting .275 with three homers and a .763 OPS in 33 games since being called up from Triple-A last month. And yet Ibanez has started three straight games over Cron, with Scioscia explaining to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times:
There’s no doubt he’s making some strides in the batter’s box, and you’re seeing better swings. The bottom line is production. Nobody understands that better than Raul. He knows he needs to have better at-bats. Nobody is working harder than Raul, and we’re confident he’s going to contribute for us.
It’d be one thing to show patience in a star player going through a prolonged slump, but when a 42-year-old hits .153 in 56 games and wasn’t all that good to begin with in recent years … well, it would seem like an obvious opportunity to turn the page and give Cron an extended chance instead. Ibanez hasn’t topped an .800 OPS since 2009 and hasn’t topped a .310 on-base percentage since 2010. Scioscia is waiting around for a bat that’s nothing special anyway.
Everyone is well aware of how good Angels outfielder Mike Trout is at the game of baseball. The 26-year-old is already an all-time great, having won two MVP awards — and arguably deserving of two others — and the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award. He has accrued 54.2 WAR, per Baseball Reference, which is right around the threshold for a Hall of Fame career. Trout does it all: he draws walks, he hits for average, he hits for power, he steals bases, he plays good defense.
But here’s an achievement that is amazing even for a player like Trout: he has yet to strike out this spring. In 41 Cactus League plate appearances, he has 10 hits (including a triple and two homers) and six walks with zero strikeouts. Across his career, Trout has a 21.5 percent strikeout rate, right around the league average. He isn’t usually such a stickler for avoiding the punch-out, but this spring he is.
To put this in perspective, 134 players this spring have struck out at least 10 times, according to MLB.com. 938 players have struck out at least once. The only other players to have taken at least 10 at-bats without striking out this spring are Humberto Arteaga (Royals, 23 AB), Tony Cruz (Reds, 18 AB), Oscar Hernandez (Red Sox, 10 AB), and Jacob Stallings (Pirates, 18 AB).
According to Angels assistant hitting coach Paul Sorrento, the lack of strikeouts hasn’t been a conscious effort from Trout, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. Ho hum. The best player in baseball is apparently getting even better.