Posted May 06, 2013

Angels stink on ice, but it’s not Mike Scioscia’s fault

Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Mike Scioscia
Mike Scioscia, Angels

Mike Scioscia’s Angels are off to an 11-20 start that is the third-worst in the American League. (AP)

Mike Scioscia is the longest-tenured manager in the majors, now into his 14th season as manager of the Angels. He’s enjoyed plenty of success, but with the team off to another terrible start despite spending big on the free agent market this past winter, the vultures are circling, and it’s fair to wonder if his time in Anaheim is running out.

At the moment, the Angels stink on ice. After dropping three of four to the Orioles, they’ve now lost four straight series, five of their last six and eight of 10 thus far this season, with one of their two series wins coming against the lowly Astros. At 11-20, they’ve matched their worst start in franchise history; only three times have they had a worse run differential at this point than their current -35. Among AL teams, only the Astros (8-24, -75 runs) and Blue Jays (11-21, -47 runs) have worse records or run differentials.

The history of teams off to such slow starts is rather grim. In the wild-card era (1995 onward) only one squad — the 2001 A’s — has come back from an 11-20 record or worse to make the playoffs. Two teams apiece have rallied from 12-19 (the 2005 Yankees and Astros) and 13-18 (the 1995 Yankees and Dodgers), but all four had better run differentials at this juncture.

Scioscia has been at the helm of the Angels since 2000, and overall, he’s been quite successful, with a .546 winning percentage, five division titles, one wild card appearance and a world championship back in 2002. The problem for the 54-year-old manager is that the Angels haven’t made the playoffs since 2009 — the year he signed a 10-year, $50 million extension, incidentally — despite maintaining one of the game’s highest payrolls. In the four seasons since then (including this one), they’ve averaged $140.2 million per year, which ranks fourth behind the Yankees ($215.1 million), Red Sox ($166.9 million) and Phillies ($160.5), using the data at Cot’s Contracts. Owner Arte Moreno has okayed the signing of Albert Pujols (10 years, $240 million), Josh Hamilton (five years, $125 million) and C.J. Wilson (five years, $77.5 million) in an effort to reverse the slide, and the team has depleted its farm system to the point that Baseball America ranked it dead last this spring, yet the Angels have nothing to show for it beyond an expensive roster.

To be fair, those problems have more to do with the work of general manager Jerry Dipoto and his predecessor Tony Reagins, who was fired in October 2011. Scioscia didn’t trade Mike Napoli for Vernon Wells in January 2011, Reagins did. He didn’t sign those pricey free agents, or send three prospects — including Jean Segura — to the Brewers for Zack Greinke last summer, then let Greinke walk at the end of the year. He didn’t unload Ervin Santana and Dan Haren over the winter in favor of adding Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas. Dipoto built this team, and while the Angels won 89 games last year, they still finished third in a four-team division.

Scioscia’s relationship with Dipoto is said to be considerably less strong than with predecessors Reagins and Bill Stoneman, and he wields less clout than he did previously. According to FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal, Scioscia used to run the team’s end-of-the-year meetings as they set offseason priorities, but that dynamic has changed since Dipoto took over, and tensions were exacerbated last May when Dipoto dismissed longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher after last season’s slow start. The current GM and manager may not be a very good fit; Dipoto is more analytically inclined than his predecessors, but last September, Rosenthal noted, “Scioscia has been resistant to using the data prepared by the GM and his staff.”

While Scioscia’s teams built their success on pitching (particularly a strong bullpen), an aggressive offensive approach and strong defense, the current roster has less speed, is more home run-dependent and lacks good pitching. Beyond clashing philosophies, some of that owes to injuries. Staff ace Jered Weaver hit the disabled list after just two starts due to a fractured left elbow suffered while avoiding a batted ball on April 7; there’s no timetable yet for his return. Intended closer Ryan Madson has yet to make an appearance due to a prolonged recovery from April 2012 Tommy John surgery. Shortstop Erick Aybar and third baseman Alberto Callaspo each spent three weeks on the DL, the former due to due to a bruised heel, the latter due to a calf strain and now centerfielder Peter Bourjous is out of action due to a strained hamstring.

Those injuries aren’t entirely responsible for the 11-20 record, but they haven’t helped. Among AL teams, only the Astros are allowing more than the Angels’ 5.19 runs per game. The rotation’s 4.95 ERA ranks 13th and its 5.8 per nine strikeout rate is 14th. The bullpen’s 4.49 ERA is 13th as well, exacerbated by a league-worst 50 percent rate of allowing inherited runners to score. Journeyman Brendan Harris and minor leaguers Luis Jimenez and Andrew Romine, the fill-ins on the left side of the infield, have been thoroughly overmatched, hitting a combined .227/.267/.298 with a 42/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 152 plate appearances.

