Welcome to Second Guessing Scioscia, our look back at some of the questionable decisions that Mike Scioscia made in the last week. And, boy, there are some questionable decisions to be reviewed. In the history of this column, we have never once struggled for content. However, we aren’t anti-Scioscia, but we aren’t exactly pro-Scioscia either. In particular, we believe his in-game tactics need some help and we are here to provide that help by nitpicking them incessantly and grading them with our patented SciosciaFace grading system.
In this week’s edition of Second Guessing Scioscia we take a look not at Scioscia mismanaging his bullpen but his decision to even use the bullpen at all. Scioscia displayed a very quick hook and the fans won’t let him off the hook for the disaster his decision created.
88 is enough
Often I find myself as one of the folks in the minority calling out Scioscia for a specific decision. With this particular offense, there was an overwhelming majority of Angels fans that were positively apoplectic.
Scioscia got his big second guess out of the way early this week. The digital ink hadn’t even dried on last week’s edition when Mike Scioscia decided to give Andrew Heaney the hook after six shutout innings and, most importantly, just 88 pitches. This misstep became truly offensive to Angels fans because Trevor Gott and Jose Alvarez came in to cough up three runs in the seventh inning of that game, leading to a 3-1 loss by the Angels.
As such, some of the rage over this move was based purely on hindsight, but there were plenty of people who were pissed off in advance. To be fair, being able to foretell a bullpen meltdown from the beleaguered Angels bullpen doesn’t exactly require you to be the Oracle of Delphi.
So did Scioscia actually screw up as bad as everyone thought he did?
Well, he did pull a pitcher that had a shutout going. That’s usually a bad thing. However, it wasn’t like Heaney easy mowing people down. He had just three strikeouts and had allowed three extra-base hits in the six total hits he had allowed. In what ended up being his last inning of work, he allowed one double and a single. The inning before he allowed a single. The inning before that, he allowed a double and a walk.
To put it simply, Heaney certainly appeared to be starting to slip and he was about to hit a part of the order where the next three batters would all be swinging right-handed and Heaney has a 115 tOPS+ split against righties. With just a one-run lead, this was going to be a very precarious stretch for Heaney. At the same time, it was an opportunity for Scioscia to go to the bullpen for a right-handed reliever and force Terry Francona to either accept the platoon disadvantage or burn through his bench. Francona opted for the latter, which is actually somewhat to the benefit of the Angels… or it would’ve been had Anaheim survived the inning.
The bigger factor at play here is that the team is really trying to protect Heaney. 88 pitches doesn’t seem like a lot, but it kind of is for Heaney. The most pitches he’s thrown in a game this season is exactly 100. The team has been making a concerted effort to keep him under that mark. When he’s starting an inning at 88 pitches, that’s going to be hard to do. Even if he gets the first two batters on four pitches each, Scioscia would probably want to pull him meaning bringing a reliever in mid-inning which is generally considered suboptimal. Scioscia was actually trying to do the right thing by letting Gott start the inning clean.
Heaney has also thrown 157.2 innings across the majors and minors this season, which puts him on pace for between 180 and 190 innings by the end of the year. Saving just one inning isn’t going to put much of a dent in that, but I guess you have to cut corners wherever you can.
Here, you can pick on Scioscia some. As much as he was trying to protect Heaney, he was failing to protect Gott. Everyone in the Angels bullpen had been worked hard coming into this game, Gott in particular. He was on two days’ rest, but had pitched in five of the seven days before that. Just about every reliever had been overused, so Scioscia would’ve been wise to look to spare them an inning of work whenever possible. He should’ve been particularly sensitive to that with Gott who is a young arm in his own right and certainly not accustomed to pitching so frequently.
Scioscia favored protecting Heaney instead of his relievers and he paid the price for it, well intentioned though it might be. Just because it blew up in his face doesn’t mean it was a terrible idea though. Honestly, I don’t think there was a right decision to be made here.
If he sent Heaney back out for the seventh and he got the first two batters on eight pitches but then got into an 11-pitch battle with the third batter, he’d have run Andrew well past his career-high in pitches. If that battle ends with a solo homer, then Scioscia gets slammed for blowing the game by overworking a young starter.
This won’t be popular, but I think I’m going to let Scioscia off the hook for his use of the early hook here.