ALCS Coverage: Scioscia’s Blunder

The Angels have done a lot of things wrong in the first two games of the ALCS. Most of them have been poor reactions on split second decisions that have cost the team in crucial situations. One of them, however, required thought and planning, and the result was still inexplicable.

Saturday night, 8th inning, 2-2, runners at 1st and 2nd, 1 out. The LI for this situation was 3.72. This was a critical juncture of the game, as the Angels needed to simply get a base hit to take the lead, and could give themselves a good chance of winning with an extra base hit that scored both runners.

Staring at that opportunity, Mike Scioscia sent Gary Matthews Jr to the plate to hit for Mike Napoli. Matthews, owner of a .315 wOBA in his three seasons as an Angel, pinch-hit for Napoli, who has a career .364 wOBA. With the game on the line.

I don’t even really know what to say. Matthews is a bad hitter. Napoli is a good hitter. Add in the pinch hitting penalty (players perform below their true talent level when coming off the bench to hit), and the gap just grows to a point where it’s unfathomable to think that Scioscia really believed that Matthews was the better choice to hit in that situation.

Their career batting averages are basically equal. Napoli’s OBP is 25 points higher, thanks to his better walk rate. Napoli’s SLG is 84 points higher, as he’s a legitimate power hitter who can drive the ball with regularity. There’s no way you can slice the numbers to come up with a scenario where this was anything but a downgrade.

As a bonus, by removing Napoli in a tie game, you were then forced to go with Jeff Mathis as the catcher if the game went to extra innings (which, of course, it did). Mathis’ career wOBA is .263. He’s got all the offensive punch of Rey Ordonez, yet because of the decision to hit for Napoli in the 8th, he’d have to finish the game behind the dish.

Matthews struck out, the run didn’t score, and Scioscia later asked Mathis to lay down a bunt in the 10th inning with the go ahead run on base and one out – he popped it up, and the Angels didn’t score that inning either. We won’t even talk about Matthews’ 12th inning strikeout that left two men on base where the Yankees intentionally walked Maicer Izturis to get to Matthews.

Letting an infield fly drop or throwing to the wrong base are mental errors that are frustrating but obviously not intentional. Mike Scioscia, on the other hand, has time to think about what he’s going to do, and he still managed to make a ridiculously bad decision. The Angels are down 0-2 in large part because their manager apparently can’t tell a good hitter from a bad one.




Print This Post



Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


71 Responses to “ALCS Coverage: Scioscia’s Blunder”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Steve says:

    I don’t really know why Scioscia doesn’t like Napoli. It just seems like he tries to find a way to justify keeping him out of the lineup any way possible. Usually this means benching him in favor of the “better defensive catcher,” Jeff Mathis.I understand that Napoli isn’t very good defensively, but it’s hard to deny his bat. But you’re right, this Matthews decision was horrible. What would be the harm of letting Napoli, the better hitter, hit and then if you want more speed you can pinch run for him with Matthews?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ryan says:

      I agree. Napoli has a .364 wOBA as a 27-year-old catcher, yet his career high in games is this year, with 114. Everyone loves to love Scioscia, but I can’t stop thinking that he is secretly a very crazy man.

      Mathis (and GMJ, for that matter) is the definition of replacement level.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Nate says:

        I don’t think this has been pointed out yet…

        This is actually the SECOND TIME this playoffs that Scioscia has pinch-hit Matthews Jr. for Napoli.

        The first time was with one out in the 9th in game three. Matthews proceeded to hit a harmless fly ball to center.

        Don’t be surprised if Scioscia makes this move again in an even dumber situation.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Logan says:

    THANK. YOU. DAVE!

    I was watching the game, and when he PH’d Matthews for Napoli, I thought to myself “The entire non-Yankee-fan section of the Fangraphs reader base is cringing”.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • glp says:

      You’re absolutely right. And here I thought I was the only one…all I could think was, “well, Scioscia supposed to be a guy who does no wrong,” so when he sent Matthews up I figured there must be something wrong with ME. Glad that I’ve been vindicated.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Josh says:

    Did anyone else wonder about Scioscia’s decision to have Fuentes pitch to Rodriguez?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Steve says:

      no. i just wonder about Fuentes’ decision to throw the ball within 2 feet of the strikezone until the count was at least even or possibly full.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • ineedanap says:

      Yep.