The bigger problem for an offense that ranks 10th in the league in scoring at 4.16 runs per game has been the dismal showings of Pujols (.237/.319/.407 with five homers in 138 PA) and Hamilton (.208/.255/.296 with just two homers in 137 PA). The former has been playing though a bout of plantar fasciitis, and has just a .228 batting average on balls in play and a .169 isolated power — both career lows by a country mile, but at least they can be explained away by injury. Not so for the latter, who has spent virtually the entire season in one of his prolonged slumps, and looks completely lost at the plate, swinging at far more pitches outside the strike zone than ever, and falling behind in the count all too often. Hamilton has struck out in 27.7 percent of his plate appearances, while walking in just 5.1 percent of them — both well off his previous career marks of 19.7 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively. While Mark Trumbo (.294/.364/.548) remains a force and Mike Trout (.275/.340/.504) has been respectable if not exceptional, neither can do enough to offset the rest of the lineup’s struggles; besides those two, the team’s non-pitchers are batting just .252/.309/.367.

You can’t fire an entire team for such underperformance, which makes the natural response to fire the manager, but Scioscia’s contract would make that a painful proposition. While the annual breakdown isn’t entirely known, his salary is $6 million a year in the last three years of his deal, so it’s safe to say that he’s received less than half of that $50 million so far. It’s been suggested the Angels could trade him, but that’s far easier said than done, and the lack of success from the recent swaps of John Farrell and Ozzie Guillen may scare teams away, in addition to producing an inconsequential return. The current coaching staff doesn’t have an obvious heir apparent, and the biggest name outside the organization that has surfaced, Tony La Russa, isn’t interested (no word on Phil Jackson thus far).

The more justifiable route based on the current state of the organization would be to fire Dipoto. Doing so when he has less than two years under his belt would be a sign of panic, but he’s responsible for far more of the team’s current problems than Scioscia. Given the team’s aging roster and depleted farm system, it could be years — or several other big free agent contracts — before things turn around, but there will always be a GM hungry enough to take on such a challenge.

In all likelihood, Scioscia will remain on the job unless or until he decides his time with the Angels has run its course; such is the commitment a skipper receives when he’s on a 10-year deal. Beyond enjoying the typical regression toward the mean that an underachieving club tends to experience eventually, it’s not at all clear that a new manager could turn this season around. That may leave the Angels playing out the string, but when the alternative is simply creating fireworks for the sake of creating fireworks, it’s the better course of action.

31 comments
AndyMcEvans
AndyMcEvans

This article screams of somebody who has not been following the Angels very closely. Blaming Dipoto for the team's failures and depleted farm system, when he's been with the organization for about a year and a half, is silly. 

Reagins is the one that traded away a lot of our good young players and prospects and every Angels fan knows that Scioscia was the real GM when Reagins was in Anaheim. Trading Napoli for Wells has Scioscia written all over it. 

Letting Haren go was the right choice. Letting Santana go probably was the right choice as well. Even if he has a good 2013, it's impossible to predict whether he's going to do well because he's the most inconsistent SP in the league. I could go on...

Scioscia is the only constant in the Angels organization over the past 4 years. He's the one that seems to continuously get the worst performance out of our players. He's the guy that won't let this team have an honest rally because he has to attempt a bunt, hit and run, or steal and give the other team a free out. He's the guy continuously putting our worst bullpen arms in during crucial points of games. 

People love to say that baseball managers shouldn't be blamed for poor  performance because their effect really isn't very much, but anyone who watches the Halos play on a nightly basis knows that Mike Scioscia's overly aggressive micro-management style has a much larger effect on performance than the average management style does. 

FialaL
FialaL

@AndyMcEvans so how long does the GM need to be there before he can start taking some of the blame?

John NoLastName
John NoLastName

In all professional sports, the team with the best players wins 75-80% of the time. Of the remainder, 10% is due to the head coach/manager, and 10% to other factors (weather, injuries, etc., not to mention pure luck).

With that in mind, I think it's fair to say that the GM is the single most important employee in an entire professional sports franchise.

RafaelVelasquez
RafaelVelasquez

the GM'S are to get the biggest blame,,poor performance  from every hitter? the GM fault/ poor excecution in their game?? that's the manager's fault/ except the signed free agents that falls on DIPOTO'S unsuccesfull  strategy as a GM!!!

