The majority of Mike Scioscia’s coaches accompanied him out the door when the Angels made a managerial change after last season. Their replacements came both from other organizations — pitching coach Doug White (Astros) being notable — and from internal promotions.
I’m not privy to the conversations GM Billy Eppler and/or new manager Brad Ausmus had with the outgoing staff members, but they likely uttered some form of “We’ve decided to go in another direction” when passing out the pink slips.
According to Eppler, the revamping of the staff wasn’t reflective of a philosophical shift. The decisions were driven by a desire to travel north in the standings.
“I wouldn’t say that anything changed,” Eppler told me recently. “When we came over here in 2015, we implemented philosophies throughout the organization — how we’re valuing players, how we want to coach players, and so forth. Nothing new was implemented this year.”
The characteristics Eppler is looking for — not just on the coaching staff, but throughout the organization — can be encapsulated in a single, hyphenated sentence:
“We want people who have a growth mindset and are adaptable — not open-minded; adaptable — and want to learn and evolve, and implement things if it makes sense to implement them.”
In Eppler’s opinion, Ausmus embodied those characteristics. Augmented by his familiarity with the system — Ausmus spent 2018 working in the Angels front office — it’s the reason he got his current job.
The former Tigers manager didn’t necessarily need to ace his interview. He’d already done so the previous year.
“When I originally met with Brad about coming to work for the Angels as a special assistant, I was laying out a job description to him,” Eppler explained. “I was talking about a more traditional role, things like being in uniform during spring training, going around to our affiliates, maybe helping with our scouting. Brad said, ‘I can do all of those things if that’s what you want, but what I’d really like is to spend as much time with your analytics department as possible.’ I said, ‘Let’s plug in.’
“That’s what happened. Brad was up in the office a lot, plugging in with our [analytics] guys a lot. He was maybe challenging some of his own beliefs. He was continuing to learn, evolve, and grow. That was the separator when we got to the interview process for the managerial job.”
Ausmus is a former catcher with a degree from an Ivy League school. It’s not as though he didn’t already have an appreciation for data. What he didn’t have was “the full breadth of what is available.” It was time to go back to school.
“My knowledge didn’t cover the full scope,” Ausmus told me. “I wasn’t aware of some of the information, including how it could be parsed out and used. That’s why I [endeavored to learn more].”
Examples of the actionable, new knowledge wasn’t forthcoming.
“I don’t want to get into specifics, because that kind of gets into our process of how we evaluate and develop players,” Ausmus claimed. “But that type of information, that type of data, plays heavily into how we do things. Now that I’ve learned the value of some of what I didn’t know, I have a better understanding of everything.”
Joe Maddon recently told reporters that he’s planning to “get a little more involved in coaching” this season. Qualifying his comment by saying that he’s “still empowering the coaches,” he nonetheless intends to “introduce some thoughts to [the players] that maybe they’ve never had, or possibly have gone latent with.”
As for the staff working under him, the Cubs made five changes over the offseason. New to Maddon’s staff are Chris Denorfia (quality assurance), Tommy Hottovy (pitching), Anthony Iapoce (hitting), Mark Loretta (bench), and Terrmel Sledge (assistant hitting).
I asked the Chicago manager if the turnover was at all philosophy-based.
“I don’t think so,” Maddon responded. “It’s not about different messages. They just had to have the requisite abilities to be here. We had needs in certain areas, based on different things that occurred, and we were looking for people we thought would fit into what we’re doing. It’s a younger group. It’s an energetic group. It’s a bright group. I don’t know that there was any messaging attached to this.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
The SABR Analytics Conference is taking place in Phoenix this weekend. I had the pleasure of attending several of yesterday’s panel discussions, one of which was titled “Keep Data Flowing.” Particularly interesting to me was Driveline’s Kyle Boddy touching on Seattle Mariners lefty Yusei Kikuchi and analytics in Japan.
“Kikuchi has an entire team of analysts that he employs,” Boddy said. “He has a bio-mechanist that he consults with all the time. So individual players are definitely cognizant to it, but the traditional nature of the game in Japan is stronger than it is here. To break those bonds is more difficult. But with every Yusei who does different things, the more open it gets. The value of a single TrackMan unit or Rapsodo or KinaTrax in an area that doesn’t have it engenders a huge competitive advantage.”
In yesterday’s “StatCast Year 5; Where Are We Now” panel, Greg Cain weighed in on the idea of an automated strike zone.
“The system can do that right now,” said MLB’s VP of Baseball Data. “It’s really more of a logistical issue. You always need umpires to manage the game. Umpires call balls and strikes now, obviously. Again, it’s a logistical issue. How do I communicate to somebody that’s on the field to make the call? We have a really good understanding of the accuracy [of the TrackMan system]. We understand what the strike zone is.”
Which isn’t to say a point of perfection has been reached. Cain allowed that setting a strike zone for individual players is “one of the more difficult challenges,” and Cory Schwartz, MLB’s VP of Data Operations, explained why that is.
“The inside and outside edges of the plate are fixed distances, 17 inches,” said Schwartz. “Top and bottom changes from batter to batter. It changes from pitch to pitch sometimes. And we found that it changed over the course of the season, but not in the way that we thought. If you look at a player’s rolling average, their strike zone actually gets a little bit higher rather than lower. We found that when players fatigue, they tend to stand a little more upright, because it’s easier on the legs than crouching a little bit. That’s very difficult to measure — even with all the tools we have — after the fact, let alone doing it live.”
