A Deeper Analysis of Firing/Keeping Mike Scioscia

August 24, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia (14) in the dugout during the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
The question has gone beyond a simple blog rant, and is now garnering serious enough consideration to the point where both Arte Moreno and Jerry Dipoto have both stepped up and addressed the issue: Is Mike Scioscia still capable of managing the Angels?

Battle lines have been drawn, and people are aligning themselves on either side of the issue. Some fans have been discussing the idea of dismissing Scioscia for months, possibly years, now; others are just now considering it after a despicable, rude-awakening month of August. Let's look at some reasons for and against firing Scioscia, and more importantly, the possible repercussions of either action.

IN FAVOR OF FIRING

1. This is a team that, in all reality, should be winning more than it is. This could quite possibly be the strongest and most rational argument in favor of firing the winningest manager in Angels history. Without incurring any bad blood, one can simply look at the roster and question why the team is not winning. A lineup that could have seven .275+ hitters, five 20+ home run hitters (both of those categories including baseball's arguably best player), a rotation made of five All-Stars, among them a strikeout champion, a Cy Young winner, two no-hitter pitchers and an ERA champion, and a bullpen with a two-time 300-save All-Star, a former nobody with one of baseball's best K/9 ratios, arguably the best left-handed reliever (non-closer, at least), and the team's top pitching prospect, SHOULD NOT BE IN THIRD PLACE, and DEFINITELY should not be four games out of a playoff berth. Certainly you can say that the offense had its six-week slumber at the beginning of the year, and we cured that ailment by finally firing Mickey Hatcher. The bullpen, simultaneously with the offense, was croaking, until the arrival of Ernesto Frieri. Now, the rotation's sputtering, with occasional bright sparks from Jered Weaver and (surprisingly enough) Ervin Santana this month, while the bullpen returns to the gutter, even WITH Frieri. With the offense where it's at, if the entire pitching staff played to its career averages (as per Baseball Reference), the team SHOULD be at 73-59--right at a wild card spot. And that's if this team were pitching at AVERAGE. A certain amount of blame can be cast on Mike Butcher, and that's a whole separate topic. But in the end, the MANAGER is responsible for ALL players. And if he and Butcher can't get this team pitching at AVERAGE levels anymore, why should Scioscia stay on?

2. Mike Scioscia's managerial style is stuck in the past. This is valid to a certain point--it does appear that Scioscia has certain impressions of some of his players, based on a few isolated at-bats or based on a couple of seasons long ago. Examples? "Oh, Maicer Izturis had a really clutch pinch-hit double one time a few years ago, let's pinch-hit him with two outs in the ninth whenever we're losing!" Yeah, Sosh, Maicer's 0-for-19 this season in pinch-hitting opps, and the last two times have been at the expense of possibly sending up Chris Iannetta, who has a much better rep for getting on base. And his way of thinking isn't just limited to situational strategy. This is a guy who, reportedly, needed to be SAT DOWN by Dipoto and TOLD to play Mark Trumbo every day in the outfield. Who LAMENTED when his anti-OBP hitting coach was fired, and felt the need to iterate that he disagreed with the decision to fire Hatcher. Sure, we're seeing certain changes now, but that's only because a younger mind is now our GM. A younger mind who, like Scioscia, played the game himself, but unlike Scioscia, HAS EVOLVED WITH THE GAME. He's going to start using a Bloomberg analytics system. The Angels are going sabermetric and finally entering the current era of baseball. Mike Scioscia is not, and it's evident in how he manages.

3. There's a very real chance that this team will miss the playoffs a third straight season, and this time, there's no extenuating circumstance. And THIS puts the nail in the coffin. Between 2002 and 2009, Scioscia's teams missed the playoffs twice--total. 2003, when the team wasn't even close to contending and finished 19 games out of first place, and 2006, when the team fought down to the final week before succumbing to Oakland, finishing just three games out of first place. Between THOSE two seasons were two division titles, one of which led the team to the ALCS. Even then, he had some leeway, which he created more of with three consecutive division titles from 2007 to 2009. 2010 came, and hopes, even with the losses of John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero, were high, until Kendrys Morales, emerging as the team's slugger and new face of success in 2009, infamously broke his ankle a third of the way into the season. From then, the team looked worse and worse, save for a hot streak just weeks after the loss of Morales. Finishing at 80-82 was disappointing, but understandable given the circumstance. 2011 saw Morales missing the ENTIRE season with a separate leg issue, and the club just...wasn't looking strong. Many expected the team not to make the playoffs, and...well, they played to expectations, although they were in contention until the final two games. 2012? No reason not to contend. The team acquired the best hitter of the generation and the best pitcher on the free agent market. Come the actual season, they acquired the best pitcher on the TRADE market, plus an unknown bullpen arm that turned out to be the missing piece, not to mention the ascension of baseball's new best player. With a team built to be a runaway success on paper...there's no reason they shouldn't at least be a MODERATE success on the field. This is not moderate success. This is failure, and for a third straight season, it's intolerable.

