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OC Register: New Angels manager Brad Ausmus believes he can blend baseball and analytics


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This time around, he feels he still has that attribute, but with a significant addition.

Now he’s managed before.

“I was a new wave manager without experience who could relate to the players, but the truth of the matter is, experience helps you everywhere,” Ausmus said as he was introduced as the Angels’ 17th manager on Monday. “If you can still relate to players, and have experience as a manager, I don’t understand how that can’t be an asset.”

Ausmus, 49, was hired as the Angels manager because General Manager Billy Eppler saw in him the perfect mix of all the attributes they wanted. Boiled down, they wanted someone who could communicate with players, but who also could understand the analytical direction the game has gone.

Essentially, they wanted someone who could blend the worlds of the players in the clubhouse and the analysts crunching the numbers upstairs.

Ausmus, a Dartmouth graduate who said he was using analytics during his 18-year career as a big league catcher before they were even called analytics, believes he’s got the right mix.

“I can take the numbers and use my playing experience to wrap my brain around them and say ‘How does this apply on the dirt and grass?’” he said. “That’s a unique perspective. That’s what managers have to do nowadays, take those numbers and understand them – they don’t have to write the algorithm – but they need to understand and apply them to the players on the field.”

When Ausmus managed the Tigers, he inherited a talented team that won the division in his first season. After that, the front office allowed the roster to age, and Ausmus bore the brunt of it with a record that ended up at 314-332.

Although he didn’t have a winning record, he feels the experience can help him the second time around.

“Whether you experience something in the clubhouse, or experience something tactically on the field, rather than having to reconsider it, it becomes reflexive,” Ausmus said. “You can react to it. You have an understanding of what the result will be if you don’t act quickly or don’t act properly.”

In addition to that dugout experience in Detroit, Ausmus now has a new perspective on the game, having spent the past year working as a special assistant to Eppler.

Ausmus was on the field in spring training, and during the season he dipped his toes into all areas of the baseball operation, from player development to scouting to analytics.

“Now he’s got an elevated view of the whole operation,” Eppler said.

During that year, Eppler and Ausmus clearly grew together, from a baseball perspective and personally. They both have San Diego roots – Eppler grew up there and Ausmus has lived there for 25 years. They are both surfers, who might even take a surfing trip together, Eppler said.

Despite spending much of the year sitting with Eppler, Ausmus still had to go through the interview process once the Angels officially had an opening, following Mike Scioscia’s departure.

Ausmus was one of 10 candidates put through a nine-hour interview, which included a two-hour written portion.

“We’re still grading them,” Eppler joked. “It will be four to six weeks and they’ll get the results in the mail.”

Eppler said the point of the written exercise was to give the candidates time to formulate their answers to analytically-based situations. The Angels weren’t so concerned with the answers, as with the process.

Eppler also said there were no questions about specific Angels players or situations relating to the current roster.

“There’s plenty of time to learn those things,” Eppler said. “We needed to kind of get a sense of how they think and how they problem-solve.”

Ausmus, however, did face one of the key player questions on Monday. How will he handle Albert Pujols, who is coming back from knee surgery and clearly in decline with three years left on his contract.

 

“Right now we don’t know Albert’s status because of the surgery, so we’re just going to get to spring training and see where he’s at and make a determination,” Ausmus said.

 

In the immediate future, he and Eppler have to fill out their coaching staff, which is expected to take two to three weeks.

Ausmus didn’t give many other specifics about how the Angels might be run, on the field, differently than they were under Scioscia. He did seem to fall in line with the current analytical thinking of shorter leashes for starters and a reluctance to bunt, to name a couple aspects.

His goal, however, is no different from Scioscia’s or any other manager.

“I spent 18 years as a player and four years as a manager and I don’t have a World Series ring,” he said. “I want a World Series ring. That’s our goal. I don’t care what the pundits say.”

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It's all cyclical. Bunting and stealing are out of style, as is making contact, going the other way or purposefully making productive outs. And in 20 years, it will have swung back the other way where contact oriented guys that can steal 50 bases will be the premium. And honestly, that'll probably come about because of the shift. Eventually players will get sick of drilling the ball into the hole and it resulting in an out and they'll start hitting the ball the other way, understanding that most of the time, a 90% chance of reaching first base with nobody out is still better than a 5% chance they hit a HR. 

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