As you likely saw on Twitter or heard from your Angel fan friends or thought in your own brain, the reaction to the Angels’ acquisition of Huston Street has fallen somewhere between outrage and “meh.”
Nobody has anything against Street himself. He’s good and there is nothing wrong with adding a quality reliever. One of the primary objections to the deal has been that it didn’t really address a major need. The Angels used their best assets to add what amounts to a luxury item. The Halo relief corps had been performing vastly better over the last month or two and Joe Smith had been highly effective as a closer. So why sell the farm for Street?
Scioscia. The answer is Mike Scioscia.
While Scioscia is still regarded as one of the better managers in baseball, he has some, well, let’s be nice and just say he has some blind spots. I’m just saying there is a reason I am able to run a weekly column second-guessing Scioscia’s in-game decision making. In that series, an inordinate amount of the second-guessing centers around Scioscia’s bullpen management prowess, or lack thereof.
He’s flirted with some more progressive tactics this year, like the few weeks where he had Frieri and Smith sharing the closer role, but he’s mostly fallen back on all of the same old managerial tropes that have proven time and again to be illogical and counterproductive. Oddly enough, he’s reverted to those bad habits as the bullpen has performed better. That might sound like cause-and-effect, but it isn’t. The real root cause is that the bullpen is just pitching at a high level due to other roster turnover. Scioscia would have had to gone out of his way to mismanage it. For this reason, adding Street is less about covering up a weakness and more about making sure that Scioscia’s ineffectual bullpen management can’t ever come into play.
Essentially, the bullpen is now Scioscia-proof. Huston Street is excellent. Joe Smith is excellent. Kevin Jepsen has been excellent this year, which is still shocking to me. Jason Grilli has been pretty good since coming to Anaheim. Mike Morin has had a very good rookie campaign. Joe Thatcher is a very good LOOGY. Fernando Salas, umm, he’s Fernando Salas. There is really no wrong choice for Scioscia to make, no matter what the situation is.
That’s an important thing to have when your manager uses relievers mostly based on what inning it is rather than what the match-up is. Street, Smith and, yes, even Jepsen have been dominant this year. Throw any of those three out there and the Angels are in good shape. Sure, Smith and Jepsen have a bit of a platoon split issue, but neither is large enough for it to be a major issue. In the earlier innings, Scioscia can choose from the lower tier of relievers: Grilli, Morin and Salas. Morin is the most talented, but does have some platoon split issues. Grilli and Salas, however, don’t. Both are essentially platoon neutral. That reduces the margin of error for Scioscia even further.
The only real way Scioscia can screw up, and he has done so already, is by using his sole lefty, Joe Thatcher, either too early or too late. There’s only so much damage Scioscia can do there though. Before Street was around, there were much lesser pitchers like a Rasmus, Herrera, Kohn, Bedrosian, Shoemaker, Roth or Maronde in there to tempt Scioscia into stupidity. But with Huston now pushing everyone down a rung on the depth chart, those sub-standard players have been pushed all the way off the roster, away from where Scioscia can access them. So, while the bullpen isn’t completely foolproof, it is Scioscia-proof and that is a recipe for success for the Halos.
Just look back at 2002. That team had a tremendous bullpen and at the time Scioscia was credited for being a bullpen management wizard. Time proved that latter part to be incorrect. What instead become clear was that the 2002 Angels bullpen was just so deep and talented that no manger could screw it up. With Street now in the fold, that’s what the Angels have again. There is just too much quality relief depth for Scioscia to botch things, though I am sure he will try.