Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I stand before you today to put Mike Scioscia on trial for his role in the murder of the 2013 Angels season. If found guilty, we ask that you sentence him to termination at the end of the playing season.
It is the contention of the prosecution that Mike Scioscia's gross mishandling of the roster, inability to manage the clubhouse chemistry and out antiquated in-game tactics have done irreparable damage to the franchise and were chiefly responsible for the team's repeated disappointment over the last several seasons. Allow me to present you the evidence against Mr. Scioscia.
Exhibit A – Four straight seasons without a playoff berth
Don't worry, I'm not going to continue the lawyer gimmick. That would be way too annoying and cloud the arguments. Anyway, the first thing Scioscia gets hit with is always the four seasons without going to the playoffs. That makes sense on the surface, but we have to ask ourselves, "Should the Angels have made the playoffs each of those years?"
With the kind of payroll the Angels have carried since 2010, you'd expect the team to be good but you can ask the Mets how true that correlation really is. What is more relevant is the expectations for the roster. Take for example that 2010 team. It "disappointingly" won just 80 games therefore Scioscia must've screwed it up, right? Well, maybe not. That team won 80 games, but PECOTA had them pegged to win just 76 and their Pythagorean win expectancy was 79. And this came in a year where they lost their best hitter, Kendrys Morales, in May to a broken ankle. So, yes, they missed the playoffs but you could make a strong argument that Scioscia actually got the team to overachieve.
The same goes for 2011. Even amongst fans, there was not much in the way of expectations as many fans and analysts alike had them penciled in for 85 wins. PECOTA projected a measly 75 wins and the Halos finished with a Pythagorean record of 85-77. That team won 86, so again, not a disappointment even though there was no playoffs involved.
That overachieving trend starts wear off in 2012 where PECOTA predicted 91 wins for the Angels and they won 89 with a Pythagorean 88 win expectancy. So, yes, they fell short, not wildly so, but they fell short. That first month of the season where everything went wrong completely killed them, but could we not argue that Scioscia did a great job of managing after that and leading the team to the best record in baseball from mid-May on?
We won't even get into this season as there is no arguing what a gigantic failure the season has been. Even accounting for injuries and bad breaks, there is really no defense for this disaster. That doesn't make it a fireable offense.
Scioscia has a long history of helming teams that beat expectations. In fact, he is one of the best ever at doing so. If you really want to lord the playoff drought over Scioscia, go ahead, but know that really the last two seasons are the only ones that should be considered actual failures and that pretty much all of his other 14 seasons of managing the Halos were big successes. Baseball is a "what have you done for me lately" business, but that doesn't mean completely overlooking what was done in the past.
Exhibit B – Poor bullpen management
In a weird way, bullpen management is both a point against Scioscia and a point in his favor. One of the biggest factors in Scioscia's early success was considered to be his adept bullpen management. Those Angel teams had very strong bullpens and Scioscia was thought to have employed them in a way that maximized their potential.
However, during the four-year playoff drought, a strong argument could be made that Scioscia has lost his bullpen mojo. In fact, I did just that last week. Really, his technique has eroded quite a bit. He's been guilty of managing to the inning, waiting too long to go to the bullpen and relying too heavily on playing the platoon advantage.
What isn't entirely clear is how much talent comes into play. Was Scioscia really that good at deploying his bullpen in the early years or is it impossible for any manager to screw up a bullpen that had Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez and Scot Shields? Conversely, what manager could coax any level of effectiveness out of this year's bullpen full of flotsam and jetsam?
Exhibit C – Overreliance on antiquated in-game tactics
One of the biggest criticisms for years against Scioscia has been his over-reliance on smallball. At the same time, some have claimed that Scioscia isn't getting the most out of recent teams because he has been given teams that are more lumbering and predicated on long ball.
The former in that statement is something of a half-truth. Yes, the World Series team was more of a small ball team and it helped them succeed. It wasn't the bunting and situational hitting that was necessarily responsible it was just that the team could really hit. The 2002 Angels batted .282 and the next closest team was at .269. That team did have some pop too with three guys with 22 or more homers. What really helped them though was their aggressive baserunning as that team was brutally aggressive and efficient on the basepaths.
Fast forward to today and Scioscia's squad lacks that same baserunning efficacy. In fact, many have criticized Scioscia all season long for his bizarre reluctance to have his speedsters steal bases. Mike Trout's steals are well down and both Peter Bourjos and Erick Aybar are likely going to finish the season with single digit steals. That is a strong indicator, to me at least, that Scioscia is trying to manage to this different type of roster and doesn't want to be as aggressive with the baserunning out of fear of undermining the team's power.
That being said, the smallball still lives on. The Angels still sac bunt quite a bit for an AL team. Scioscia frequently plays for just one run instead of a big rally. This is perhaps why the Angels lead the free world in sacrifice flies. Their ability to hit with runners in scoring position has been lacking as well as demonstrated by several years running of having major GIDP issues. How much of that fabled "situational hitting" the manager can really control remains to be seen.
Exhibit D – Bad clubhouse chemistry
This is where things start to get particularly damning for Scioscia. While the effects of chemistry are highly debatable, there is no question that this is not a harmonious clubhouse. We recently heard about the near fight between Hunter and Pujols last season which gives a lot of credence to rumors that there is a leadership issue this year that is pitting young players versus veterans. There have also been two different Angels (one of them Trevor Bell, the other anonymous) that have blasted Scioscia in the media. Five years ago, a player calling out Scioscia in the media was unheard of. Let's not forget how the entire roster rallied around Scioscia after whatever happened between him and Jose Guillen. There was not one dissenting voice.
The obvious mitigating factor here is that the Angels are losing and doing so in the face of high expectations. When that happens, guys get ornery. It is going to happen no matter who the manager is. Tempers will flare. Fingers will be pointed. As far as we know, Scioscia has actually kept a lot of that in check and the chemistry issues could be even worse.
Exhibit E – Constant lineup shuffling
Let's be honest, this is a nuisance, but it is also a red herring. Sabermetric research certainly has a lot to say about how a lineup should be constructed but it is also with the caveat that even the optimal lineup is only a few runs better the average lineup a manager puts out. The fact that Scioscia insists on trying to bat Erick Aybar at the top of the order is infuriating, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't cost the team all that much. Nor does the fact that he uses so many different lineup permutations.
People love to bash Scioscia for using over 120 lineup arrangements every year but guess what? So does just about every manager. And in the biggest irony of all, this season has been one of the more stable years for Scioscia's lineups having used 89 different lineups despite all the injuries the team has suffered.
If you really want to bust Scioscia on his handling of the lineup it should be about who is in the lineup not where in the lineup they are. The Mathis-Napoli situation is positively indefensible. His insistence on playing washed up veterans like Bobby Abreu and Vernon Wells out of a misplaced sense of loyalty has certainly hindered the team at times. Even this year we've seen Scioscia change out his starting catcher several times based on nothing more than a whim. You could also make a very good case that he has given Josh Hamilton far too much rope this year.
Exhibit F – The team needs a new voice in the clubhouse
I admit that this is the one argument I support the most but that it might also be the biggest cop out. Sometimes when things aren't working and only getting worse, you have to change something. That something is most often the manager because it is the easiest thing to change out without causing a huge ripple effect. In fact, there is a growing sense that managers really don't add or subtract more than a few wins each season. But in replacing the manager, it is a grand gesture to the club that things need to change or it simply takes the pressure off of everyone else because the symbolic head has now rolled.
If Arte Moreno has already decided to fire someone, firing Scioscia gives him his pound of flesh without completely gutting the organization in the same way firing a GM would. Who knows, maybe Scioscia really is the problem. Maybe he is angering players behind the scenes. Maybe his motivational techniques are falling on deaf ears. Maybe he is undermining Dipoto on a daily basis. Or maybe he is doing exactly what he is told and change his in-game tactics to match with strategies dictated to him by Dipoto's statistical research. Maybe the players really still love Scioscia. At the end of the day we outsiders only know a fraction of what Scioscia really does. It will be up to Arte Moreno and his much deeper level of insight into what Scioscia does to serve as the judge, jury and potential executioner.
Court will now adjourn and reconvene tomorrow when we will reconvene to hear the case against one Jerry Dipoto.