      That one was worse than this decision. Should’ve left Oliver in, then let Fuentes get the last two outs for the save.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Rally says:

    “We won’t even talk about Matthews’ 12th inning strikeout that left two men on base where the Yankees intentionally walked Maicer Izturis to get to Matthews.”

    I don’t like the decision to bat for Napoli either. But if you’re going to mention the strikeouts, keep in mind Matthews did draw a walk and scored the go-ahead run on Figgins’ single.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Steve says:

      and that it was Mathis who was on 2nd after he doubled in the 12th…

      not that Dave is wrong. he isn’t.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • WY says:

      I was going to mention the same thing. Matthews did get on base and scored the go-ahead run on a close play at the plate. That should have at least been mentioned in the post.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. MikeS says:

    Scoscia clearly made the wrong call, but to say the Angels are down “in large part because their manager apparently can’t tell a good hitter from a bad one” is a little unfair. Assuming he made the right decision, even the best hitters fail 2/3 of the time so there is no guarantee Napoli or anybody else would have gotten the job done. Certainly, Scoscia failed in his job – to put his players in the best situation possible. But many players had to fail at their jobs too in order for the Angels to get to 0 – 2.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Kyle Boddy says:

      Dave is right – it is “in large part” Scoscia’s fault, because he can only meaningfully control a very small portion of the game, and when he did, he royally screwed it up.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Paul Thomas says:

    Having missed the 8th inning, I just assumed they had pinch-run for Napoli.

    Wow. Pinch HITTING for him? That’s just inexplicably stupid.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Matt says:

    Shouldn’t splits come in to play as well? This year, against righties, Matthews hit .261 and Napoli hit .253 (Napoli hit .330 against a lefty this year, which probably accounts for most of his good offensive numbers). Then you look at the pitcher comparison, and Hughes was on the mound. This year, righties hit .184 and lefties hit .257 against him. Looking at those splits, I would say the decision wasn’t so terrible.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Gabriel says:

      Interesting. I was inclined to agree with Cameron, but you do make a good point (MikeS, Rally, and Steve also made fair points). It makes me think that the real problem is that the Angels’ good hitters just didn’t hit that well all game, and that Scoscia decided to roll the dice on a bad hitter doing better. Maybe they should have signed Jason Giambi for this situation…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Steve says:

      do you think there is any difference b/w hitting .261 and .253?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bill says:

      I found this website that gives better stats than batting average.

      Napoli OPS vs. righties = .782. Sarge’s kid vs. righties = .693.

      I’m guessing Scioscia was remembering the time that he played for Mr. Burns’ plant softball team. He remembered that Burns was successful because he pinch hit Homer Simpson, a right handed hitter, for Daryl Strawberry, a lefty, because Shelbyville had a lefty on the mound. Burns taught Scioscia that this is “what smart managers do to win ball games”. If Burns was willing to do this when Strawberry had hid nine homeruns in the game, then certainly Scioscia could do it here.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bob R. says:

      Perhaps splits should be considered, but I think you are making the same error that mainstream media makes on the telecasts, and that I criticized on this site in the comments on Kuroda the other day. That is, you are focusing on an arbitrary and limited sample.

      Yes, in 2009, over 261 PAs for Matthews and 324 for Napoli, Matthews hit for a slightly higher BA and OBP than Napoli (.261/.341/.352 to .253/.327/.455). But over their careers, Matthews line in 3322 PAs is .262/.338/.401 while in 973 PAs, Napoli has hit .250/.348/.484.

      I suppose one could argue that contact was the most important skill at that point and that Matthews has struck out less frequently than Napoli, but watching the game I was stunned by that decision, especially as extra innings loomed. In essence, on the gamble that Matthews would give the Angels the lead (an iffy proposition at best), Scioscia exchanged Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli on offense for Gary Matthews and Jeff Mathis. Seems like a bad decision to me.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. neuter_your_dogma says:

    I disagree Matt (respectfully). Napoli has a .780+ OPS against righties, while Matthews this season didn’t even reach .700 against righties. Just for fun, look at the home/away splits, they are over .200 OPS in favor of Napoli. Seems to me it was a move just to make a move.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Matt says:

      I don’t necessarily think it was the right move, but just bringing up some other viewpoints. Ignoring lefty-righty splits sometimes makes some choices which on the surface appear obvious to do (or not do, like pinch hitting here), where in reality, it’s a bit murkier.

      Even taking OPS, Napoli’s OPS was 100 points higher against righties than Matthews’ was, but Hughes’ split was 200 points. So taking that, including the splits, Matthews’ relative OPS would have been higher (if only slightly) in this matchup.

