TEMPE, Ariz. -- First-year general manager Billy Eppler stood in one of the backfields of the Angels' Spring Training complex on Thursday afternoon and talked about the new five-man analytical department he has built, the first of its kind for this organization. Then came the question he was anticipating:
How receptive has Mike Scioscia been?
"Tremendous," Eppler said, his voice deepening. "Tremendous. I know the questions, I know the narratives. Mislabeled, in my opinion."
Eppler was told that it's still really early, and that his manager's perspective could change.
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"I'm telling you," Eppler said of Scioscia. "I'm telling you. The questions I'm getting from him, and the thirst I'm getting from him -- it's deeper than what has been painted. I'm just telling you. Take my word for it or not."
Scioscia, 57, has been painted as a man resistant and misinformed with regard to the nuances and advantages of advanced analytics. The incorporation of those analytics was one of the divisive issues -- though certainly not the only one -- between Scioscia and former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto, who resigned on July 1 and now holds the same job with the division-rival Mariners.
Dipoto, a reliever-turned-analytically-inclined executive, ultimately grew exasperated with a belief that Scioscia and his coaches were not implementing the data provided to them in games and also not communicating enough of it to their players. It all came to a head in a series of heated meetings that were leaked to FOXSports.com, all centered on the same theme and culminating with Dipoto's exit.
The longtime Yankees executive came up with some of the most hardened and experienced scouts the game has ever seen. But in New York, he also gleaned from Michael Fishman, the current assistant GM with the Yankees whom Eppler considers "the gold standard of analytical minds."
Shortly after joining the Angels, Eppler brought in a man named Jonathan Luman to be his director of quantitative analysis. Luman spent the last eight years as a systems analyst at Johns Hopkins University's applied physics laboratory, and five prior years as a propulsion engineer for The Boeing Company.
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Now Luman will lead a staff comprising three full-time analysts and one intern, all with a focus on curating analytical data for the organization. Scioscia doesn't know much about the group yet, only that they're "freakin' really, really bright."
The question, one many who have left the Angels in recent months have wondered, is whether Scioscia will actually use their information to make decisions during games. Scioscia refutes the premise that he never did, saying: "We incorporated everything we got in previous years."
The Angels never had an analytical department, but Dipoto employed several analytically inclined executives. They included Justin Hollander, Nate Horowitz and Jonathan Strangio, all of whom remain. And Nick Francona and Jeremy Zoll, both now with the Dodgers.
Scioscia said the notion that he didn't incorporate the data those men provided is "not true."
"Any analytics that we got, that we could apply, we did," Scioscia went on. "There were certain things, like Wins Above Replacement, that are not applicable in the dugout. There are certain things like batting average on balls in play that are not applicable in the dugout. I don't want to keep going on and on."
Eppler's analytics team has held preliminary meetings with the coaching staff about how the new information will flow and how feedback will be given. Eppler himself has spoken with the coaches about how they like to view the information, as well. Over the next couple of weeks, the staff will begin divulging some reports, though they won't necessarily be implemented in Cactus League games. The entire process should be complete in a month.
Eppler has an analogy for it all.
"Think about it as a buffet table," he said. "You go to certain buffets and they put certain dishes out on the buffet. We want to be able to have a very comprehensive kitchen that can cook a lot of different meals up. The coaching staff will choose what meals they want to eat."
That last sentence is key here.
Eppler says Scioscia will have full autonomy on which of the staff's findings he actually uses.
"Of course," Eppler said. "That's his job."
The information will once again be filtered through the "information coach," a job Rick Eckstein, Rico Brogna and Keith Johnson have all undertaken since the start of the 2014 season. Steve Soliz, previously the bullpen coach, will hold that title in 2016. Like his predecessors, Soliz will be tasked with poring through the data provided by the front office and communicating it to the coaching staff for implementation in games.
He will be a middle man, of sorts.
Scioscia said some of the information they'll receive is "different" from what was provided under Dipoto, though Eppler wouldn't go into specifics.
"I look at it as going to Coca-Cola and asking them what's in the recipe, or going to Kentucky Fried Chicken and asking what's in the recipe," he said. "I don't want to say what our recipes are. Because they're evolving, too."
Scioscia has struck Eppler as an "information savant," someone who is "really inquisitive" and whose questions "have depth." It's a characterization many who spent the last four years working with the Angels under Dipoto would scoff at, but one Eppler seems rather adamant about.
Scioscia says he's been incorporating analytics "for 17 years," ever since Joe Maddon, one of the game's most progressive thinkers, served as his bench coach. But sabermetrics only exploded about five years ago.
How will they be incorporated now?
"The lion's share of what analytics is going to bring is going to be for front-office use and projective performance and things like that," Scioscia said, "but as far as everything from some things in our game plan to evaluating pitchers' effectiveness during a game, there's some really exciting things that they're going to apply, and it'll help us in our decision-making process."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast.