New Angels manager Joe Maddon vowed Thursday to marry new-age analytics with old-school fundamentals in an effort to bring back the style of play that made the Angels one of baseball’s most dominant franchises from 2002-2009.
“We’re gonna bunt this year, guys,” Maddon said at his introductory news conference in Angel Stadium, drawing applause from an audience that included current Angels players Albert Pujols, Shohei Ohtani and David Fletcher and former Angels Rod Carew, Garret Anderson, Adam Kennedy and Bobby Grich.
“I like courage, I like fearlessness, I like not being afraid of making mistakes … with the proper guys. [We’re going] to put the hit-and-run sign on with the proper count. If a stolen base is there based on a pitcher’s time to the plate, then steal a bag. They should go first to third [on singles]. They shouldn’t miss a cut-off guy.”
The Angels won the 2002 World Series and 2004 and 2005 American League West titles while Maddon was the bench coach under Mike Scioscia, and they won three more division titles from 2007-2009 with an offensive approach heavy on contact, situational hitting and aggressive baserunning.
Maddon, 65, spent his first 31 years (1975-2005) of professional baseball with the Angels in a variety of minor league and big league roles before leaving to manage the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2006.
He embraced the information provided by an analytics-driven front office and combined it with his old-school sensibilities, a fusion that helped turn the low-budget Rays into contenders, reaching the 2008 World Series and winning two division titles.
That approach served Maddon well in Chicago, where he led the Cubs to four playoff berths and the 2016 World Series championship, and he plans to continue in Anaheim, where he signed a three-year, $12-million contract to replace Brad Ausmus, who was fired after one year.
“What’s going on in the game today ... it’s data vs. art — that’s what it comes down to for me,” Maddon said. “Art being the human heartbeat, data being numbers, the math, etc. I believe there’s a balance to be struck right there.
“You can use both these things to your advantage but you should never ever want to disassociate one or the other. To just be all analytically inclined or all heartbeat inclined, you’re going to lose. You’re not going to be the best version of yourself.”
While hitters set major league records for home runs and strikeouts again this season, Maddon hopes an emphasis on contact, baserunning and defense — and, of course, effective pitching — will produce a more exciting brand of baseball.
“In today’s game, everybody is working off the same sheet of music,” Maddon said. “I think there’s a reason why fans have been turned off a bit by our game, and that’s because the game looks the same regardless of where you go.
“I want us to reestablish our identity here. While we’re playing the analytical game, I want us also to play the Angels game. And for all these guys, who you are as a human being matters.”
Told later that his comment about his affinity for the bunt had already created a stir on Twitter, Maddon said, “Oh really? That’s awesome. I really enjoy that kind of reaction.”