Just blame it on the manager.
In Major League Baseball, when a team that appears dominant on paper but underperforms on the field, managers tend to take the brunt of the fault. Often times, they’ll lose their jobs because of it even though they aren’t the ones playing.
Through the early stages of the 2013 season there have been three teams that haven’t played like many expected to: the Toronto Blue Jays (15-24, 9.5 GB), Los Angeles Angels (14-24, 10 GB) and Los Angeles Dodgers (15-22, 7.5 GB).
But should fans be blaming John Gibbons, Mike Scioscia and Don Mattingly for their respective teams' woes? And if so, who deserves the most criticism?
Is It John Gibbons’ Fault?
The Toronto Blue Jays made a slew of offseason moves in order to attempt to make the postseason for the first time since 1993. Toronto acquired several Cy Young-worthy starting pitchers and a couple of impact bats as well.
Toronto also hired John Gibbons, who hadn’t managed in the big leagues since 2008 when he was fired after a 35-39 start in his fifth season with the Blue Jays. It’s safe to say that Gibbons hasn’t been able to capitalize on his second opportunity just yet.
“We’re kind of just sputtering,” Gibbons told Evan Peaslee of MLB.com back in mid-April. “We haven’t been able to get anything going. We’ve had some well-pitched outings and haven’t gotten a whole lot of offense with it. Nothing has come together yet. I think it will, it’s just a batter of time, but you know what, it’s time to start playing some better baseball, there’s no question about it.”
Toronto was 7-10 when Gibbons made those comments. The Blue Jays are 8-14 since.
The starting rotation looked like one of the best in baseball before the start of the season, but R.A. Dickey (2-5, 5.06 ERA) has been a disaster, Mark Buerhle (1-2, 6.19 ERA) has been the worst pitchers on the team in terms of WAR and Josh Johnson (0-1, 6.86 ERA) is currently on the disabled list with inflammation in his triceps.
Jose Reyes, the top offensive player acquired by Toronto this winter, suffered a severe ankle sprain after just 10 games. While Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have been their normal selves, Toronto still has the third worst offense in baseball, according to FanGraphs.
But is it really that Gibbons isn’t playing the right players or making the right decisions as to who goes on the mound?
That’s not the case here. Gibbons, who hasn’t managed in the big leagues in five years mind you, is coaching a bunch of stars that haven’t lived up to expectations yet. Injuries are out of his control. The Blue Jays would still be last in the division at this point in the season no matter who was hired over the offseason.
Is It Mike Scioscia’s Fault?
The Los Angeles Angels have spent tons of money the last two offseasons and still have nothing to show for it. Los Angeles signed Albert Pujols after the 2011 season and still finished third in the AL West.
This past winter, Los Angeles emptied its pockets in order to sign Josh Hamilton. So far, that move hasn’t paid off either.
Hamilton is hitting .212/.261/.344 with four home runs and 11 RBI through 38 games. Pujols hasn’t been much better and has a slash line of .234/.315/.393 with five long balls and 21 RBI. The offense hasn’t come through for the pitching staff yet, which hasn’t been great either.
T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times recently wrote how Scioscia isn’t the problem, but could get the axe regardless. Simers writes that it isn’t his fault that general manager Jerry Dipoto has left him with “a bunch of journeymen pitchers.”
Sure, Joe Blanton (0-7, 6.46 ERA) probably isn’t the best guy to have in the rotation these days. Other than that, the rest of the starters should be good when healthy. Unfortunately, Jered Weaver is out with a fractured elbow and Tommy Hanson was recently placed on the restricted list.
What’s Scioscia really supposed to be able to do when two of his top hitters are experiencing the worst stretches of their careers and his ace is sidelined for an extended period of time? Well, there’s not much he can do except for playing the guys that are available and hoping they have what it takes to win.
Maybe Hamilton and Pujols could use a bit of a pep talk considering it appears that if they continue to slump, Scioscia is going to be out of a job. Whether he gets another is regardless; he has to get the Angels moving forward quickly.
Los Angeles is 10 games under .500 through 38 games, which is completely unacceptable. The poor start hasn’t been the skipper’s entire fault, but I do think that he’ll ultimately pay the price for it.
Is It Don Mattingly’s Fault?
In several ways, Don Mattingly is in the same position as his crosstown rival, Scioscia. Mattingly is managing a team of underperforming stars that haven’t clicked yet. The Los Angeles Dodgers are also without one of their top starting pitchers, Zack Greinke.
Mattingly has been the manager in Los Angeles the last two seasons and hasn’t had much success. The Dodgers finished three games over .500 his first year with the club and 10 games over .500 last season. Through 37 games, finishing over .500 for a third straight time seems highly unlikely.
Despite having the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez (injured for most of the season so for) and Clayton Kershaw, among others, the Dodgers have been very average this season. But he hasn’t had much to do with it.
Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports puts it perfectly when he says:
...the Dodgers have had a player problem, not a Don Mattingly problem, and that will continue for as long as they hit like they hit, and pitch like they pitch and rehab as often as they rehab.
This is on Kemp, League and Andre Ethier, and it’s on Josh Beckett and Ronald Belisario. It’s on Hanley Ramirez’s thumb/hamstring, and Zack Greinke’s collarbone, and Adrian Gonzalez’s neck and Mark Ellis’ quad.
A handful of injuries and poor offense and pitching has brought the Dodgers to where they currently are: last place in the NL West. There’s nothing that Mattingly could’ve done to avoid this from happening. He’s playing the best players he can and it just isn’t working out.
Kemp is arguably the top offensive weapon the Dodgers have and he puts their season in a nutshell. Through 37 games, he’s hitting .277/.327/.348 with one home run and 15 RBI. Mattingly could move him down in the lineup, but it’s Kemp who needs to starting hitting like an MVP candidate instead of a below average outfielder.
Could Mattingly take Josh Beckett, who’s 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA in eight starts this season, out of the starting rotation? Sure he could, but there aren’t many other options that Mattingly has to flirt with.
The Dodgers have to start winning sooner rather than later unless they like last place. But it’s not up to Mattingly; it’s up to his players.
It’s easy to see why John Gibbons, Mike Scioscia and/or Don Mattingly could lose their jobs during or after the 2013 season comes to a close. Poor play usually results in the man at the top getting fired because that’s the easiest course of action at times.
But none of the trio deserves to have the brunt of the blame put on them or be fired for their teams’ awful starts to the season.
Who should be blamed for these early season woes?
The Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers are playing poorly because of the players on the roster and not because of the guy that decides who starts and who sits. Injuries have taken a toll on each of the three teams, which has made it difficult to turn things around.
But there isn’t much and Gibbons, Scioscia or Mattingly can do at this point except to keep motivating their players to play well. Making minor changes in the lineup, rotation or bullpen could potentially win a game here or there, but overall, it isn’t going to do much.
Ownership, front offices and fans need to wake up and smell the coffee. It’s not the managers that take the field, strike out each time and blow leads in the eighth and ninth innings; it’s the players.
The players deserve 100 percent of the blame for the way the Blue Jays, Angels and Dodgers are currently playing. It’s not the managers’ fault.