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On Mike Scioscia and Analyzing Managers

Do not question what you do not understand oh feeble minded fans.
Do not question what you do not understand oh feeble minded fans.

For some, their opinion of Mike Scioscia's in-game pitcher management flew out the window faster than Juan Rivera's game cinching 3-run home run last night. Many fans, pundits and blog dwellers alike were understandably flummoxed by Mike's decision to leave in a fading Jerome Williams after hitting 100 pitches and then offering up a four pitch walk to one A.J. Ellis.

To borrow from Alden, "the Angels lost a game last night they probably should have won." Several factors came into play in this loss including leaving Williams in too long, a disputed call at second by consummate carbuncle Joe West and the fact we went 2-14 with RISP.

After the jump we shall attempt to dig a bit further into this three-layer cake of a really upsetting loss. If there's anything Mike can relate to, it's three-layer cake.

Here's a recap of that fateful inning:

1. Tony Gwynn grounds out, second baseman Maicer Izturis to first baseman Albert Pujols.

2. Elian Herrera walks.

3. Dee Gordon grounds into a force out, first baseman Albert Pujols to shortstop Erick Aybar. Elian Herrera out at 2nd. Dee Gordon to 1st.

With A. J. Ellis batting, Dee Gordon steals (20) 2nd base.

On-field Delay.

4. A. J. Ellis walks.

Coaching visit to mound.

5. Andre Ethier singles on a line drive to right fielder Torii Hunter. Dee Gordon scores. A. J. Ellis to 3rd.

6. Juan Rivera homers (3) on a fly ball to left field. A. Ellis scores. Andre Ethier scores.

Apparently a single after a four pitch walk was still not enough for Mike to pull the plug on Williams and make a decision that would be likely be conducive to winning a winnable game. Many agree that a pitching change after the Ellis walk would have been an agreeable precaution, and if not then, than after the Ethier single. I honestly don't feel this would have been too drastic of a change; two walks and a game tying single are events that speak for themselves.

One can also contend Jerome was pitching very well and Mike likely thought it would be best to give the veteran a chance to close the inning out. I only say likely though because only Mike knows what Mike was thinking. He's managed 2,007 major league games and most of us have managed none. My MLB managing experience consists of a handful of years yelling at the radio. His W/L% puts him at 36th on the all-time Mangers list, numbers likely good enough to get him into the hall-of-fame.

I was prepared to call Mike a bad manager today. Do bad managers make it into Cooperstown? Are we unfairly targeting Mike for our players lack of control and poor decision making processes? Just how much of our current success can be attributed to him?

Here's what Mike Scioscia had to say after the game:

"He was pitching a heck of a game," Scioscia said. "We all thought he had enough stuff to get out of the inning, and he did get out of the inning. Unfortunately, we didn't get the call."

Anymore analysis of last night from Scioscia is not likely to happen. He keeps his cards close to his chest and few dare to push him any farther on his usually banal platitudes. During the doldrums of April T.J. Simers had this to say regarding the skipper that has become a fixture of LA Angels baseball as much as Gene Autry:

"But then Scioscia is nowhere near the carefree, fun-loving manager with the quick quip he was when just starting.

He has become super-sensitive to criticism and protective of his way of handling a team.

As he has gained more security and become more controlling, incredibly he has become more insecure, uptight and tense. No one says he has to be close to his players, and he's not." --Source

The problem for Mike Scioscia is that Jerome Williams didn't get out of the inning. He walked two people and gave up a three run homer to Juan Rivera. To some this reasoning can appear to be empty it and indicative of other questionable calls this season.

Nevertheless, the crux of the debate rests on whether the players or the manager should shoulder the blame for melt downs of this nature.

Here's an interesting abstract from Chris at Evaluating Baseball Mangers:

How important is in-game decisions in the manager's overall job?

It matters, no doubt about it. Things like batting order, fielder positioning, instructions to pitchers, determining who plays, and perhaps most importantly of all handling the pitching staff all help the team win (or lose) games.

That said, the importance of these tactical decisions are frequently overrated by the public. It's the only part of the manager's job we can really rate, so it often becomes the only thing we judge managers by.

Ultimately, managers are like icebergs: most of what they do goes on beneath the surface, invisible to the casual observer. If you ask many fans one-on-one, they'll agree that the most important parts of the job are the ones we can't see, but then listen to sports radio or read the baseball blogosphere - and most thoughts on managers center on things like who batted seventh in last night's game.

While one can agree with the posit above, it can also be argued leaving in Williams was not an occurrence that can be considered, " beneath the surface, invisible to the casual observer." It was obvious to all the Williams' wheels were beginning to come unglued. This was also brought into discussion by Alden Gonzalez and Victor Rojas, albeit subtlety.

Also from said piece:

Similarly, in a SABR convention in 2008, Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro was asked what the most important elements for a manager to have. He said communication, self-awareness, and prioritization. The first point was the same as the Neyer interview. The second point allows the manager the have the affect he desires with his players Prioritization ensures he's handling the right problems.

As we are not in the clubhouse or on the field it can be difficult to assess his communication and self-awareness. Adding to the depth of this unknown is the tight-lipped nature of both players and front-office. The only possible critique of the Angels management his year from within came from Torii Hunter, and even that was ambiguous at best.

Mike Scioscia's prioritization is more explicit during game play and viewed from his daily lineup cards. If Mike is anything he's consistent in his inconsistency. Some of his lineups do very well and some are inexplicably stubborn in their construction, especially in terms of his continued placement of struggling veterans or poor performing youth.

The fact can't be ignored that Mike Trouts injection into the lineup came from up top and the only reason he stopped penciling in Vernon Wells on the lineup card was due to injury. Our best lineups over those few hot weeks were a result of conditions outside his hands.

Nevertheless, the Angels remain 3.5 games behind the AL leading Texas Rangers thanks in large part to the play of Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo and the increasingly better play of Albert Pujols. How much of that can be credited to the manager? Is it even fair to attempt to do so? Those are questions are difficult to answer. What's not difficult is analyzing obviously ill-advised decisions that cost the the Angels games they should win.

In closing, we are left with a quote:

"I believe that Joe McCarthy was the greatest manager in baseball history,'' Bill James declares -- not because McCarthy led seven world championship clubs, but because he could adapt: he never let the game pass him by." -- Source

Lastly I offer a simple bellwether. If Mike Scioscia forces Vernon Wells back into the lineup after he returns from the DL, we can then comfortably deduce that Mike is now unable to adapt and that the game has passed him by.