RanBirkins
RanBirkins like.author.displayName 1 Like

This is the result of GM screwups, not manager issues.  How much better would the W-L record be if two huge offensive talents (Pujols and Hamilton) were not doing so poorly?  We have 2 key spots in the batting order basically committed to guys whose production is among the worst in the league.  Huge potential but minimal results.

Both of those signings (and the Wells deal) were huge mistakes - long term deals paying big $$$ for aging superstars.  Sooner or later the vast majority of these deals turn into paying a large percentage of your payroll for PAST performance, not current production.  When you sign them (or trade for them) you're thrilled to be adding a superstar to your team, but there is no joy in watching their production decline as they flail in the batters box.  Occasionally in game situations you will be thrilled to have them, but In the last years of those contracts it will be like paying $100 (or more) for a gallon of gas.  Terrible decisions.

I know Scioscia has his peculiarities and occasionally makes moves and decisions that leave us scratching our heads.  But so did LaRussa and any other good manager. Anybody can manage if they always go strictly by the book.  Good managers feel the pulse of their team, they know who is hot and who is not, and their game instincts are good.  They know "the book" but know it does not apply in all circumstances.  Some managers run a lot and some don't.  Some bunt a lot and some don't.  Some hit and run a lot and some don't.  Some guys are quick to make pitching changes and some are not so quick.  As long as a team wins a lot, however the manager does it is fine with me.  Much prefer that to a robot that makes every move strictly by the book.

And a manager has to have a "doghouse" in order to retain the respect of his team.  Napoli is a perfect example of a guy that landed in the doghouse for a reason.

And Napoli's breakout season with Texas was the result of a GM screwup - when he was traded, there should have been at least a gentlemen's agreement in place to NOT trade him back to an AL West team.  Not having such an agreement allowed the  BlueJays to immediately flip him back to Texas.  Huge GM mistake.

Have not done any analysis, but I suspect the Angels record at this point would be at least 3-4 games better if Pujols and Hamilton were performing at even their career averages.  Add another 1-2 games if Trout was playing up to last year's production.  

And if that was the case, we would be having this discussion.

RafaelVelasquez
RafaelVelasquez

@RanBirkins Between/ HAMILTON/PUJOLS/MIKE TROUT/had done nothing to help the team,,trout would hit a lousy homerun from time to time, except when he does hit a homerun??the team is already losing by ten runs or more!!!!

meh
meh

@RafaelVelasquez Trout has 5 home runs this year (on pace for ~25, which is ok). They are:

Apr 14, 3rd inn, game was 1-1 before, 2-1 after

Apr 20, 1st inn, game was 1-0 before, 5-0 after

May 01, 6th inn, game was 2-2 before, 3-2 after

May 03, 5th inn, game was 1-0 before, 3-0 after

May 05, 4th inn, game was 3-3 before, 4-3 after

So I'd say every home run he's hit has been important.

doghockey
doghockey

@RafaelVelasquez The Angels have given up 10 or more runs four times this season, and Mike Trout did not hit a home run in any of those games.   Now what?

DeeEmm1
DeeEmm1

Plenty of blame falls on the feet of Mike Scioscia because of his tactical decisions, which is something that us Angel fans see every day, but a national beat writer may not. His poor bullpen management, his hesitance to send his best SB threats to pressure opposing pitchers, and overall strange and untimely calls have contributed just as much as the moves Jerry Dipoto and Tony Reagins made. You're going to lose plenty of games when your manager gives away outs by calling for bunts on 3-1 counts and not being on alert when your pitcher gets gassed (looking at the Michael Roth spot start, for starters).

This isn't anything new either, Scioscia hasn't been able to adapt to his players or to the league the past few seasons. Everything that made him who he was as a manager has been thrown out in favor of stubborn roles and emotionless platitudes. The league has caught up to him, and when the manager isn't trying hard, neither will your team, and it shows. A shakeup is in order at the end of the season. I like Jerry, but if he's fired I wouldn't have an issue with it either, he's subjected me to Joe Blanton and that's unacceptable.

RyanLSchmidt
RyanLSchmidt

@DeeEmm1 and how about a starter in command of a game like Grienke in KC up 2-1 in the 9th with 1 out a runner on and he goes to the pen. HR, KC wins. How many times have we see na starter in command of a game and Scioscia wont let him throw a complete game.


How about all those stupid different line ups and you never knew who would start last April, as he tried to play 12 players keep everyone happy. THis year, mental baserunning errors continue and 2nd in the AL in errors. But, Mike will never take responsibiity. 

