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Scioscia and the shift: The numbers

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

It’s impossible to follow the Angels for any length of time and not have strong opinions about Mike Scioscia. Each of the 2,774 games he’s managed, he’s had multiple opportunities to make decisions. Each game Soth opens himself up to second guessing and unfortunately for Soth, hindsight is never wrong.

One of the persistent criticisms of Soth is that he has not adapted to the sabremetric revolution, that he is not only sabre averse, but sabre incompatible.

But in the spirit of sabre, let’s look at what the evidence shows.

One of the quantifiable changes in baseball caused by the sabre revolution is the number of defensive shifts employed by teams. As an article in FiveThirtyEight put it last month: "Baseball’s swift adoption of the defensive shift stands as one of sabermetrics’ shining achievements, turning what was a seldom-used tactic in the early 2000s into a strategy that was deployed on nearly a third of all balls in play in 2016. The shift’s popularity has exploded since 2011, with each subsequent season setting new records for how frequently it was used."

What do shift numbers show about Mike Scioscia? Data was not readily available until last year, when Fangraphs began publishing shift data. The following numbers represent Shift – All numbers, which includes all shifts, traditional or non-traditional.

11

108

Yearly increase

12

159

47.22%

13

276

73.58%

14

395

43.12%

15

651

64.81%

16

1658

154.69%

17

1725

Projected


The numbers show that Scioscia has been incorporating the shift in increasing numbers every year since 2011. This year, the Angels have shifted fourth most in the majors so far. Of course, shift numbers aren’t everything, as Joe Maddon’s Cubs have shifted the second least this year. But insofar as shift numbers go, Scioscia has shown slow but steady improvement every year since 2011.

I think Scioscia has a burning desire to win and to do everything he can to win. No man can devote his life to a child’s game which can be so heartbreaking without loving the game with a passion bordering on obsession. So Scioscia will use the numbers presented to them, if they make sense to him. He will not blindly follow the latest craze. He’s also proud, loyal and stubborn, traits which cut both ways.

But to me the most compelling argument to keep Scioscia as manager is the response to Jessica’s question about Scioscia that Mike Trout gave: "Incredible manager. Knows the game so well. He’s smart and great for the guys on the team. It’s hard to do in just a sentence."

Mike Trout is better at baseball than any of us can hope to be at anything we will ever try in life. Every day we get to watch Mike Trout play baseball for the Angels is a gift. From Trout’s response to the question, and Jessica’s comment that Trout has tons of respect for Soth, it seems that Soth involuntarily leaving as manager will make it less likely that Trout will sign an extension with the Angels when his current contract is up. That, to me, overrides any concerns anyone can have about Soth's tactical decisions.

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