Halos trending with appointment of Eckstein
New seventh man on coaching staff set to serve as scout, info director
ANAHEIM -- The Angels' coaching staff didn't just change this offseason; it expanded.
Dino Ebel supplanted Rob Picciolo as bench coach, Don Baylor took over for Jim Eppard as hitting coach, Gary DiSarcina was brought in to coach third base and Rick Eckstein was hired as an additional seventh coach, serving in a relatively new role that's quickly becoming a trend throughout Major League Baseball.
Eckstein will essentially serve as an advanced scouting facilitator, an information allocator and an extra set of eyes. Pregame, he'll meet with the other coaches regarding upcoming pitcher-hitter matchups and defensive positioning. In-game, he'll be upstairs serving as what the organization calls "an eye in the sky," looking for any tendencies that can help the Angels moving forward.
For decades, teams assigned similar tasks to members of their coaching staff. On manager Mike Scioscia's staff, for example, Picciolo used to put together the spray charts and infield coach Alfredo Griffin aligned the defense.
But as the information available to teams continues to grow, clubs are finding it more beneficial to make this a separate hire.
"The presence of so much more information than has ever been available in a game commands more attention, and there's only so far that one set of eyes and one set of hands and one mind can take things," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "You need multiple people to contribute to a great product. I believe that's where this evolution in a coaching staff is coming from."
The nomenclature is different, and the roles aren't exactly the same, but several teams have already gone a similar route.
The Tigers' new staff features a "defensive coordinator" in Matt Martin, who, according to a team-issued media release, will "assist [rookie manager] Brad Ausmus and his staff with all on-field arrangements as well as with the coordination of advanced scouting information for the Tigers." The Nats used an empty spot on their staff to add Mark Weidemaier as a "defensive coordination advance coach" because, as new skipper Matt Williams said, "I believe that preparation is the most important part of this game."
The Indians deploy Alex Eckelman as a Major League advance coach, who sits in on advance meetings and serves as a link between the coaching staff and the analytics department. The Astros have Dan Radison as a special assignment coach, assisting the hitting coach pregame and charting in-game. The Rays had Tim Bogar, Todd Greene and, currently, Stan Boroski fill similar roles, each adding his own twist to the job.
"It helps strengthen the system, and it gives you another pair of eyes on what's going on and what they see," said Eckstein, whose official title is "Major League player information coach." "With how we're going to communicate, and everybody's opinion being brought to the table, it can only strengthen the system. And I think a lot of clubs are going to that."
During a rule change last year, MLB allowed teams to dress an additional seventh coach for games. But the Angels -- like the Tigers, and unlike the Nationals -- expect to use that spot for their yet-to-be-hired assistant hitting coach, freeing Eckstein up to have an outsider's view of the club during games.
To assist Eckstein, the Angels hired Nick Francona -- son of Indians manager Terry Francona -- as a coordinator of Major League player information and Jeremy Zoll as a coordinator of advance scouting.
It's a major commitment, particularly for a club that has employed the same manager since 2000 and has had a lot of success doing it a certain way. But this is part of the Angels' previously stated goal of re-establishing themselves as one of the more cutting-edge organizations in baseball, back when American League West titles were the norm.
Over the years, as they've been absent from the playoffs the last four seasons, things got stale and fresh perspectives were needed, many inside and outside the organization believe. A relationship strain between Scioscia and Dipoto, who are said to be on the same page these days, led to differences over how scouting and analytical information should be presented. And some believe the Angels' significant drop in Defensive Runs Saved -- from second in 2012 to 27th in 2013 -- was due in large part to bad positioning.
Failure has led to the embracing of change -- and Eckstein's presence is a major sign of that.
"It's bridging the gap between the information and trying to get it to the coaching staff, and then be able to implement it," said Rick Eckstein's brother, David, who plans to help. "I know the one thing with Rick, he's going to have the opportunity to do that, but also he's going to be able to do all aspects of it on the field, whatever they need.
"If done right, I think you can see a lot of teams going with that type of coaching position."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.