DeeEmm1
DeeEmm1

@RyanLSchmidt @DeeEmm1 That was a killer last April, great point. 12 players and at first, none of them were Mike Trout. Amazing when you look back at it today.

meh
meh

@DeeEmm1 When did an Angel bunt on 3-1?

DeeEmm1
DeeEmm1

@meh @DeeEmm1 During a game against the Orioles this past weekend, a late inning rally that started with men on 1st and 2nd, no out, and J.B. Shuck at the plate. The bunt was called even though taking the pitch would have loaded the bases. The Angels tied the game 4-4, but wasted the opportunity to cash in a man they left on 3rd. They went on to lose the game after the Orioles played it right in the 10th.

magicvilas
magicvilas

Hamilton is a Jonah. 

They should have kept Torii another year, and spent the Hamilton money on pitching that wasn't iffy National League transplants.

RafaelVelasquez
RafaelVelasquez

@magicvilas all this bad decissions were coming  from JERRY DIPOTO, every signed free agent/ every wrong trade/comes straight from DIPOTO'S albastros baseball vission,,,

TOperspective
TOperspective

BTW - Dipoto needs to go also.

RafaelVelasquez
RafaelVelasquez

@TOperspective DIPOTO should go, there is nothing good coming from him anyways, if the angels owner keeps dipoto the damage could be increased by 95 %,REMOVE  DIPOTO/REMOVE THE HITTING COACH/REMOVE THE PITCHING COACH/ should the team still can't win conssistently,then  its time for MIKE SCIOCIA  to move  to another team or take a long vacation!!

TOperspective
TOperspective like.author.displayName 1 Like

Scioscia's fingerprints were all over the Wells-Napoli trade.  This team is sleepwalking - he needs to go.

RafaelVelasquez
RafaelVelasquez

@TOperspective AGAIN the manager doesn't make those decissions, rather the GM its responsable for any trade/ for any free agent signed!!!

chomsky66
chomsky66 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

You're not being totally fair re: Napoli. The trade only came about because Scioscia buried Napoli disdainfully in his doghouse, for perceived lack of catchery skills. 

dg7272
dg7272

@chomsky66 Just to backup chomsky66...I am NOT devaluing the goodness, nay, greatness of having a solid defensive catcher, but you have to use your guys in the right way. For one of the lone Angels who had the ball$ to tee off a couple times on a Beckett fastball (when he was still a good pitcher) during the playoffs and launch them over the green monster...well, you keep a guy like that in your lineup. 1st base, DH, whatever you keep him in there.

That disgusting trade to let Napoli go for that steaming pile of dung, Vernon Wells, was outrageous. I was a very big fan and supporter of Sciosia. And with the kind of respect that the Angels organization had for him you know FOR SURE that his input was involved in that terrible, terrible trade. I knew that Napoli would have an amazing season or two for the Rangers and sure enough he produces...especially pounding on the Angels during key games. And as a 40 year Angels fan going to the Big A in the 70's, I was actually happy that Nap showed them up for their stupidity.

I can't believe I'm saying this but (due to my bitternes of Nap being let go and then huge free agent contracts to Pujols/Hamilton...which never work, save for Winfield in the early 80's) cut Scioscia and Dipoto NOW!

RafaelVelasquez
RafaelVelasquez

@dg7272 @chomsky66 SCIOCIA didn't trade napoli, nether he ask the GM to trade him at all,,,remember he is not a GM he is a manager,, for all the wrong trades/for all the wrong free agents signed/ the blame DO FALLS on the GM and nobody else,,,,

BryanCustard
BryanCustard

@chomsky66 nothing perceived about it, Napoli is a horrendous defensive catcher in all aspects of playing the position. Now, if you want to chide Scioscia over valuing the defensive aspects of the position more so than the offensive aspects of the position, thats fair, but you should expect nothing less from an ex-catcher, turned manager. Personally, I thought playing Napoli in a platoon, and then trading him, was pretty stupid, when he probably should have been the Angels everyday catcher, especially with 25hr, 75 rbi potential, but Hank Conger is finding out the same lesson that Napoli did, if you can't play a solid defensive catcher, there is no place for you in the Scioscia-run Angels lineup

DeeEmm1
DeeEmm1

@BryanCustard @chomsky66 That's actually incorrect as well, as he showed while playing for the Rangers. The reason he no longer plays catcher is because of his hip condition, not because of his defensive abilities. Using Scioscia's favorite stat, CERA, Napoli posted a number in the low 3s while with the Rangers, but with the Angels it was much higher due to him being relegated to catching the #4 and #5 starters.

Scioscia preferred Jeff Mathis, so Napoli was traded. Then Mathis continued to show that he stunk, so he's now gone as well.