Teams have smartened up about sacrifice bunts, but every once in a while managers just can't help themselves.
We don’t really do this kind of thing very much anymore. Saber-slanted baseball writing used to consist largely of criticizing poor strategic choices made by teams, either within games or over the course of a season. We won that war, though. Teams are so much smarter these days that kvetching about a bad sacrifice bunt or intentional walk here or there feels a bit like hosting a Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run Race for the Cure.
Here’s the thing: it is good to be reminded, now and then, that rabies is still out there. If you pretend the disease has been permanently eliminated, or that it doesn’t pose a real public danger, you end up with anti-vaxxer movements among people who call themselves “dog parents." With that in mind, I want to talk about two bunts laid down last Tuesday night, why they were misguided, and why it matters.
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What would managers and catchers chat about if they had NFL-style headsets?
Last week, it was reported by Teddy Cahill at Baseball America that the American Baseball Coaches Association’s committee on pace of play was considering putting a digital headset in catchers’ helmets, similar to those used by NFL quarterbacks, so coaches could more quickly relay play calls in-game.
Have all of the years of screaming about his insistence on playing Jeff Mathis been for naught?
You’ve heard the joke about McGregor the Barbuilder and the one goat, I assume. Mike Scioscia’s one goat is Jeff Mathis. It’s been years since Jeff Mathis was under his aegis, and it’s still the first thing I think of when somebody asks me about Scioscia. A few days ago, Jeff Long asked me how well Scioscia manages his bullpen. I thought for a moment. “Well, he started Jeff Mathis over Mike Nap…”
The Angels skipper reflects on what he's learned in close to 15 full seasons at the helm.
Do you happen to remember the catchy tune "Maria Maria" by Santana and the Product G? Not a bad blast from the past, at least not in my mind. The song was the top dog on Billboard’s Hot 100 the very week Mike Scioscia started his managerial career in April of 2000. Doesn’t quite give you perspective on Scioscia’s tenure? Fair enough…a gallon of gas would have run you about $1.50 based on the national average when the new skipper took the helm (about $0.50 more in California). This past Thursday morning, in the back hallways of the Angels clubhouse, just hours before he won his 1,277th game as a skipper, Mike remembered that 41-year-old rookie manager and compared him to the 55-year-old seated behind his desk today.
“You can’t help but change, I think,” Scioscia said. “It’s easy to say that everything’s the same and that your thought process is the same. I do think the process stays the same, but certainly I think the way information’s gathered has changed. I think the nuts and bolts of this game, as far as I’m concerned, haven’t changed, and haven’t changed in a century as far as the fundamentals and what you need to do. The way players are evaluated keeps evolving daily, and I think to be in tune with that helps you to make some cleaner decisions. So yeah, I would say that there’s been some growth in myself as a manager over that time and I think you’d expect that.”
Are the Angels a bad bet to bounce back next season?
When the Angels and Reds opened the season, many wondered if the matchup was a World Series preview. The teams possessed the parts necessary for an enticing showdown, including multiple superstars, very visible managers, and talented supporting casts. Most everyone expected the clubs to reach the postseason, and how far they would go from there was anyone's guess. But by the time the Reds clinched a playoff berth on Monday night, the Angels had been eliminated from postseason contention for two days.
These are uncertain times for the Angels. Reported tension between Mike Scioscia and Jerry Dipoto could fuel a dismissal, though who and when remain unclear. A common belief that the Angels are screwed adds to the cheerless state. The club's recent free-agent splurges netted them Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton, and nearly $107 million in 2016 guarantees; the average team is closer to $40 million. They have not drafted higher than 59th since 2011—a consequence of those free-agent signings—and have starved a farm system in need of quality talent. Topping it off is the lackluster production from the trio, as they combined this season for seven Wins Above Replacement Player.
For a while, Ervin Santana was bad, but lately he's been better. Is the successful Santana here to stay?
On July 30, Mike Scioscia told Ervin Santana that, no matter what happened, Santana was not going to pitch more than five innings in that day’s game. Santana had been struggling. Santana had been one of the worst pitchers in baseball. Santana’s ERA was 6.00. So the Angels wanted to reset him with one short outing, an outing in which Santana wouldn’t have to worry about pacing himself and wouldn’t have to hold his mechanics together for quite as long. It’s a trick Scioscia had tried before, most recently with Scott Kazmir, and it’s a trick that you probably don’t hear talked about very often, because Scott Kazmir.
Santana made it through those five innings. They weren’t his best five innings, but he survived them and managed to lower his ERA a tick. Since then, Santana has made seven full starts, and he has arguably been the Angels’ most effective starter in that stretch: a 3.30 ERA, and not a single game score below 50. So, did it work?
Jay is back, and he still hates the teams you root for. Yes, even the Dodgers.
Six weeks ago, when I accepted an offer to start a new blog at Sports Illustrated's website, I was delighted to find that my new employers were willing to allow me to retain some involvement with Baseball Prospectus. Not only did I wish to continue working with this fine staff and its readers in some capacity, but I also really wanted to finish something I'd started—namely, my multi-installment Hate List.