The manager of any baseball team is generally the proverbial lightning rod for media criticism. Positive or negative, it doesn’t matter, he is the one who will have a group of microphones in his face at the end of each game asking him for his thoughts on that nights matchup. And in the case of the Angels, it is no different for Mike Scioscia.
Currently, with the Angels struggling to put together any semblance of a winning atmosphere, the first reaction from most fans (And national media outlets) is to either call for Scioscia’s removal, or to opine as to whether or not he should be removed. Manager firings are strange creatures in and of themselves. Ned Yost was let go by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 a mere month before the team made it to the postseason. The Angels had three managers in 1996 alone between Marcel Lachemann, John McNamara and Joe Maddon. But firing Scioscia would be a precarious decision by the front office. For one, Scioscia is still under contract until 2018, he has an opt out clause in 2015, but stands to make $18MM from 2016-2018. He would be hard pressed to walk away from that kind of security. And, as an organization, the Angels would need a much better reason than a 10-18 start to justify handing the Big Catorce his pink slip. Like it or not, the Angels are a brand, and Mike Scioscia is a big part of why that brand is where it is today.
The next step from there, is to see where the team is struggling the most, and make changes as seen fit. Maybe, just to shake things up a little bit and get the team’s attention. Last season, the Angels did that on May 15th when they announced that long time hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was getting the axe, and AAA hitting instructor, Jim Eppard, would be replacing him. The moved seemed to work. An offense that had been struggling to score runs throughout April and May started to ignite, and by June, it exploded. Some of this is credited to Mike Trout finally getting called up from Salt Lake for good, but a change in philosophy from one voice can have an astounding impact as well (Eppard preaches patience while lineups and Hatcher were referred to as “Hatcher’s Hackers”). And with the Angels off to yet another slow start, it is easy to speculate that “Trigger Happy” Arte might OK a similar shake up this season.
The obvious direction in which to point a finger, would be towards pitching coach, Mike Butcher.
Butcher has drawn some ire from fans in recent seasons, what with bullpen performances being amongst the worst in the league. He has also drawn criticism for not being able to turn pitchers like Scott Kazmir around, and for the crazy bounce back season that Fernando Rodney had. The pitcher this year that illustrates Butcher’s ineptitude as a pitching coach is Ervin Santana. He’s already been worth 0.8 fWAR and has seen his K/9 rise back up to near 8.00 K/9. Both of those going alone with a sparkling 2.00 ERA. Ervin drove fans crazy with his inconsistencies, but it was never a question as to how much potential he had stored up in that right arm of his.
The easy comparison to draw for Butcher, is Bud Black. Both have now coached under Scioscia, and both have had some kind of success in their roles. But the talent level that Bud Black had to work with was on another level. He had relievers like Troy Percival, Scot Shields and a Francisco Rodriguez down in the Angels pen. Conversely, Butcher has had to work with bullpens built around pitchers like Brian Fuentes, the aforementioned Rodney and Justin Speier. But fair is not always what matters in a business, and the Angels front office might just take this as a chance to rattle the cages to wake everyone up. It’s not necessarily that it would be fair for the Angels to send Butcher packing, but, every sacrifice needs a lamb. And if offering up Butcher to the baseball Gods is what needs to be done for this season to turn around, then, I’ll gladly drop the axe myself.