Wednesday, May 16, 2012

By David Saltzer & Chuck Richter -

Tuesday night, I was out with my wife on a dinner date when Chuck Richter texted me the news that the Angels had relieved Mickey Hatcher of his duties. After registering the shock of the moment, I asked Chuck if he knew who will be replacing Hatcher. Chuck told me that the Angels were going with an internal candidate—their Triple-A batting coach, and former player, Jim Eppard.

At first, that move made sense. It seemed rather unlikely that the Angels would, or could, make a full search for a new hitting coach without the news leaking to the press or without being confined by the limited availability during the season. However, in reading the comments from the press after making the Hatcher announcement, there may be more to this move than first meets the eye.

According to Bill Plunkett, in his thorough coverage of the story in the Orange County Register (click here to read the article) 
Dipoto would not call Eppard an interim choice for the position.
"I'm not a big fan of the interim tag. I don't think that allows anybody the ability or autonomy to do their job," he said, adding that Eppard's future role will be evaluated "as we move along."
"We believe in him, he's a part of the Angels family and he deserves the opportunity to sink his teeth into the job."

In looking at Eppard’s career, there may be some truth these statements. While Chuck and I do believe that the Angels will ultimately do a more thorough search to fill the position in the offseason, Eppard will be given every opportunity to earn the position.

Looking at Jim Eppard's Minor League stats on Baseball Reference, two things stand out. First, Eppard was a sabermetric-type hitter well before anyone had even heard of Bill James. When he was a player, Eppard understood when to work the count and when to swing away. Over the course of his Minor League career, Eppard had 607 walks versus 368 strikeouts in 1199 ABs. His career OB% was .397! He only grounded into 17 double-plays in all that time. It’s not surprising to learn that Eppard won 4 batting titles in 12 Minor League seasons.

Second, Eppard has been the hitting coach for the Angels’ Triple-A team in Salt Lake since 2003. That means he is familiar with many of the current players on the Major League roster, including Kendrick, Bourjos, Trumbo, and Aybar. He knows what has worked with all of them in the past and should be able to continue to work with them in the future.

Angels fans know that Jerry Dipoto is a believer in the importance of getting on base in order to generate runs. Dipoto has already made moves to bolster that deficiency in the team. In the past, Eppard has worked with nearly half of the Angels’ starting lineup and coaxed enough improvement out of them to finalize them into Major League players.

As fans, we should all welcome him into the position and give him the time to assess the current problems with the offense as well as to work to improve them. Eppard will have his work cut out for him. But, hopefully he will have the skills to make the necessary improvements.
Love to hear what you think!

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