      Not saying it was the right decision, but I’m just saying that there are stats to make this decision “fathomable.”

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. JTE says:

    Scioscia apparently thinks Matthews hitting for Napoli is the ace up his sleeve this postseason. He did the same thing in the ninth inning of Game 3 in Boston. Matthews PH in the 9th inning vs. Papelbon. And popped out.

    The move really is inexplicable. Trying to get a handle on why this might happen, I was wondering if the Angels know that Napoli’s split is really bad against hard throwing RHPs or something. But just checking his HR log on B-R, he’s hit dingers off the likes of Verlander, Felix, Halladay, and Burnett. And more.

    So it’s just plain dumb.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Rally says:

      And he hit 2 off Beckett last year in a playoff game.

      Scioscia is going to keep pinch hitting for Napoli in late innings against righties. And today the madness paid off: Izturis got the sac fly, Mathis erased Brett Gardner to make Posada’s homer a game tier instead of game winner, and then Mathis gets the game winner.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Wally says:

    Another thing in this game that left me perplexed was Girardi pinch running for Matsui in the 9th with 2 out. How often does even the fastest of runners score from 1st with two outs? And then Girardi also pinch ran for Swisher in 7th. At least that was with no one out, but Swisher isn’t exactly a bad runner.

    Both of these moves left the Yankees severely weekend for extra innings.

    Swisher wOBA: .375 (this season), .353 (career)
    Gardner: .337, .319
    Matsui: .378, .367
    Guzman: .193, .239
    Hairston: .312, .313

    These where huge down grades for future ABs (4 total ABs by Gardner, Guzman and Hairston) for very small improvements in base running.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Wally says:

      bah, that needs to be “weakened” not “weekend”

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Steve says:

      I think the thinking with pulling Matsui was that Guzman would immediately steal. That gives you one shot at winning the game with a single.

      Guzman did steal, but he stole on the same pitch that Gardner singled on, and went to 3B. One wild pitch and Girardi’s a genius….

      Agree 100% on Swisher, but pulling Matsui makes some sense. You want to get a runner in scoring position when a single can end the game.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Wally says:

        I understand that the idea was having Guzman steal. But you’re counting on first a successful steal attempt and a single (because a double or more scores Matsui anyway) for this to be a good move. So you’re looking at ~70% steal rate for Guzman and about an 18% single rate for Gardner (all singles aren’t going to score a runner from 2nd). Plus, you have the count issues, which they actually ran into. I guess we’d have to see the math, but I highly doubt Guzman’s increased ability to score from 1st with 2 outs out weighs Matsui’s advantage in the batters box for the next few innings.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve says:

        I don’t think that a double necessarily scores Matsui from 1st.

        I think lifting Swisher was a mistake, lifting Matsui was probably questionable, but not egregious.

        And it was Hairston hitting in Matsui’s spot that started the winning rally. If you have another competent hitter on your bench (Hairston isn’t a good hitter by any stretch, but he’s not an automatic out either), you can take a few more chances like that.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Kevin S. says:

        They could have had a competent hitter on the bench, but decided they needed a second LOOGY against a team with one regular lefty over Eric Hinske.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve says:

        does Morales count?

        b/c Girardi used Marte to turn him around to his weak side and it paid off.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Kevin S. says:

        The worst LOOGY in baseball is still likely to get Albert Pujols out – that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to let him pitch to Prince Albert. Likewise, using Marte against righties is a strategy that’s more likely to blow up in Girardi’s face than other alternatives available to him.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Gary Geiger Counter says:

    I’m not sure what the cause is, but if you look at Napoli’s splits he is not as good a hitter inthe later innings. I’m not sure if this is common for hitters, but Scioscia might have an inkling.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Bill says:

    Wow, that’s interesting. Even when you look at Napoli’s career splits, he is a markedly better hitter early in a game than he is late in a game. I guess it could be due to where and tear as a catcher through a game, but this doesn’t hold true for all catchers. Throughout his career, Victor Martinez has been better late in a game than early. Maybe, the biggest problem here was that Scioscia didn’t have a worthwhile lefthanded batter on the bench.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Chad says:

    When Scioscia did this I was furious. And then he left GMJ in the game to play LF and removed Reggie Willits, who pinch ran earlier in the game IIRC. I think I’d rather have Willits have more ABs than Matthews…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Mike Green says:

    The “related batters” on the left side of the page has the stats for Gary Matthews Sr.’s line. Maybe Scioscia had a related senior moment!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Xeifrank says:

    Probably trying to avoid the double play and Mathis is a better defensive catcher than Napoli by a very wide margin.
    vr, Xei

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ryan says:

      Disregarding the fact that from the 100 or so Angels games that I’ve seen this season, I can’t see that Mathis is a markedly better fielder than Napoli, but Napoli is also a better hitter than either Mathis or Matthews by a very wide margin. I’m willing to guess that the supposed difference in fielding ability isn’t nearly enough to make up the ~.100 difference in wOBA. As for the double plays, Napoli has 2 more double plays than GMJ in about 80 ABs.

