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April 27, 2008
It is often said that catchers make good managers, and with a World Series title and four playoff appearances in the last six years, Mike Scioscia has certainly had his share of success at the helm in Anaheim. Now in his ninth season on the Angels' bench, Scioscia is regarded as one of the more cerebral skippers in the game, a reputation he carried over from his 13-year-career as a big league backstop. A veteran of 1,395 games behind the plate with the cross-town Los Angeles Dodgers, Scioscia will surpass that number as a manager later this season. David talked to Sciosca about the Angels' running game, the pitcher-catcher relationship, and not letting on-base percentage die on the vine.
David Laurila: How would you describe Mike Scioscia's managerial style?
Mike Scioscia: I think that the only managerial style you can have is to understand your team. You need to know what their talents are and go from there. You can't impose a philosophy on a team that can't execute it. That's the one thing I've learned over the years, to understand your talent--to understand your team and what your players do best.
DL: You've utilized the running game a lot in recent years. With a number of your core players getting a little older, do you see a need to adapt that style?
MS: Well, there are different phases of the running game. If you're talking about a straight steal, if you're talking about going from first to third, if you're talking about how you can influence situations by being aggressive on the base paths--I think that's important. I think it has to be in almost every offense in baseball. You have to be able go from first to third when you can. Even if you're a slower runner, there are balls that you should be at third base on. As far as a straight steal in the running game, you can't force that. That's totally to the talent level that you have on your team.
DL: This is your ninth year with the Angels. How have you evolved as a manager over that time?
MS: I think that the decision-making process becomes much clearer as you have a little more experience in the dugout. The game isn't maybe as quick, and you understand the importance of preparation. Hopefully you weigh your options and make decisions better with that added experience.
DL: In every given situation there are statistical probabilities. To what extent do they influence your decisions?
MS: I think that statistics are an important piece of the puzzle, but they're not the sole reason to make moves. You really have to try to keep some continuity. I think that there are some statistical things that make a lot of sense, and you look at them, and they might influence your lineup on a certain day, or influence what you might do in a certain situation, but it's just one piece of a puzzle. It certainly isn't the whole factor, and I don't think you can run a club just on statistical data alone.
DL: There's been a lot of debate regarding your recent decision not to hit for Garrett Anderson against a lefthander with the game on the line. What was your thought process in that situation?
MS: There's a lot that goes on. First of all, Garrett has been one of the best clutch hitters in all of baseball, so we're very comfortable with him in any match-up. Not that you'd say that you'd never consider it, but Torii (Hunter) had limited availability that day. He had just had x-rays on his foot and we weren't sure if there was a fracture in his toe or not.
DL: A line of thought exists that there is no such thing as a clutch hitter, that "clutch" can't be quantified. What are your thoughts on that?
MS: It depends on what you call clutch, but there are certain guys--not that they elevate their game, but they understand the situation and don't get taken out of it. Some guys go into a key situation and will start to expand their zone because they get too overaggressive. Some guys understand what a pitcher is doing no matter what the situation is; they make a pitcher get a pitch into a zone they're looking for, so they're able to put it into play hard. So I think that there are guys who perform better in some situations. If you want to call that clutch, fine. But I think there are guys who are able to maintain their level of performance in, quote unquote, pressure situations.
DL: You were a catcher for a long time. Do managers and catchers think alike?
MS: I think that the most important aspect of any baseball game is the pitcher-catcher relationship. The thing that happens most on a baseball field, on any given night, is a pitcher making a pitch to a catcher. That's a basic fundamental of our game. It's also the most important, so there's a lot of time put into it, including our communication with the pitcher and catcher. From that perspective--what I think is the most important fundamental of the game--as a catcher you live that every day, so it gives you valuable experience that you'll tap into as a manager.
DL: How do you view the relationship between a manager and general manager when it comes to roster construction?
MS: I think that it's the most important relationship in an organization. You have one guy that's constructing the roster, and in our position we give input to our GM. We're in charge of running that roster and making it play to its potential, so that communication is vital.
DL: How important is speed in the lead-off position?
MS: Speed is an asset for a lineup. It's like saying, "How important is power?" or "How important is plate discipline?" Speed is one tool that can be used to win games. But we don't look at our lineup as a lead-off hitter, a number two guy, or whatever. We look at the groupings. Your lead-off hitter is only assured to lead off once a game, but he's going to be hitting in front of your number three and four hitters--he's going to be connected to that group for the whole game, the whole week, the whole month, the whole year. So I think it's important to look at the groupings ahead of the middle of your lineup, the groupings behind, how you protect hitters, how you create offense in front of your better hitters. That's where speed can be an asset. But it's not the tell-all thing. I think you've seen some terrific offenses over the years that maybe didn't have overall team speed, but they had a way to set the table for the big guys who can swing the bats.
DL: Would you say that on-base percentage is more important than speed at the top of the order?
MS: On-base percentage is important, but what's more important is what you do with that on-base percentage. I've seen a lot of situations where on-base percentage just dies on the vine because teams don't have the ability to move guys around, or get guys in scoring position, or hit in the clutch. On-base percentage is certainly important, but what's more important to us is what we do with it. I've personally seen examples of guys on our club who maybe have a little lower on-base percentage, but the percentage of time they were in scoring position is higher than what's created from a guy just getting on first base. With that you end up having more offense created.
DL: There are currently a couple of National League managers hitting their pitchers eighth in the order. What are your thoughts on that?
MS: It's something we look at too. In our lineup, our ninth hitter is very important because he's connected with Vlad Guerrero, who is hitting third. On the other end of it, if the third hitter in that National League lineup is your best hitter, they certainly want to set the table for him as much as they can. So it makes a lot of sense to have a hitter hitting ninth, as opposed to the pitcher, because that ninth-place spot is very often connected to that third hitter, or what you create for that third hitter, certainly.
DL: Are you willing to challenge conventional wisdom as a manager?
MS: When it makes sense. I think that running a club is certainly common sense. I think that things evolve for reasons, and as you weigh them, if they make sense you have to give them consideration if you think they're going to make your club better.
DL: In the 2002 World Series, the manager in the other dugout was Dusty Baker. In which ways are you and Baker similar as managers, and how do you differ?
MS: I think that we're similar in understanding the importance of learning your own club and understanding what they can do. I know that Dusty makes painstaking efforts to not only know guys as a person on the field, but also as an individual off the field. He wants to understand them and keep communication open. I think they had a terrific team, and we had a great team, and it was a heck of a series.
DL: Which managers throughout baseball history most interest you?
MS: There are a lot of guys I've been able to talk to that have managed previously. I had some really good conversations with Gene Mauch, who has passed away; Preston Gomez is an advisor for us; I played for Tommy Lasorda; I got to have some great conversations with Walter Alston, who was retired, but I was in the minor leagues and he came around and would talk to us. There are guys from when I was playing, and are back in the game, like Jim Leyland. There's Bobby Cox. These guys have understood the game of baseball as it's moved forward, and they've given us a lot of things to study.