The name is familiar, but the title is not. The Angels hired Rick Eckstein, the older brother of former World Series-winning Angels shortstop David Eckstein, as their major league player information coach in November, which begs the question:
What the heck — or would that be what the Eck? — is a player information coach?
In short, it's a position that combines scouting and on-field coaching duties.
"It's a hybrid role," General Manager Jerry Dipoto said, "one that will be very valuable to our club."
And how will that value be measured?
"That's a great question," Eckstein, 41, said. "This being a new role, I think time will tell."
Eckstein, the Washington Nationals hitting coach for the last five years, will spend the first part of his day studying advance scouting reports provided by professional scouting director Hal Morris, major league player information coordinator Nick Francona and advance scouting coordinator Jeremy Zoll.
"I'll break it down to another level of things that will be pertinent to us as a club," Eckstein said. "Then Nick and I will sit down with each position coach, as well as Mike [Scioscia, Angels manager], and talk through things."
Eckstein, who has spent 18 years in a variety of coaching roles, will be in uniform during batting practice, which will provide more opportunities for dialogue with players and coaches. But he will watch games from the seats behind the plate or a club-level suite.
"I'll be an eye-in-the-sky, a quality-control guy," Eckstein said. "I'll bring another set of eyes to the equation and will use some of my baseball expertise to see what it is I see."
Eckstein originally interviewed for the third base coach job that went to Gary DiSarcina. As Dipoto spoke to candidates for a new player information position that he, assistant GMs Matt Klentak and Scott Servais and baseball operations director Justin Hollander formulated, Eckstein emerged as an ideal fit.
"He'll bring fresh eyes, someone who can see things from a different point of view," Dipoto said. "He'll try to identify what another team is doing on a game-by-game basis and look for an advantage we might have. He'll work with Nick Francona to ensure the information we are providing in an advance scouting report is put into play in the most effective way possible."
If there is one area Eckstein's presence will most be felt, it will be how the Angels, who open the 2014 season against the Seattle Mariners on Monday night in Anaheim, implement the defensive shifts they plan to use more of this season.
Though Eckstein will watch tapes of upcoming opponents when he can, he won't be an advance scout. His primary focus will be on the Angels and how they can function more effectively and efficiently.
If he thinks a reliever is tipping his pitches, he'll speak to pitching coach Mike Butcher. If he notices a flaw in a swing, he'll talk to hitting coach Don Baylor.
"Hopefully, I'm able to bring a little more clarity and insight into our preparation, a little more precision to the defensive shifts we're using," Eckstein said.
Eckstein's position is new to the Angels, but not new to baseball. With the explosion of information over the last decade, many teams have hired specialized scouts and coaches to help them determine how to best apply that information on the field.
"We now know more about what happens day to day in a baseball game than we ever have due to the data we're able to collect electronically," Dipoto said. "All the things you used to do with your eyeballs that took decades to get a feel for, now you can push a button and access that information.
"Then, you trust it to people who have the eyeball impact who are down there day to day. It's a great setup."