Mike Scioscia: Is a Shift in Offensive Strategy Actually Hurting the Angels?


For years the Los Angeles Angels played one brand of baseball.  They played small ball.  In fact, ever since Mike Scioscia took over as the Angels manager in 2000, the Angels would hit ‘n run and bunt their way around the baseball diamond better than anyone in the league.

Scioscia always had one objective  – and that objective was to go from first-to-third.

With Scioscia at the helm, the Angels would steal, drag bunt, and advance runners into scoring position.  It wasn’t always pretty or flashy – it just worked.  This offensive strategy proved to be effective for the Halos – in particular in 2002 when the Angels beat the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 to win the World Series.

According to Wikipedia, the term “small ball” can be defined as the following:

"In the sport of baseball, small ball is an informal term for an offensive strategy in which the batting team emphasizes placing runners on base and then advancing them into scoring position for a run in a deliberate, methodical way. This strategy places a high value on individual runs and attempts to score them without requiring extra base hits, or sometimes without base hits at all, instead using bases on balls, stolen bases, sacrifice bunt or sacrifice fly balls, the hit-and-run play, and aggressive base running with such plays as the contact play. A commonly used term for a run produced playing small ball is a “manufactured run”.  This style of play is more often found in National League game situations than in the American League due in large part to the absence of the designated hitter in the National League."

During his playing career, Mike Scioscia was a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Scioscia was exposed to small ball within the Dodgers organization, a team that would manufacture runs and allow their pitching staff to do the heavy lifting.  Even to this day, this type of offensive strategy is more commonly found in the National League.  Scioscia once told ESPN Los Angeles:

"Even when I could run, I could never really run. … But I think [the Angels’] philosophy really is a product of what we learned coming up in the Dodger organization when we were younger.  We were taught by guys like Maury Wills and Lou Johnson who played during a time I know influenced them — they had [Sandy] Koufax and [Don] Drysdale, [Claude] Osteen, all those great pitchers — so they knew if they could score two or three runs, they could win. That was their objective really: ‘Let’s just do what we can do offensively and let our pitching and defense take over."

Not surprisingly, Scioscia emphasized small ball as an American League manager.  And why not?  Scioscia was determined to utilize a style of baseball that he was comfortable with.  Fortunately for Scioscia, his small ball style of play turned out to be perfectly suited to his personnel – players like David Eckstein, Chone Figgins, and Orlando Palmeiro.  Smaller, faster, and scrappier players that excelled at this style of play (Figgins led the league in stolen bases with 62 in 2005).  These were guys that used a well-placed bunt down the third base line followed by a stolen bag to go from first-to-third in the blink of an eye.  They weren’t just good at it, they were exceptional at it.  And truthfully, Scioscia really didn’t have a choice.  When you don’t have “big bats” in the lineup you’re forced to rely on small ball.

It’s now May 4, 2013, and the Angels have a total of 10 stolen bases.  This statistic ranks the Angels 14th in the American League and 26th in all of baseball.  By contrast, Coco Crisp of the Oakland A’s has 8 SB’s – 2 less than the entire Angels’ roster.  The A’s have a total of 25 – they are now ranked 2nd in the bigs for stolen bases.  Now this stat wouldn’t be surprising if all you had were big bats like Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.  But Scioscia has far more than that.  In addition to the proverbial power hitters like Hamilton and Trumbo, he has two of the fastest guys in The Show – outfielders Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos.  The majority of Halo fans agree that Scioscia is not running as often as he used to.  It’s clear that the hitters are receiving fewer bunt signs from third base coach Dino Ebel.  In fact, I’ve noted that in the past three seasons Angel batters don’t hit and run as often – Scioscia may be reluctant to run hoping that a big bat will come up and knock in a few runs.  And I get that, I really do.  We can all agree that no manager wants to make the final out at third.  I think fans would accept this new philosophy if it was working.  However, the Angels are now 11-18 and 7 games back in the AL West.  Clearly something is not working.

The past three seasons have provided little consolation to the Halo faithful.  The Angels made the playoffs in 2004 and 2005.  They returned to the playoffs again in 2007, 2008, and 2009 (ALCS).  Here we are in 2013, a time when marquee names have been brought in and the Angels payroll has ballooned.  Yet there is still one question on everyone’s mind:  Has Scioscia changed his style of play in order to accommodate Arte’s newest offensive weapons?  Some argue that he has.  Either way, fans are left only to reminisce about 2002 – when guys like Figgins and Eckstein were going from first-to-third and winning a championship while doing it.