- Is Brad Ausmus going to be more successful with the Angels than he was with the Tigers? To compete in the AL West, he must be.
If it’s not the Yankees, managerial hires usually get little national fanfare, and they happen when most baseball fans are fully invested in the postseason. As a result, SI’s MLB staff will be introducing you to the six new faces in charge of MLB franchises. Of the six openings that occurred at season’s end, only the Orioles have yet to fill their vacancy. First up: the Angels
Los Angeles Angels
Who did he replace?
Mike Scioscia, who was the longest-tenured manager in the big leagues. Scioscia won one World Series and made seven playoff appearances in 19 seasons with the Angels, but did not record a playoff win after 2009.
Who did he beat out?
The Angels were linked strongest to Eric Chavez, who currently manages the Salt Lake Bees, the Angels’ Triple A affiliate. General manager Billy Eppler instead opted for Ausmus, who finished with a 314–332 record and one playoff appearance over four seasons managing the Tigers.
Playing career stats
A 19-year MLB veteran, Ausmus was always recognized as one of the game’s more cerebral players. A Dartmouth grad trusted by a host of pitchers, Ausmus finished his career with a slash line of .251/.325/.344 and 80 home runs in 1,971 games split between the Astros (10 seasons), Padres (four seasons), Tigers (three seasons) and Dodgers (two seasons).
Ausmus replaced a retiring Jim Leyland, who guided Detroit to three consecutive ALCS and one World Series in his final three years in charge. He managed the Tigers for four seasons from 2014 to ’17, but after making the playoffs in his first season in charge (Detroit was swept by Baltimore in the ALDS), his tenure was marred by an aging lineup, a poor farm system and the usual bullpen struggles that afflict the Tigers.
Even after shipping Prince Fielder—whom the Tigers had signed to a nine-year contract before 2012—to the Rangers in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler, Detroit had one of the game’s deepest cores across the league. What it didn’t have was a bullpen. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez would provide quality starts; Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez would provide plenty of offense; then the bullpen would try—and often fail—to protect the lead. The strength of the middle of the lineup was every bit as notable as the weakness at the bottom.
What should have been a World Series contender in 2014 was promptly bounced from the playoffs despite the midseason acquisition of David Price, and an aging lineup became cumbersome. Even as Cabrera remained one of the league’s most dominant offensive forces, Scherzer departed for Washington D.C., Verlander’s effectiveness dwindled, and the bullpen remained the least trustworthy unit of any competitive team.
The 2015 team won just 74 games in Ausmus’ second season—a year that saw the dismissal of general manager Dave Dombrowski—despite another major offseason signing (Yoenis Cespedes, who would be sent to the Mets at the trade deadline). The emergence of Michael Fulmer and the addition of Justin Upton looked like a boon to the 2016 team, but it finished with 86 wins and missed the playoffs. Things got so bad in the second half in ‘17 that, with a month still left to go on the season, Ausmus predicted he’d be fired. After finishing 64–98, he was correct.
What to Expect
The most common criticism of Ausmus from Tigers fans seems to be his bullpen management, which some claim cost them a shot at the 2014 pennant. His best options that season were Joakim Soria, Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan, all of whom were exposed against the Orioles. The problem, however, is the front office never outfitted him with a worthy relief corps, so even getting to the playoffs was a struggle with the division’s highest payroll. Ausmus was also working for one of the least analytically curious front offices in baseball (Verlander famously marveled at the depth of Houston’s information after joining the Astros), so his Motor City tenure is difficult to judge in the contemporary game.
What might be most refreshing about Ausmus is his general candor and ability to keep a level head. He often provided cutting, amusing quotes during his playing days—he once said he’d rather sign close to home in California instead of take more money elsewhere to continue his mediocre career—and was an often revered teammate during his 19 years as a player. He cultivated a reputation as a hands-on manager during his time in Detroit and was highly defensive and complimentary of his players in the media. His dryness wore on some fans in Detroit, especially those who preferred the fiery style of Leyland, and that might work a bit more in the relaxed confines of Orange County.
Ausmus is a smart guy. The question now is how he can apply himself with a more contemporary front office.
Mike Trout is the best asset that any manager can inherit, so Ausmus is likely pleased at his good fortune. Beyond that, the Angels are an inconsistent but capable franchise that should have the financial might and talent to make the postseason. Between Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Andrelton Simmons and Upton, the Angels have the offensive core to compete in a division with slugging squads like the Astros and Athletics. The unceremonious decline of Albert Pujols and his onerous contract, a bad bullpen, and an unpredictable starting rotation are all causes for worry, but they’ll likely be addressed in some form during the offseason.
Expect Eppler to be as aggressive as he was last season—when he signed Ohtani, Ian Kinsler, Zack Cozart and re-signed Upton—now that the A’s are another team firmly in the way of the Angels’ playoff ambitions. The biggest x-factor is the wünderkind Ohtani, who won’t pitch in 2019 due to an injured UCL but should be able to serve as the regular designated hitter. How actively Ausmus uses him next year will be one of the year’s primary sources of intrigue.
Should fans be excited?
Ausmus’ tenure in Detroit looks questionable, but is difficult to judge because of odd roster management, frenetic turnover and little analytical interest or innovation from the front office. He’s a young manager but a clubhouse veteran who will likely earn the trust of his players. His game management was widely criticized in Detroit, but four years of experience has a way of improving that. The most popular choices for managers right now are young ex-players open to front office collaboration with strong interpersonal skills. To that end, Ausmus is more than capable of becoming the next Alex Cora or Dave Roberts. It’s on the front office to provide him a team worthy of competing.