SABR president Vince Gennaro gave an excellent snapshot of effective velocity while giving a presentation titled “The Power of Pitch Sequencing vs. Stuff.” On the off chance that you’re not familiar with the term, this article describes it well.
Here is what Gennaro said:
“If he throws 98 [mph] up and in, it’s really 102. Then if he throws the change down and away at 90, that’s really 86. That’s an 18-mph spread. As Carlos Pena was saying yesterday, one of the things that happens is sometimes pitchers run into bats. If he does the opposite, if he throws a fastball down and away at 98, that’s going to make that 94. Then he throws his hard change — let’s say he hangs it, and it’s in and kind of up, that makes it almost the same effective velocity. He’s basically setting the hitter’s timing clock.”
Miami’s Lewis Brinson is 10-for-24 with five home runs and a 1.545 OPS.
Colorado’s Ryan McMahon is 13-for-30 with two home runs and a 1.333 OPS.
Cincinnati’s Phillip Ervin is 8-for-21 with three home runs and a 1.405 OPS
Toronto’s Anthony Alford is 7-for-21 with four home runs and a 1.344 OPS.
Chris Paddack is one of the top pitching prospects in the Padres system. Blessed with a plus fastball and a plus-plus changeup, the 23-year-old righty could very well reach San Diego this season — despite having just 37.2 innings under his belt beyond the A-ball level. There’s a non-zero chance that he’ll be on the Opening Day roster.
Young and talented, Paddack isn’t exactly cutting edge in his approach.
“I don’t really pay attention to that stuff,” Paddack responded when asked about his Rapsodo readings. “I’m not a believer in spin rate. There’s no science out there on how to make a guy with 2,100 [rpm] spin on his fastball any faster. I’m kind of old school. I just go out there and control what I can control.”
Where he plays this year is up to the Padres’ brain trust, much like how he landed with his current organization was determined by the Marlins. In June 2016, Miami swapped Paddack to San Diego in exchange for Fernando Rodney. The trade already qualifies as a failure for The Fish, and he fully intends to make it even worse.
“My biggest game plan is to compete,” said Paddack. “I’m out there to win every pitch. When I set foot on that mound, I tell myself that I’m the best pitcher in the world.”
Ryan Dempster last stepped onto a big league mound in October 2013. That doesn’t mean he’s left the entertaining industry. Along with being an assistant to the GM for the Cubs and a talking head on MLB Network, he aspires to be a hardball version of Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel.
“Off The Mound is basically like a late-night talk show, but with baseball players,” Dempster said of his pet project. “We sit around and share stories. Guys talk about special moments in their careers, things going on in their lives, hobbies they have. Kind of the same format as if you’re watching Fallon or Kimmel. Guys get interactive.”
Dempster has hosted three Off The Mound events to date. The first was held in Chicago last summer and raised money for CPS Score, an after-school sports program for public school kids in Chicago. The other two took place last weekend at The Innings Festival in Tempe and featured Archie Bradley, Sean Casey, Roger Clemens, Cole Hamels, Jake Peavy, and Jim Thome. For good measure, a Cubs fan named Eddie Vedder — you may have heard of him, he also fronts a band — also made an appearance.
“We joke around a lot,” said Dempster. “Jake Peavy got up and sang. We kind of show these guys for who they are, and not what they do. It’s been a blast so far.”
As for the likelihood of one day seeing Off The Mound on your television screen? “We’ll see,” said Dempster. “Right now we just want to keep pushing ourselves to have fun with it.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
White Stripes frontman Jack White is helping restore a historic Negro League ballpark in metro Detroit. Dave Mesrey has the details at Hamtramck Stadium’s official blog.
At USA Today, Ted Berg wrote about how MLB teams need extra catchers during spring training, but they don’t want to pay them.
Also at USA Today, Gabe Lacques looked at how MLB staffs have a new look as coaches are going from the lab to the dugout.
MLB.com’s David Gottlieb profiled the analysts working for the Seattle Mariners. Their educational backgrounds are predictably nerdy.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
In 1929, the Detroit Tigers became the first team to hold their spring training in Arizona. The first year when two teams trained in Arizona was 1947, when the New York Giants trained in Phoenix and the Cleveland Indians were in Tucson. The Cubs are currently in their 41st consecutive spring in Mesa, the longest active streak in the Cactus League.
The Astros (Ken Giles, Roberto Osuna, and Hector Rondon) and Brewers (Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel) had three pitchers finish with at least 10 saves last year. All told, 22 teams in MLB history have had seasons with three pitchers being credited with at least 10 saves. No team has had as many as four.
Elam Vangilder was the first pitcher to amass double-digit wins as a reliever in a single season. He went 11-2 out of the bullpen for the St. Louis Browns in 1925.
Ichiro Suzuki has 509 stolen bases and has been caught stealing 117 times. He has 117 home runs.
In the 1978-1979 season, Davey Lopes was successful on 89 of 97 stolen-base attempts. The Dodgers infielder had more walks (168) than strikeouts (158) in that two-year span.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.