      I guess what Scioscia was looking at was GMJ’s .358/.476/.556 line with RISP this season (in 81 ABs), compared to Napoli’s .691 OPS. I agree, it’s still insane, but you can see why he did it.

      Unrelated note: As I was writing this, Vladdy just homered to tie up Game 3. Go Angels.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • JDanger says:

      I keep hearing this about Mathis being so much of a better defensive Catcher than Napoli. I’m just curious to why this is the conventional wisdom, not having seen enough Angels games to confirm it. Is the difference that glaring when watching the two over the course of a full season? Or is there something more quantifiable to support this impression?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • ineedanap says:

        Nothing quantifiable.

        Visually, Mathis is the better defensive catcher ability-wise, although not always results-wise. Mathis is quicker, more agile, and has a better arm. But the difference really seems minute visually.

        The other issue is that Napoli had offseason surgery. Not that it matters much in this case, but it may be a clue into why Scioscia tends to favor Mathis over a season.

        Funny thing is Mathis leads the Angels in SLG for the 2009 playoffs and Napoli has only really drawn a few HBP.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Paul Thomas says:

    My God, he did it again. This time with Maicer Izturis.

    It sorta kinda “worked” since Izturis hit a sac fly, but on the other hand, if the hitter at the plate had had any power he might have blasted that pitch into the seats.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Samuel Lingle says:

    And it’s official; Bobby Abreu really is still on the Yankee payroll.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. John says:

    What about not getting Howie Kendrick into the game? I love the skipper, and my guess is that if you asked him, he’d agree that he should have found a spot for Howie to hit.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. Colm says:

    And the legend of Jeff “Clutch” Mathis is set to grow.
    Napoli’s hitting 0.000 in the ALCS; do you think Scioscia is going to start Slugger Mathis ahead of him from now on?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • WY says:

      He probably won’t. He’ll probably start him in the Lackey games like he’s been doing all post-season. I don’t know what he does when Kazmir starts. But he’ll probably stick to that.

      Why knock Scioscia for pushing the right buttons today?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Colm says:

        Cuz he’s likely to confuse “lucky” with “good”?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • WY says:

        Yeah, he doesn’t know anything about baseball, but the writers and commenters on this site know everything.

        Healthy debate = good.
        Humility = good.
        Being a know-it-all = not as good.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • ineedanap says:

        I agree WY.

        I really like Cameron’s work on USSM. But it seems when he writes over here he takes a more “Ken Tremendous” approach, minus the funny.* Instead of railing on a manager for a certain decision simply because you cannot find a reason for that decision, why not try to ascertain his motive and then work from there? If you can’t find a motive, then simply say “I don’t know why this move was made” or don’t write a piece at all, instead of calling the move a blunder.

        Also, most likely Napoli will catch Kazmir as he as caught every game for Kazmir since his arrival. After Kazmir leaves the game, though, all bets are off.

        *Its one thing to blow all over a journalist who is relatively the same distance as the writer, its another thing to blow all over someone who has spent his entire life dedicated to his craft, works with his players everyday and is, therefore, privy to more knowledge about them than you or I. Criticize, yes. Rail on them without understanding their motive, no thanks.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. Seideberg says:

    Why does Girardi hate Robertson? I guess his career K/9 of 12.04 and career FIP of 3.25 aren’t good enough? No really, why pull a reliever who has just gotten 2 easy outs, with the bases empty? It makes no sense.

    As a Yankee fan, Girardi’s blatant over-manging of the bullpen is maddeningly annoying, and tonight, game-costing.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Kevin S. says:

      But, Kendrick was hitting .500 against Robertson!!!!1!1!11!!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Big Oil says:

      I’m hoping the gang here comes up with something for that decision, but it just doesn’t seem like there is any information to support it. Over-managing sounds like the perfect description.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Doug Melvin says:

      I want to see what was in that magical binder of his. At this point I feel that whatever it is > whatever was in the Pulp Fiction briefcase.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. WY says:

    “Mike Scioscia, on the other hand, has time to think about what he’s going to do, and he still managed to make a ridiculously bad decision.”

