Los Angeles Angels: Mike Scioscia should Win Manager of the Year

Mar 15, 2017; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia (14) gets ready for a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 15, 2017; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia (14) gets ready for a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports /

Even with a healthy Mike Trout, the Los Angeles Angels were only expected to contend for one thing this year – the first pick in the 2018 draft. Yet nearly halfway through the season, they are hovering near .500, proving that Mike Scioscia should win Manager of the Year.

After winning 74 games in 2016, the Los Angeles Angels appeared to be a team that would get worse prior to improving.  The pitching rotation began the year in tatters. Though the offense had a formidable core, the lineup looked mediocre at best. Most season previews pegged their outlook as bleak, as the organization was fraught with bloated contracts (Albert Pujols) and bereft of talent.

And things went downhill from there. The team immediately lost their its, Garrett Richards, to biceps tendonitis after only 4 2/3 innings. Closer Huston Street, already out since early spring, had a lat injury setback and was put on the 60-day Disabled List. Reliever Andrew Bailey went on the DL a week later, soon to be joined by closer-in-waiting Cam Bedrosian and second starter Tyler Skaggs to a groin strain and oblique injury, respectively.

While the rotation was being cobbled together with the likes of Parker Bridwell and Daniel Wright, the offense starting falling apart – literally. First baseman CJ Cron headed to the DL with a foot contusion, shortstop Yunel Escobar injured a hamstring and center fielder Cameron Maybin had a left oblique contusion.

And then Mike Trout went down – a wayward headfirst slide led to a torn UCL in his thumb. Trout, the perennial MVP candidate, was leading the Angels in nearly every offensive category as the team struggled to keep pace in the American League West and wild card race. With no obvious solutions for a replacement, the Angels now had major holes offensively.

Yet here they are, with 36 wins against 37 losses almost halfway through the season. It seems to bely reality that a team that ranks 26th in batting average, 27th in OPS, 22nd in runs scored and 15th in quality starts can be anywhere close to .500. The shrewd stewardship of manager Mike Scioscia is the reason why the Angels are contending.

In his 18th season at the helm, Scioscia has undeniably his worst roster. He’s already cycled through 23 pitchers and does not have a player (aside from Mike Trout) hitting over .278. The main power threat has been the long-since-effective bat of Albert Pujols, who has 11 home runs and a lackluster .673 OPS. Kole Calhoun, the third part of the middle-lineup triumvirate, was batting under .210 until heating up recently in June. He’s now up to .243 with 10 home runs.

So how is Scioscia keeping this team afloat? Eric Young Jr., beset this spring by the tragic loss of his son, has channeled his energy into his best season. A fringe player for the entirety of his career, Young was called up to the Angels in May and is hitting .323 including a game-winning home run in his current stint.

Maybin, when healthy, has been the Angels’ best non-Trout player with a .278 batting average and 21 stolen bases, on pace for a career high. And that’s one element that Scioscia has incorporated this year more than ever – small ball.

The Angels are leading major league baseball with 66 stolen bases and utilizing the hit-and-run, combining with savvy base running to put pressure on the defense and ‘steal’ runs. If it’s a style unfamiliar to Angels fans, it’s because Scioscia has long relied upon sluggers (and Mike Trout) to produce the offense. This year, he does not have that luxury.

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Scioscia also does not have the luxury of good starting pitching, so his ability to coax quality innings out of journeymen Jesse Chavez (81 2/3 innings pitched), JC Ramirez (80 1/3) and Ricky Nolasco (79) has resulted in less strain on the bullpen.

By converting former long man Bud Norris into a closer, Scioscia has found stability on the backend while deftly managing Jose Alvarez, Blake Parker, Yusmeiro Petit, David Hernandez and Kenyan Middleton.

The Angels bullpen has been nothing short of remarkable, ranking 7th in MLB in ERA and 6th in strikeouts. While filling innings with other call-ups and minor acquisitions, Scioscia is earning his keep in 2017.

Having pocketed Manager of the Year honors in 2002 and 2009, Scioscia earned a long leash with Arte Moreno and Angels ownership. Though calls for a new front-office boss have grown louder in recent years, Scioscia is showing his mettle and aptitude this year and is earning respect even from curmudgeonly Los Angeles Angels fans.

Next: The Angels have a real shot at the postseason

And though the Manager of the Year award rarely goes to a skipper from a club with a sub-.500 record, Mike Scioscia is proving that he deserves consideration this year. It has definitely been his most challenging, but it may also be his most rewarding.