When Los Angeles Angels general manager Billy Eppler made his initial statement about the hiring of new manager Brad Ausmus, there were two key words that came to my attention: communication and experience. Connecting with a new generation of players is perhaps the most crucial aspect of a big league manager’s job. With that said, Ausmus also has experience, having been with the Detroit Tigers for four seasons including a division title in his first season.
Analytics continue to grow in baseball, and Ausmus has been mixed on how they are used in the game. In an interview with FanGraphs in 2017, Ausmus said that numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and once most teams use them to build a roster, there’s not much more you can do.
Now, Ausmus certainly could adapt those beliefs; maybe he has, after spending the 2018 season in the Angels front office working alongside Eppler. Prior to Eppler’s arrival, the Angels were behind in their use of analytics, and now it seems to be more of a focal point for the organization.
While the Angels enter an uncertain 2019, they are definitely not headed towards a rebuild. Every indication is that they will go for it yet again. After missing the postseason in 2017 for the third consecutive year, they added veterans Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler to improve the supporting cast. While 2018 was not much better in terms of results, they should be active in this winter’s free agent market, especially on starting pitching.
Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Justin Upton remain the nucleus of the Angels, and with this core, the organization must keep their foot on the gas. Ausmus had a similar situation when he managed the Tigers. They had aging veterans, including Upton, on inflated salaries trying to go for it because they had one of the best players in the game in Miguel Cabrera.
This is where Ausmus’ experience comes into play, as they can’t afford to have a manager learn on the fly, and he can gain the respect of someone of Pujols’ stature. Unfortunately, Ausmus’ tenure in Detroit did not end well, although injuries played a significant role in the Tigers’ lack of success leading to trading away Justin Verlander and J.D. Martinez.
Ausmus will have the chance to be a blend of old school and new school as the Angels change managers for the first time in nearly two decades. He has managed future Hall of Famers before, but he is also young enough to connect with the new wave of players. Ausmus can be that mix of an Ivy League background using the numbers to his advantage, and someone who has embraced the grind of a catcher over his 18 years in the big leagues.
Remember that Eppler inherited Scioscia, someone who had strong support from owner Arte Moreno. Three of Eppler’s candidates were in-house names. Ausmus, Eric Chavez, and Josh Paul. He also made every candidate take a two-hour written test as part of the interview process. Eppler has been with the organization for two years after serving as Brian Cashman’s assistant GM, and the New York Yankees are known to be a team that is analytically driven.
The Angels are in a tricky situation because, on paper, they look like a decent team, but that has been true since 2014, when they went into the postseason as the top seed in the American League and then were unceremoniously swept in the ALDS by the Kansas City Royals. The Houston Astros will be at least a 90-win team again, and the Oakland Athletics should compete for a postseason spot in 2019 after bursting onto the scene this year with all their young talent. Not to mention, the Seattle Mariners had an explosive first half, and holding the longest postseason drought in baseball could inspire them to win now.
Ausmus will have his hands full early on, especially on how to manage Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL, which will keep him off the mound for 2019. However, Ohtani ended up being one of the Angels’ most productive bats, and he could be cleared to hit. It would be difficult to sit someone who was batting cleanup in August and September and batted .285 with 22 home runs in only 104 games.
Whether Ausmus is totally all-in on analytics, there will be no escaping it. Nevertheless, Ausmus has been a grinder behind the plate, like Scioscia was in his playing career, and some of that identity will remain to maintain the old- and new-school balance. In the postseason, managing by gut and on-the-fly decisions will make a manager have to steer away from the game plan. It will be a challenge, as the Angels don’t change often, but with Ausmus leading the way, they can get back to winning baseball.