Everybody Loves Mike Scioscia

Matt at Metsblog noted yesterday that he loses count of the emails he receives from fans clamoring for a manager like Mike Scioscia.  I rarely receive emails from readers, and that's just fine, but I would agree there is a general perception that Scioscia's teams are always hard-working, fundamentally sound overachievers.  This perception likely stems from any number of factors:

  • In Scioscia's guest starring role in "Homer At The Bat", a Simpsons episode, Waylon Smithers found him deer hunting.  He then starts working at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant because of a desire to work a blue collar job.  Baseball fans love a good blue collar personality.
  • The Angels consistently make the playoffs.
  • Scioscia was a catcher, a field general, a leader of the World Champion 1988 Dodgers.
  • The Angels have had success without fielding brand name superstars.  (Vladimir Guerrero comes closest to the "brand name" title; Mark Teixeira played half a season in 2008)

Columns from sportswriters, like this one from the Star-Ledger bizarrely declaring Scioscia "Most Valuable Manager", only feed the general public's burning desire for a calm-eyed, lunchpail toting man in uniform.  Does this perception have any statistical basis?  To try to find an answer, I looked at the Angels' baserunning, defense and actual record vs. Pythagorean record since 2002, the year the Angels won the World Series.  This is rudimentary, but baserunning and defense are the most cited examples of "fundamentals" and both can be reasonably measured by statistics. 

First up is baserunning, as measured by the Baseball Prospectus stat EqBRR.  This measures how many runs above or below average a team's baserunning is worth.  I also included stolen base % and the Angels' AL rank in each stat by season:

Year EqBRR AL Rank SB % AL Rank
2002 -7.6 7 70% 7
2003 -4.2 6 68% 11
2004 1.9 2 76% 2
2005 -5.3 9 74% 5
2006 14.4 1 72% 5
2007 3.1 5 72% 11
2008 5.2 4 73% 8
2009 1.3 6 70% 11

Based on these numbers, it appears Angels baserunners have been slightly above average since 2002.  Nothing worthy of massive praise.  It's also worth noting that EqBRR is not simply a measure of baserunning smarts and a team of speedy runners would likely perform well despite having a collective "low baseball IQ", as they like to say.

Next up is defense, as measured by UZR and DER (defensive efficiency ratio):

Year UZR AL Rank DER AL Rank
2002 41.2 2 .719 1
2003 38.4 3 .703 2
2004 -7.3 10 .687 7
2005 24.5 6 .702 6
2006 -14.2 10 .692 5
2007 -2.0 6 .679 11
2008 0.9 8 .692 5
2009 11.6 5 .689 8

Again, nothing here jumps off the page, except for the 2002-2003 years.  Defensive performance is mostly dependent on players (although coaches have a say in positioning) but I see nothing here showing that the Scioscia Angels have been defensive standouts. 

Last, I looked at actual record vs. Pythagorean record.  This measure is dependent on many factors, including luck, but it's a basic way of determining if a team under- or overachieved.  A positive number implies overachievement, for instance an actual record of 86-76 with a Pythag record of 80-82 would be +6:

Year Actual vs. Pythag
2002 -2
2003 -3
2004 +1
2005 +2
2006 +5
2007 +4
2008 +12
2009 +5

Recent Scioscia teams have outperformed their Pythag.  It seems unfair to solely credit a manager for this, but it is also unfair to chalk it up entirely to luck. 

In conclusion, I'll draw no conclusion.  Ultimately, a manager has a limited impact on his team's performance.  The goal, as far as game management goes, is to not do anything stupid, like pinch-hitting with a gimpy Cliff Floyd in Game 7 of the 2006 ALCS or calling in Omir Santos from the bullpen to pinch-hit for Ramon Castro.  Maybe Scioscia is a great leader, a man adept at pushing his players to maximum effort.  I can't definitively speak to that, nor do I follow the Angels on a regular enough basis to adequately assess his in-game management and player development skills.  I suspect most Met fans do not watch Scioscia enough to know if he's good at his job either.  What I do know is he's made some ridiculous high-profile mistakes: pinch-hitting Gary Matthews Jr. for Mike Napoli in Game 2 of this year's ALCS and calling for a suicide squeeze in the 9th inning of the 2008 ALDS come to mind.  Maybe it's unfair to judge a manager on a handful of boneheaded decisions, but moves like these reek of a Jerry Manuel-esque desire to graffiti a game with a "Scioscia was here" tag.

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