IN OPPOSITION TO FIRING

1. He's been here 12 years. Anyone that manages 12 years ANYWHERE is bound to have a few hits and misses (no pun intended). This is true--Scioscia took over a franchise that had made the postseason 3 times in its 39 prior seasons. In the twelve since then, the team's made it to October 6 times. In that context, Scioscia is a savior. He wasn't coming into the position expected to take the team to the big dance in his third season. In all likelihood, the way the team was playing in the late 90s, I highly doubt the front office anticipated him making it to his third season, let alone having him win everything in his third season, followed by five October returns thereafter. Considering the fanbase opinion that 1999-2000 offseason, it's doubtful that anyone expected Scioscia to come in and overhaul the team's reputation. So let's take his twelve years and look at it without the team's prior failures in context: Twelve years on the job, without interruption, is something very few managers can tout. Only Joe Torre (1996-2007), Tony La Russa (1996-2011) and Bobby Cox (1990-2010) matched or exceeded twelve seasons on the job, out of anyone to manage any MLB team from 2000 to the present day. Longevity is to be respected, with or without success. Plug in that success now. Six playoff appearances in Scioscia's twelve completed seasons as manager. That, too, is respectable. Not quite of the air of Torre, La Russa or Cox (Torre was 12-for-12, La Russa was 9-for-15, Cox was 15-for-21), but 6-for-12 is still quite a respectable total for playoff appearances. There's a reason he's been on the job 12 straight seasons, and there's a reason he's yet to be fired. He's respected based on what he's done, and that alone will buy him time, regardless of mistakes made this season.

2. When teams have one manager over an extended period of time, they typically don't do well after that manager leaves, whether he retires or he's fired. Again, valid to a certain point, but not a blanket statement. Tommy Lasorda retired mid-season in 1996 after a heart attack led to him being concerned with his overall health. The Dodgers would make the postseason in 1996, but with Bill Russell at the helm in 1997 and 1998, the Dodgers failed to contend, firing him and letting Glenn Hoffman try to revive the 1998 season, ultimately failing. Davey Johnson came in and, likewise, faltered in 1999 and 2000, although the Dodgers briefly contended in 2000. Jim Tracy would stay longer than Russell and Johnson did, even with not making the playoffs until his fourth season on the job in 2004. However, just one season later, Tracy left after finishing 20 games under .500. Grady Little came in for two seasons, making the playoffs in one, before leaving for Joe Torre, who, after two NLCS appearances and one subpar 2010, retired in favor of Don Mattingly. A fear of inconsistency at the helm could be a motivating factor in keeping Scioscia: the fear of things to come might just be crippling enough to allow Scioscia to stay on the job. The only question this leaves: Is Scioscia's inconsistency in managing better than the inconsistency of several managers in the next twelve years?

3. If the team fires him midseason and fails to make the playoffs, then that's on the players and/or the front office. Again, true to a point. Midseason firings are VERY hit-or-miss when it comes to their replacements; 2003 was quite a Cinderella tale for the Marlins firing Jeff Torborg in favor of Jack McKeon, who led the team to a World Series title. However, such is rarely the case for a midseason replacement. In 2004, the Blue Jays fired struggling manager Carlos Tosca and brought in John Gibbons, who barely improved the team's standing and proceeded to have several clashes with different players over the next four seasons that he managed. Lee Mazzilli looked like the manager to finally turn the Orioles' troubles around in 2005, managing them to a surprising 42-30 record before hitting a 9-26 patch that led to his firing. His replacement, Sam Perlozzo, didn't fare much better, as the Orioles finished fourth. Perlozzo himself was fired midseason in 2007, and HIS replacement, Dave Trembley, also failed to bring the Orioles into any sort of playoff contention before HE was fired midseason in 2010. In each of those cases, the players AND the front office both bore some responsibility in the team's failures. Neither the 2004 Blue Jays nor the 2005, 2007 and 2010 Orioles had what it took to sustain long-term success, and none of their respective front offices did much to boost the team into contention.

Looking at the options...let's think about this. Knowing what we do on both sides of the equation, what happens if we fire Mike Scioscia? If we fire him at this point midseason, and have someone else take over for the season's final 30 games, do we trust enough that they'll spur on short-term success that would be enough to earn a playoff berth? If we fire him at the end of the season (the more likely of the two if Scioscia should be booted), does his replacement earn the respect of the team he inherits, or will it be a Bobby Valentine scenario? If we keep Scioscia and let this season's bygones be bygones, do we trust enough that he'll suddenly change his ways, adapt to the current era of baseball and end the three-year postseason drought? In all reality, both firing AND keeping Scioscia could do more to hurt the team than help it. The question is, which fate is the team more willing to endure if it means a world championship at the end of the road?

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