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Callaway's plan for Angels' arms: 'Throw strikes'

@RhettBollinger
February 14, 2020

TEMPE, Ariz.-- On its face, new Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway’s plan for turning around the club’s pitching sounds too simple -- throw more strikes. But it goes deeper than the obvious idea that throwing strikes is a good thing, as Callaway is looking to improve the club’s walk rate

TEMPE, Ariz.-- On its face, new Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway’s plan for turning around the club’s pitching sounds too simple -- throw more strikes.

But it goes deeper than the obvious idea that throwing strikes is a good thing, as Callaway is looking to improve the club’s walk rate while also trying to instill more confidence in his pitchers to avoid nibbling and attack hitters. Angels pitchers walked 9.2 percent of opposing hitters in 2019, which was tied for the fourth-worst mark in the Majors and played a major role in their 5.12 ERA, which was the sixth-worst mark in baseball. For context, the best clubs at limiting walks last year were the Dodgers, Twins, Rays and Astros -- all of whom were postseason teams.

“We have great stuff here, strikeout stuff, but we have to throw strikes," Callaway said. "And that's going to be our mission, right? We're going to try to throw more strikes than anybody else in the league. If we can do that, we're going to be where we need to be. Our offense, obviously, is going to be very good. So we have to give them a chance to win."

Callaway, who is coming off a two-year stint as the Mets manager, has an impressive pedigree as a pitching coach, as he was with the Indians from 2013-17 and they posted the best ERA in the AL and the highest strikeout rate in the Majors over that stretch. Cleveland was also the second-best team in the AL at getting first-pitch strikes, which is a major emphasis under Callaway.

The Angels had trouble getting ahead of hitters last year, as their first-strike percentage of 59.2 was the third-worst rate in the Majors, while the Dodgers and Padres had the best at 63 percent. Getting to an 0-1 count or a 1-2 count is the goal because the data overwhelmingly shows the pitchers have an incredible advantage when ahead in the count.

Last year, when Major League hitters were behind in the count, they hit .200/.209/.321. But when they were ahead in the count, they batted .295/.477/.540. So, it’s essentially the difference between facing a pitcher or an MVP candidate.

“All I talk about is throwing strikes, get ahead, control the count and you have good stuff because you're up in the big leagues for a reason," Callaway said. "And if you throw the ball over the plate and you get hit, and you don't last, it's because your stuff wasn't there. The last thing I want to happen is you have great stuff and can't throw a strike. So we're going to take all that anxiety of giving up hits and allow these guys to go out there free and easy."

Callaway clarified that he still utilizes advanced statistics and modern technology, including spin rates, but that he doesn’t want his players to suffer from information overload. They’ll use that data in a helpful way instead of trying to completely remake their pitchers.

"You have to use it wisely," Callaway said. "And you have to understand who can handle it and who can't. It's usually just something smaller, they're in the big leagues already. So we don't want to change them. Overall, we just need to make a little nudge to put them over the top."

New manager Joe Maddon and Callaway have also made it a point to have individualized meetings with each pitcher to get to know them better and tell them what they expect in 2020. Maddon has known Callaway since Callaway’s time with the Angels as a player from 2002-03.

"Being in the meetings with him, he really presents well," Maddon said. "He’s well-thought-out. He knows what he believes in. If you are working with him, you feel a lot of confidence from his method and his directness. I’m eager to see how this plays out. I’ve known Mickey for a long time."

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.