Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Los Angeles Angels are in the midst of what might end up being the worst season in their history. For a team employing the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, it’s a stunning fall for a team two years removed from winning more games than anyone else in the American League.
Finding a silver lining in such a dismal season is nearly impossible. For Angels GM Billy Eppler and owner Arte Moreno, manager Mike Scioscia is one of those silver linings. For a team well on it’s way to ninety-plus losses, Scioscia remains shockingly free from any sort of heat except from frustrated fans.
There are some reasons for this; Scioscia is by far the most successful manager in Angels’ history, and the fact that he remains under contract for two more years helps his cause even more.
While it seems that any other manager in this situation would have been given the heave-ho a long time ago, Scioscia continues to receive support from upper management usually reserved for consistent World Series contenders (and sometimes not even then, i.e. Boston.)
The Angels have not won a playoff series in seven years. So why the support in the midst of all this losing and underachieving? Let’s examine a few possibilities:
1.) Injuries to Blame?: Both Eppler and Moreno cited Scioscia’s ability to handle injuries in the pitching staff. Are injuries the culprit for this miserable season? Under further review, it’s an argument that fails to explain everything. The Angels are ninth in players put on the DL this year with seventeen, while two of the teams above them (Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs) are division leaders and two of the best teams in all of baseball. There are several other playoff contenders with right around the same amount of players and games lost to the DL this year, and in the case of the Dodgers, they’ve dealt with even more rotation injuries, including the best pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw. Injuries certainly help, but they can’t be the only reason this team has failed to compete night-in and night-out.
2.) Nothing to Work With?: This will play off the injury discussion a little bit. Both the Dodgers and the Cubs (and other similarly injured teams like the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers) are able to withstand injuries to star players because of great depth on the big league squad and the minor leagues, where it seems like a new can’t-miss prospect is ready to step up every week.
The Angels have combined bad signings, bad drafting, and bad trades to burn down their farm system and lose any flexibility to add depth at any level of the organization. The Angels took the right approach this last offseason by not biting on any big name free agents, most of whom are struggling, in an attempt to restock the organization. Unfortunately, it shows in the Angels’ record. Scioscia truly does not have much to work with while filling out a lineup card or organizing his pitching depth chart, especially with veterans struggling. The Angels have begun the process of returning quality depth to this organization, but it can be a painful process.
3.) Smart Front Office?: All those things definitely play a role, but that does not free Scioscia from blame. It often appears as though the Angels just aren’t prepared, mentally or physically. The Angels are at the bottom of the league in baserunning, fielding, and bullpen ERA.
They’re a team that makes a lot of mental mistakes, and while a team that has Yunel Escobar playing full time for them will always finish near the top of the league in mental mistakes, the Angels just don’t seem to be put in the best position to succeed consistently enough. I believe that Billy Eppler is a smart man, and the moves he’s made so far have improved the Angels as a whole. I don’t think that Eppler truly believes this team will be competitive next year.
The Rangers and Astros are only getting better, and the Angels will be without at least pitchers Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano, and possibly ace Garrett Richards. With no reinforcements available in the minor leagues, no truly great players projected to be free agents, and continued decline from players such as Albert Pujols and Huston Street, next year looks like another bleak year. Anything is possible, and the Angels have followed terrible seasons with successful seasons before, but the odds are against them.
Why fire the best manager the team has ever had to bring a new manager into a situation where he’s destined to fail, then? Let Scioscia continue to coach this team and go out on his own terms, or attempt to manage a team truly expected to compete in 2018. That should be the Angels targeted year to compete, and also would be the final year of Scioscia’s contract. This would allow the Angels to truly measure Scioscia’s ability to get the most out of this team.
4.) The Bottom Line: A lot has to go wrong for a team to lose ninety or more games, and it appears the Angels are going to come very close to that number this year. Injuries, lack of depth, underachieving veterans, and bad luck all play a part in a year this bad. While I don’t believe Scioscia is a bad manager, bad managing also plays a part in a miserable season, and Scioscia has had his fair share of bad managing moments.
It’s possible that he just may not be the right manager for this team anymore, as it’s obvious this is a team in transition. As much as frustrated fans may want Scioscia to pay the price for this dumpster fire of a season, though, there are legitimate reasons for the Angels to keep Scioscia around.