The K Zone
January 21st 2018
Billy Eppler: The New Angel in The Outfield
By Emmett Weinstein
As an Angels fan, I’ve been waiting for years for one huge but effective offseason like the one that has occurred this year. Billy Eppler has saved the day since joining the Angels from the past blemishes like the big contracts since the disasters of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols. Those players had already endured their prime seasons as potential future Hall of Famers, so had high expectations, but Pujols’ last really good years were with the Cardinals around in 2010, when he hit .312 with 42 home-runs and a slugging percentage of .526. What really blows me away is the on base percentage that he had during that MVP year. It was .414, which is a lot higher than any of the years that he has had during his time on the Angels, showing that he has turned into way less of a full player that Dipoto thought he was getting when signing him. On the Angels, Albert has pretty much been relying on Trout to get on base so he could either drive him in or hit into a double-play (by the way, Pujols has the most double-plays hit into of all time with 362). Because of the production he provided for the Cards, when he first signed with Anaheim I had to praise him and his past career. But on fivethirtyeight.com, Neil Paine states that he not only hasn’t lived up to the expected standards, but “He has easily been the worst hitter at the position [first base] that provides the least defensive value. As a result, no player has been less valuable than Pujols this year: His -1.99 WAR ranks dead last among all players (including pitchers).” Adding on to his offensive struggles, he hasn’t been able to play defense due to bad foot injuries. Instead, he has acted as the DH.
Josh Hamilton, Anaheim’s other marquee signee from the pre-Eppler era, turned out even worse than Albert. He has never gotten close to rebounding to his MVP seasons, in which he hit .359 with a league leading WAR of 8.9. Unlike Hamilton, Pujols at least put up consistent RBI numbers, with around 100 per year to go along with about 30 home runs annually. Hamilton signed to a 5-year 125 million dollar contract, which was a lot for an 8-year veteran player who was well past his prime. To make matters even worse, Hamilton was released before the 2015 season, yet the Angels still had to pay him through this past season. My most fond memory of seeing Hamilton at the Big A was a warm summer night against the Mariners. I was an excited young kid but there would be some frustration – Josh Hamilton ended up going 0-5 with 3 K’s while rolling into 2 double-plays. After that game, I kept on booing. The so called “dynamic duo” of Arte Moreno and Jerry Dipoto picked up players like Pujols, Hamilton, and CJ Wilson (who is now retired and owns his own car dealership.) Dipoto ruined the Angels’ good stretches of seasons in 2007, 2008, and 2009. The years where Jered Weaver’s fastball was above 90 miles per hour were vanquished and replaced with an attempt at bringing fans into the bleak Angel Stadium with Hamilton and Pujols. This past year, Hamilton’s contract just ended and Pujols’ 10 year, 240 million dollar contract continues. Billy Eppler has learned from the mistakes of Pujos and Hamilton and has been focusing on signing players who weren’t that big of names, but could develop into good players.
However, through the sorry years of the Pujos/Hamilton contracts, an Angel in the outfield would start to rise out of the tips of the rocks in centerfield, and it’s not who you think. His name is Billy Eppler. Billy had previously worked as a scout for the Rockies in the early 2000s, and after 2004, he was hired as a primary scout for the New York Yankees. He worked side by side with Brian Cashman in leading the Yankees to several championships. With his first taste on the Angels in 2016, he made his first big move by acquiring Andrelton Simmons from the Atlanta Braves for Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis, who were considered to be big prospects for the Angels at the time. However, “We really won’t get an accurate feel for this trade until some point after the 2018 season, when we have a better feel for Sean Newcomb’s capabilities at the big league level, and when Simmons is in the process of making $39 million over the final three seasons of his contract.” This year Newcomb had an ERA of 4.32, with 108 strikeouts and a whip of 1.570. He still has potential to develop into a decent lefty arm for the Braves, but he lacks his hot hand of years ago. On the other side, Andrelton Simmons had a career year in 2017, breaking out offensively. He hit .278 with 14 home-runs and holding a slugging percentage of .421 which is better than any other in his career. Also, Simmons had a WAR of 7.1 which was 6th in the MLB just under Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. Many fans knew that Simba would bring his defense to the table but his offense came through in 2017. Comparing to Simmons, Pujols’ WAR was -1.99 in 2017, presenting that no matter the big name, a player can be valuable to the team. Additionally, this reveals Eppler’s knowledge as a GM, for not spending all of the money or killing the whole farm system like Dipoto did.
In 2017, the Halos couldn’t prevail in the AL West, so they need to rebound from their struggles. The Angels’ GM came out strong halfway through 2017 at the trade deadline and picked up Justin Upton from the Tigers. Most fans around baseball said to themselves, “Oh yeah, Upton isn’t going back to the Angels, they suck.” Well now I can tell them “I told you so”, because Eppler re-signed him for 5 years, and 106 million. With the buzz uprising about Japanese superstar, Shohei Ohtani, the Angels were in on him from the start. Eppler cared so much for the organization and when they first got him he said that “he felt a level of elation that was comparable to only two other milestones in his life: his wedding and the birth of his son.” This shows that he wouldn’t give up no matter what for the sake of the organization. Ohtani was Eppler’s new son to be raised in the city of Anaheim. Eppler had been scouting Ohtani since his rookie year for the Fighters in Japan and they had a certain connection from the start. The Angels wouldn’t be quite done from there. They would also acquire second baseman Ian Kinsler from the Tigers via trade and Zack Cozart from free agency. The moves both add depth to the lineup, and continue Eppler’s legacy of adding underrated guys on smaller commitments. Most overlook the signing by the Angels of Kevin Maitan, who is only 17 but was named one of the top international picks in 2016 for the Atlanta Braves. The Halos picked him up due to the international signing scandal that the Braves faced, when they were forced to release him. For 2018, the Angels lineup seems set, although they still could add more to their rotation and bullpen. Billy has already looked passed the failures of acquiring Angels in the past and completely transformed the team into a much better roster, but we’ll have to see what happens next as spring training approaches. The team is looking to rebound past the days of Dipoto and his Dollars into a team of greatness led by the one and only Billy Eppler.
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