Cron displaying improved plate discipline

Angels first baseman focusing on aggressive at-bats

May 15th, 2016

SEATTLE -- C.J. Cron isn't just getting more hits to fall in lately -- it appears he is evolving into a more disciplined Major League hitter.

It's still very early, but Cron has so far doubled his walk rate, while slicing his strikeout rate by about a third. He's swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone, making more contact within the strike zone and seemingly taking a major step in his development, the type that eludes most professional hitters.

"Sometimes plate discipline is something that stays the same for a player from when he's 12 years old to the time he stops playing, at whatever age," manager Mike Scioscia said. "You just never know."

Cron entered Saturday's game at Safeco Field on another one of his signature hot streaks, sporting a .444/.500/.689 over his last 14 games to lift his batting average by 126 points, from .153 to .279.

But it's his peripherals that perhaps give this stretch a little bit more stability.

Cron has struck out only 13.8 percent of the time, well below the Major League average (21.2 percent) as well as his rate from the last two years (21.8 percent). He's walking 9.5 percent of the time, slightly above the Major League average (8.3 percent) and well above his rate from 2014-15 (4.1 percent).

"If he keeps up that pace," Scioscia said, "he's going to be a really, really tough out."

Cron's greatest weakness so far has been his propensity for chasing pitches outside of the strike zone. He chased 40 percent of the time in 2014, the 15th-highest rate among players with at least 250 plate appearances, and 39.4 percent in 2015, ranked 10th among those with at least 400 plate appearances.

So far this year, Cron has swung at only 35 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, while swinging at a career-best 69.2 percent of pitches within the zone.

He's recognizing pitches better than ever.

"I'm just focused on getting good pitches," Cron said. "You never try to swing at bad pitches. I didn't really know how to fix that last year, whenever I was doing that. But playing every day has helped. And just being comfortable seeing more of these guys at this level made it a lot easier."

Cron's production took off after he was called back up from the Minor Leagues last year. He sported a .289/.330/.506 slash line from the start of July to the end of the season, but his walk rate (5.3 percent) and strikeout rate (19.8 percent) remained subpar. The 26-year-old right-handed hitter got off to a slow start this year, batting .153/.242/.220 in his first 18 games, but he managed six walks and struck out only 10 times. His plate discipline remained, even while the hits didn't fall.

Cron, a power hitter who's counted on to drive in runs, said he's never looking for walks.

"I always think 'aggression,'" Cron said. "I never think 'patient.' That's actually when I get in trouble, and it's actually when I swing at more bad pitches. I always tell myself to be aggressive in the zone -- aggressive under control -- and the rest will just happen."

Worth noting

• Yunel Escobar returned to the lineup on Saturday, two days after exiting early with a jammed right thumb. Escobar, who entered with a team-leading 41 hits, remained in the leadoff spot, pushing Kole Calhoun to second and Mike Trout to third.

• Tyler Skaggs, who hasn't pitched since April 20, still hasn't been cleared to resume playing catch, but Scioscia said the Angels are "very, very confident" that his biceps tendinitis is only a minor setback in his recovery from August 2014 Tommy John surgery.

• The Angels recently signed reliever David Carpenter to a Minor League contract and sent him to Triple-A. Carpenter, 30, has a 3.66 ERA in 218 Major League appearances. He is the second reliever named David Carpenter that the Angels have employed.