After George Springer launched a career-high three home runs to propel the Houston Astros to a 13-5 win over the Angels, the manager of the losing teamwas asked if he thought his squad was close to competing with the behemoths who had just secured their third consecutive division title.
Brad Ausmus’ answer was succinct.
“You never know,” he said, sitting in his Minute Maid Park office while the Astros sprayed bubbly and donned kitschy playoff apparel. Fortune “can turn over an offseason.”
Yet a few hours earlier, Ausmus acknowledged one person key to the Angels’ pursuit of postseason relevance: first-year pitching coach Doug White.
“I think he’s very good,” Ausmus said. “He’s definitely learning the in-game stuff just because he hasn’t done it as much. But the pitchers’ practice plan, the development [part], he really excels at. He’s got a ton of passion in what he does and toward the players he’s teaching.”
Nothing on the field suggests White is deserving of such confidence. This Angels staff is on pace to post some of the worst marks in franchise history. Many of his charges have struggled to translate his teachings on the mound, falling into mechanical ruts that have waylaid promising seasons.
After Sunday’s meltdown, Angels pitchers had allowed 255 home runs, the third-highest total in baseball. No other team in franchise history had allowed more than 228, a record set by the 2000 Angels.
The Angels also own a 5.16 ERA, the third-highest in team history, with six games remaining.
But White’s impact is more profound than the numbers indicate. When he was hired in November, White was tasked with pushing the Angels into the world of analytics, an area in which the franchise had fallen behind. White, a pitching coach in some capacity since 2003, was a good match because he’d spent the four previous seasons working in Houston’s sophisticated system.
White has earned praise from pitchers for his ability to distribute the advanced, and often unwieldy information, in digestible ways. Left-hander Dillon Peters, who came to the Angels from the Miami Marlins in a trade last offseason, has learned from the data White culled from the Rapsodo radar devices and Edgertronic cameras how to throw his low-90s fastball with more effectiveness.
“It’s really nice to have part of my game develop in that fashion,” said the 27-year-old Peters, who has a 4.81 ERA In 63 2/3 innings. “It’s been in awesome in terms of learning and changing the way I approach the game, just because of what the numbers dictate or tell us.
“I’ve taken everything that I’ve heard and what they tell me is important and tried to put it in to change my game positively. … All of this is about getting better, too. If what I’ve gone through this season is gonna help me get better, then I’m trusting the process.”
Of course, there have also been growing pains. Rookie Jose Suarez, 21, struggled so mightily to adjust to White’s suggestions that he fell into poor habits on the mound. He began tipping his pitches to opponents.
But in a two-inning, one-run outing Sunday, Suarez believed his mechanics came closer to what he used when he jumped from high class A to triple A in 2018.
“I was uncomfortable because we changed a lot that worked for me last year,” Suarez said in Spanish. “There was a lot for me to focus on, like my glove placement and the way I set up. It was a little tough. But a lot of people told me this first year is about me learning to adjust. Next year should be better.”
The Angels certainly did not expect White, who didn’t work in the major leagues until the Astros promoted him to bullpen coach in 2018, to work miracles. Doing so became impossible once injuries and the death of Tyler Skaggs destroyed the pitching staff.
The Angels only hoped White would help pitchers fulfill their potential.
He has time left to do that.
“I definitely think it will be smoother [next year], not only because he’s got a year under his belt,” Ausmus said, “but because he’s got a complete offseason to plan. To have some actual scheduling time will be a huge benefit.
“I know we didn’t get the results, in terms of wins and losses,” he added. “And even more finite numbers you can dig into weren’t all there. But if you put a coaching staff together you aren’t going to see immediate results all the time. Sometimes there is a growing period, a learning period, not only for the coaches, but for the players to understand the drills and skills they are trying to implement.”