Angels catcher Max Stassi looks for answers amid ‘horrible’ season

ANAHEIM — After two seasons good enough to earn him a $17.5-million extension, Max Stassi isn’t running from what a disappointment this year has been for the Angels catcher.

“Way below my standards,” Stassi said. “It has not been good. Horrible. My coaches, everyone, has been helping me out. I’m just the one not getting it done.”

Stassi, 31, is hitting .179 with a .564 OPS, which is a dramatic decline from the .250 and .784 numbers he posted in 2020 and 2021, combined. That, along with his defense, prompted the Angels to buy him out of at least two years of free agency with the March contract extension.

Now, Stassi knows he has to do something different.

“I’m going back to the drawing board,” Stassi said. “I’m trying to do whatever I can to be in a good place. I’m going to figure it out. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do yet.”

Stassi’s season started poorly, but there was a stretch in the middle when he seemed to be back on track. In the first three weeks after the All-Star break, Stassi hit .259 with a .768 OPS. He said he had been more focused on getting the ball out in front of the plate.

Since then, though, Stassi has gone 4 for 72. It’s been reminiscent of the 3-for-42 stretch immediately after the Angels acquired him in a July 2019 trade. If there’s any consolation, he reworked his swing the following winter and had two productive seasons.

“You go through times like this and I’ll overcome this,” Stassi said. “That’s the only thing I’ve got right now. If I knew exactly what was going on, I would tell you. It’s a combination of a few things. I’m not trusting my swing at times. It’s been hard, but I’ve got to keep working. I’ve been in situations like this throughout my career and I will come out on top.”

If he’s not able to turn it around, the Angels will have to look for alternatives. Matt Thaiss has shown some promise in his first real opportunity behind the plate in recent weeks. The Angels’ top prospect is catcher Logan O’Hoppe, who was acquired last month in a trade. O’Hoppe has hit .306 with 11 homers and a 1.174 OPS in 29 games with the Angels’ Double-A team.

While Stassi’s offense has been a disappointment, manager Phil Nevin still sees positives in what he’s done with Angels pitchers. He’s caught 23 of Shohei Ohtani’s 25 starts. The Angels have a 3.82 ERA this season, down from 4.69 in 2021.

“He’s done a phenomenal job, catching Shohei each time obviously,” Nevin said. “He really does a great job with our younger pitchers. When he’s not playing he’s engaged, helping with (Matt Thaiss). Both him and (Kurt Suzuki). They talk about the game a lot. We’re better with him behind the plate, because of how he handles our pitching staff, and how he does things when he’s not playing. I know the offense has been a struggle, but I’m proud of him for the way he goes about his business behind the plate, which to me is just as important.”

Stassi’s job behind the plate might be changing somewhat in the future. The rule changes for next year will likely increase stolen bases, which is going to increase the pressure on catchers to shut down the running game. Stassi is reserving judgment to see exactly how much base-stealing increases.

Stassi, who takes pride in pitch framing, also has been closely following the sport’s move experiments with an automated strike zone. Baseball has tried a fully automated zone in the minors, but it’s worth noting that this year the Arizona Fall League will be using a challenge system. Instead every single ball-strike call being automated, the pitcher, catcher and hitter will be able to challenge a few calls a game.

“I think that the challenge system is good,” Stassi said. “(Umpires) are human too. They’re going miss a ball or two balls up or out,  but if you have a challenge system kind of equals it out. It takes five seconds and then you move on.”

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Mike Trout was not in the lineup on Monday. Nevin said it was the last scheduled day off of the season for Trout. The Angels have 15 games left after Monday. …

Left-hander Tucker Davidson is scheduled to pitch on Wednesday in Texas. The Angels gave Davidson a few extra days after his last start to work on a mechanical change. …

Infielder Michael Stefanic was working out at first base before Monday’s game. “You never know what can happen,” Nevin said.


Angels (LHP Patrick Sandoval, 5-9, 2.99) at Rangers (LHP Cole Ragans, 0-2, 5.68), Tuesday, 5:05 p.m., Bally Sports West, 830 AM

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