Mike Scioscia Keeps His Job: A Mistake by the Los Angeles Angels?
Coach Bobby Valentine is out as skipper of the Boston Red Sox. That much is clear and understood. What remains fuzzy in the rumor-mill of hot seats is how Los Angeles Angels coach, Mike Scioscia, did not suffer the same fate.
With a payroll of over $154 million-plus, the third highest in the league, the Angels were expected to perform wondrously in 2012, handling teams with ease all the way to the World Series—and championship victory, of course. But, it did not happen.
The team failed to lead the division outright for even one day, let alone the many days required for dominance. They finished 89-73, five games back in the A.L West and four games off the Wild Card—average enough for third place—leaving many fans scratching their heads, wondering how this could have happened three years in a row.
Someone has to be held accountable, and the logical interrogation would have to begin with the coaching staff. Or, you would think.
The front office decision erases all the managerial questioning except one: Why?
Perhaps the Angels are content with consecutive playoff misses, and their coach?
True, great coaches often get more credit than they deserve when it comes to a team's success or failure, but that doesn't mean they are not at fault, indefinitely. While Scioscia does not have the mouth that got Bobby Valentine fired, or his poor record, certainly these four factors could have left him in the same breaking-news story on ESPN.
Mike Trout and the Impressive Angels Lineup
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The Angels lineup was impressive this year, top to bottom, leading the American League in average (.274), second in hits (1518) and third in runs scored (767).
Oh yeah, and there was also the introduction of Mike Trout.
Trout finished his quasi-rookie year with a .326 average, 49 stolen bases, 30 home runs and 129 runs scored, good enough to get him in the discussion for AL MVP. His addition strengthened an already solid hitting group of Mark Trumbo, Albert Pujols, Torii Hunter, Erick Aybar and even Howie Kendrick, however, the magnitude and caliber of the players raises another question towards the coaching.
When a team finishes in top of most hitting categories, like the 2012 Angels did, then the blame shifts towards another facet of the game if the total result is questionable. With all of this power, speed and quality hitters, why didn’t we make the playoffs? What went wrong, coach?
Remember this: There is only so much credit a coach takes in terms of creating offensive juggernauts, with the exception of throwing extra batting practice. The rest is up to each player and his ability.
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The Angels' starting pitching staff in 2012 was loaded with talent. Dan Haren, C.J Wilson and Jered Weaver comprised a strong one-through-three, and the addition of Zack Greinke was a major plus. In total, eight pitchers used in the rotation went 70-53 for the season, performing well, as expected.
Mike Scioscia does deserve credit for handling the starters, effectively, but starting pitching is only half the battle. When it comes down to crunch time, a team is only as good as their bullpen.
This is where the Angels failed—their relief pitching was awful.
In 19 games this season, after the starter left with a lead, the game was blown, resulting in a loss. This happened to Dan Haren and C.J Wilson 10 times, collectively. That's five wins each, wiped off their record because of the bullpen and poor decision-making by the coaching staff—oddly enough, all at the hands of a former catcher.
Knowing when to pull a starter, which reliever to use and when to use him are all key decisions in a game, possibly even the most important factor. The Angels collected 22 blown saves this year to only 38 games saved, and without Ernesto Frieri saving 22 of 26, that number could have been a lot worse.
LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen, two 39-year-olds way past pitching effectiveness, completed one of nine save opportunities, raising yet another question: Wouldn't the trend and numbers tell you to maybe find different players to close out a game, assuming Frieri is unavailable?
Yes, Scioscia wasn't the one throwing the ball, but he definitely was the one dropping it by using his bullpen ineffectively. Finding a way to just win four of those games would have resulted in playoff baseball and a completely different article.
The AL West Is Getting Stronger
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There was a time when the AL West was a one-horse show. A few years later it became a two-horse show. Now, there are three teams, all with decent rosters, competing for supremacy and making the race more difficult.
In 2008, the last season the Angels were truly dominant, they handled the West, finishing with a record of 36-21. This season, following the resurgent A's and Rangers, the Angels finished 30-27. Their record is still solid, but it has been close to .500, or under, since 2008 within the division, leaving the Angels little room for error outside of the West—and that's the difficulty.
Unlike the NBA, every game counts in the major leagues. A slip in the early part of the season can hurt the team just as much as it can in September. It was Mike Scioscia's job to get the Angels ready to play by April and he did not.
Beginning this year 8-15 left the Angels in a hole they couldn't dig out of the entire season. In years past, there was always the comfort of knowing games could be made up in the weak West. Now, that luxury is no longer a possibility.
Times are changing and the key is adapting to it. Good teams find ways to stay above the rest in their respective divisions. The bad teams do not.
2002: A Decade Ago
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Undoubtedly, Mike Scioscia is a great coach and baseball mind. His career with the Angels has been impressive and there is good reason to keep him on as skipper.
He took the reigns of a meager organization and turned them into World Series champions. He earned Manager of the Year honors, while winning multiple divisional titles and racking up 100-win seasons. He has done it all in little over a decade. However, the mistake is in the resume.
All of it was in the past.
In any sport, teams often hang on to coaches too long for sentimental reasons. The MLB is a business of progress; scrapbook memories of the past will never assist a team in winning now or in the future.
Great teams and their front office will always step back at the end of the year and re-access what happened. If the talent was there, but the results were not, then the blame must rest on the shoulders of the coaching staff.
The decision to fire or keep a manager is based on what is happening now, not in 2002—Much like the 2007 Yankees and their handling of Joe Torre. Although he had won several World Series Titles, the Steinbrenners, George mainly, were not happy with the present success—and it was still a success—of making the playoffs in 2007.
The Yankees knew they had too much talent for meager finishes and zero titles, so they made a move—on a year-by-year basis.
Mike Scioscia is in the same boat. Yes, he has proved his worth, but it was all in the past. Coaches, as I have said, carry an overrated worth in the game, but there are instances where their decisions can be weighed. In one-run games this season, the Angels were 18-18—.500-ball in those delicate situations is not terrible, but when compared to the 31-21 record of 2008 there is cause for concern.
The coach is responsible for a thinking-man's game when it's close. The good coaches find a way to win. The bad coaches do not.
With all that said, is Mike Scioscia the best-fit coach for the job and the control of a talented roster?
According to the Angels, yes.
Hopefully their decision was based on the future of the club, not past accomplishments. 2018 is a long time to wait to end a guy's contract.