Mike Scioscia has left his mark on the Angels
Within baseball circles, the old adage is that catchers make will go on to make the best managers because of their experience working with pitching staffs. For nearly twenty years, that has been in the case in Anaheim, where Mike Scioscia has become the longest-tenured manager in baseball, filling out the lineup card for the Angeles every day since 2000. In fact, Scioscia has been managing for so long that he saw his former bench coach Joe Maddon led the Rays to their first postseason appearances before bringing a World Series Championship to Wrigley Field for the first time in 108 years, his former pitching coach Bud Black win Manager of the Year with the Padres, get fired, and then come back to lead the Rockies to the postseason in his first year on the job, and watched his former third-base coach, Ron Roenicke, lead the Brewers to an NL Central crown and 96 wins, the most in franchise history. When Angels General Manager Bill Stoneman hired Scioscia as his first manager for the 2000 season, he took a chance on a minor league manager and major league coach from the Dodgers organization with no previous big league managerial experience to help end the club’s fourteen-year playoff drought dating back to 1986. With only one manager in Angels’ history lasting more than three seasons up to that point, the scales were tipped against Scioscia from day one. Yet here we are in April 2018, and Mike Scioscia is still calling the shots for the now Los Angeles Angels and has quietly built a Hall of Fame resume as a manager.
Let’s start with the obvious accomplishments; Scioscia led the Angels to their only World Series victory in an epic seven-game series against the San Francisco Giants in 2002 in only his third year with the team. From there, he became the first manager in baseball history to make the playoffs in six of his first ten years as a manager and became the Angels all-time leader in wins, games managed, and division titles. Prior to Scioscia’s arrival, the Angels had made the postseason three times since their establishment in 1961; since then, the team has won six AL West championships and reached the postseason seven times. From 2002-2012, the Angels averaged slightly fewer than 91 wins per season over the course of over a decade, with Scioscia taking home the AL Manager of the Year Award in 2002 and 2009 for his efforts. Additionally, after setting the franchise record with 99 wins in a season in 2002, Scioscia broke his own record with 100 wins in 2008, becoming the 23rd manager to win 1000 games with one team.
From a historical standpoint, Scioscia’s 1583 wins and counting are 21st all-time in baseball history; with 37 more wins, he will move to 18th on the list, passing Hall of Fame managers Tommy Lasorda and Fred Clarke, as well as Ralph Houk. With a .540 winning percentage, Scioscia ranks 21st amongst managers with over 1000 wins, ahead of Hall of Famer skippers Joe Cronin, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, White Herzog, Dick Williams, and Casey Stengel, as well as contemporaries such as Jim Leyland, Ron Gardenhire, Lou Piniella, Buck Showalter, Terry Francona, and Joe Maddon. Throw in a playing career that saw Scioscia compile 26.1 WAR with two All-Star appearances and two World Series Championships with the Dodgers, and you have the framework of a Hall of Fame caliber manager.
The 2010s have not been kind to the Angeles, with only one postseason appearance this decade in 2014. With that in mind, many fans have speculated (perhaps rightfully) that when Scioscia’s ten-year contract expires at the end of the season, the Angels will move on to a younger, more analytics-driven manager for 2019 and beyond. But before that does or doesn’t happen, it’s important to take note of how much Scioscia has gotten out of his teams in the 2010s, specifically in 2015 and 2017.
Aside from Mike Trout, who finished as the runner-up in the AL MVP voting for the third time, the 2015 Angels did not have a single player on their roster with an OPS north of .800. Starting catcher Chris Iannetta hit .188/.293/.335, and while first baseman Albert Pujols did provide some measure of protection for Trout with 40 HR and 95 RBI, it came with a .244 AVG and .307 OBP. In the middle infield, Johnny Giavotella and Erik Aybar both had an OPS south of .700 and combined for 68 extra-base hits. Matt Joyce played the majority of the games in right field despite hitting .174/.272/.291, and Kole Calhoun offset his 26 HR by hitting .256 with a .308 OBP and a whopping 164 strikeouts. Outside of Trout and Aybar, not a single player had more than 10 steals, and nobody other than Trout had more than 55 walks over the course of the season. The starting rotation, led by Garret Richards, was decent enough, but only Richards had a winning record, and he and Hector Santiago were the only two pitchers to eclipse 180.0 innings pitched for the season. Even with relief pitchers factored in, Santiago was the only pitcher on the team with 2.0 WAR or higher, and he had exactly 2.0 WAR on the season. Despite all of that, the Angeles finished the season 85-77, outperforming their Pythagorean record by six games.
Last season was more of the same for the Angels; outside of Trout, and all-world defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons, the team didn’t have a single player with 2.2 WAR or higher. Although he did take home a Gold Glove Award at catcher, Martin Maldonado hit .221/.276/.368, yet somehow didn’t have the lowest average on the team; that honor belonged to Danny Espinosa, who hit .162/.237/.276 in 77 games, and Luis Valbuena, who hit .199 in 117 games. Over the course of a major league season, a 100 OPS+ is considered league average, yet other than Trout and Simmons (who just crossed the mark with a 102 OPS+) not a single Angels regular had an OPS+ of 100, with Ben Revere coming the closest with 98. In the rotation, Parker Bridwell was the only pitcher with an ERA below 4.15, and Ricky Nolasco was the opening day starter despite going 8-14 with a 4.42 ERA the season before. In the bullpen, Bud Norris led the team with 19 saves despite a 4.21 ERA and 1.339 WHIP, and overall, Bridwell was the only pitcher on the team to finish with a WAR of 2.0 or higher. Yet at season’s end, the Angels finished 80-82, one game below .500 despite having a lineup and rotation that was well below league average.
The 2015 and 2017 seasons are two examples of Mike Scioscia getting the most of out of his players to outperform expectations. Based on Pythagorean records, which computes a team projected record based on runs scored versus runs allowed, Scioscia’s teams have outperformed their predicted records in twelve of eighteen seasons. His on the field success aside, Scioscia’s greatness comes in the fact that he’s gotten the most he could out of the majority of the teams he’s guided, which is the true mark of a great leader. If Scioscia’s managerial career is coming to an end after this season (which given the Angles hot start, is far from guaranteed) it’s time we realize that for nearly two decades, we’ve had the pleasure to watch one of the best managers of all-time hone his craft before our eyes.