    This is the kind of angry hyperbole that makes Mr. Cameron occasionally come off a little silly. We are all wrong plenty of the time with our commentary or analysis, but I’d say today’s game should be a reminder that it never hurts to show a little humility and not go over the top. I don’t want to pile on — unless we were to see a follow-up argument that Scioscia screwed up today by pinch hitting for Napoli (even though Izturis got the runner in from third and Mathis wound up with a pair of double, including the game winner, and made some great defensive plays behind the plate) because Napoli has a higher wOBA than those guys. If that were the case, then I’d pile on.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Colm says:

      I think it is the case.

      Regardless of what happened in a specific case, if you pull the managerial equivalent of putting all your money on double zero and winning, it doesn’t mean you were wise, it means you were lucky.

      Now if there’s a rational reason to expectat that Mecir Izturis would hit better than Mike Napoli in this case, or that Gary Matthews Jr would hit better last Saturday, then Scioscia made the right call. If not, then it was a poor decision regardless of the outcome.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Kevin S. says:

      Millions of east-coast fans who have never watched the Angels before in their lives think Jeff Mathis is an awesome hitter.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • WY says:

        “Regardless of what happened in a specific case, if you pull the managerial equivalent of putting all your money on double zero and winning, it doesn’t mean you were wise, it means you were lucky.”

        But according to this logic, you can never be wrong. If you’re right, you can say you had the numbers in your favor; if not, you can cite luck. I don’t buy that.

        I mean, I understand the argument, but I don’t agree with it. At the very least, you shouldn’t get off the hook when you (a) call this sort of decision “ridiculously bad” and (b) it works. A little humility never hurt anyone.

        And beyond that, the people in the dugout always have access to information about their players and the opposing teams that we don’t. It’s a little arrogant to think that we can boil it all down to wOBAs and FIPs and run-expectancy matrices.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Paul Thomas says:

        What he’s saying, and what you appear not to be grasping, is that the outcome of a gamble is irrelevant to whether that gamble was a good one to take a priori.

        Like putting money on double-zero, pinch hitting for Mike Napoli is stupid 100% of the time, even though it “works” part of the time.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • WY says:

        I fully grasp that. But there’s a pretty big difference between putting money on double zero and pinch-hitting for Napoli. The difference between his talent and the others’ isn’t nearly as vast. Furthermore, the team has information about their players that we simply don’t. We can agree or not agree with the moves, and we can have good reasons for disagreeing, but I don’t think it’s fair to call the people “stupid” when they know more about their players and more about baseball in general than the self-appointed experts who post and comment on sites like this. (And if you think I don’t understand statistics and math, think again.)

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. ineedanap says:

    Not sure if it is true, but it has been said that Napoli has difficulty catching up to hard fastballs. Also, although (I think) Napoli has increased his contact rate this year, he still is very prone to striking out. Perhaps, Scioscia, both in the case of Izturis and Matthews Jr, wanted a player with a better contact rate and a better chance to turn on a good fastball.

    Again, I’m not sure if Napoli does have problems catching up to such fastballs, but Scioscia has been pretty consistant with using a PH’er for Napoli in high leverage situations when the pitcher has some gas.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. Mike Green says:

    “Not sure if it is true, but it has been said that Napoli has difficulty catching up to hard fastballs.”

    The fangraphs pitch-type splits suggest that Napoli makes his money off fastballs. It would be interesting to see what the results are depending on speed, and compare Napoli’s results with Matthews on fastballs over 93 (say).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. David Bradvica says:

    Thank you, thank you for pointing what was obvious to me at the time. When managers make such poor decisions, their teams deserve to lose.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  25. Alireza says:

    It is one thing to PH Izturis for Napoli, because he can hit a RHP pretty well. Matthews, on the other hand, doesn’t do much well anymore…

    EXCEPT

    For some reason, Lesser Sarge turns into Albert Pujols with RISP. I am pretty sure that had something to do with Scioscia’s thinking, even though such thinking isn’t always solidly supported statistically.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  26. Midland TX says:

    Anybody notice the final at-bat of the ALCS?

    Hint: GMJ strikes out pinch-hitting for Napoli. Again.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>