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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Winning Despite Mike: Angels 7, Devil Rays 5

Normally I have few complaints about Mike Scioscia, but in today's game he inserted himself intolerably. In the bottom of the fifth, with Jose Molina at second and Chone Figgins at the plate, Scioscia called for a sac bunt from Figgins, who successfully got the lumbering Molina over. Now, with one out, the question had to arise whether a suicide squeeze was called for. It's easily Mike Scioscia's most-telegraphed play, yet he almost reflexively calls for it with a man on third and less than two outs. Unsurprisingly, a team with his former bench coach as manager was perfectly ready for it, especially when he had just called for a sacrifice in the previous at bat. Unsurprisingly, Molina was a dead duck when Maicer Izturis failed to make his bunt. Given Izturis had been hitting the ball well lately, why make that call?

The Angels came perilously close to reverting to first-half form, making outs at home or third three times. In addition to the busted suicide squeeze mentioned above, the Angels had two head-scratchers to add to the list:

The eighth inning also provided an overview of Scioscia's overmanaging the game. Garret Anderson singled to center, and Scioscia replaced him with pinch runner Erick Aybar. So far so good, but then he brought in Tommy Murphy to pinch-bunt for Robb Quinlan. Now, I don't know how you feel about that, but if Quinlan can't bunt, what purpose does he serve on the bench? Moreover, why not let Murphy swing the bat? The guy faced Chad Harville, whose 6.51 ERA hardly qualifies as intimidating. On a 2-1 count, Harville wild-pitched Aybar to second, thus negating the purpose of the bunt — and yet bunt he did, for strike two! Predictably, Murphy struck out on the next pitch, but why not have him swing away after Aybar had arrived safely at second? The mind boggles.

Mercifully, Chone Figgins' misplay in center that resulted in Jorge Cantu scoring was, to my immediate recollection, the extent of the Angels' additional bad play in this game. In the tally for the good, we add Howie Kendrick, who drove the ball as we knew he could for a single, a pair of doubles, three RBIs (including the game-winner), and two runs scored. Knowing he had one chance at the ring this time, he didn't drop it, and hot damn. Colón wasn't brilliant, and in fact he was barely tolerable, but he managed a quality start; but thanks to J.C. Romero, he lost an opportunity for his second win of the season. Thank you very little, J.C. Maybe Saunders can learn to pitch from the bullpen.

Thanks again, Howie. The Angels are now over .500, and still a game and a half back of Oakland.

ESPN BoxRecap

I'm still learning some of the subtle nuances of the game, but i'm not sure that attempting to bunt Aybar from second to third with no outs in the bottom of the eighth in a tied game is so horrible.

Someone with greater access to run creation stats will know better than I whether a man at second with no outs or a man at third with one out has the greater chance of scoring.
Quinlan and Murphy are equally horrible against right-handed pitching, and Murphy, in fact, is a little worse. The bunt is almost always a terrible idea, so why indulge it? One answer might be the recent empirical analysis of bunting at the Baseball Analysts site. For a number eight batter in the AL to advance the baserunner from first to second at the expense of an out raises the probability of a run scoring from .393 to .593. That's a huge advantage.
I don't think you're reading that correctly, Rob. With a runner on first and none out for that position in the order, the RE is .393. For a man on second and ONE out, it's .379. The .593 is the number for a man on second and NONE out (which is what they ended up with after the wild pitch). However, that's NOT at the expense of an out. With a runner on third and one out, the expectancy is .653, so bunting him to third increases the run expectancy somewhat, but there are also ways to move the runner to third without bunting. As a switch hitter, they could have told Murphy to try to pull the ball on the ground. I think it's a pretty respectable decision. I can't hold that one against Scioscia.

So ultimately, you're better off with a runner at third and one out in that situation than with a runner at second and none, in terms of getting that particular runner home. You also give up an out which hurts your chances for a bigger inning. Personally, I would have left the bunt on in that situation.

Forgive me if I'm wrong.
I wonder if Mike Scioscia is studying from the Walter Alston book of managing? Alston pulled every lever he could with a pretty talented team. A lot of the moves Alston made were superfluous and at times counter-productive but Bill James shrewdly observed that it gave Alston "control of the action." I suspect it also lets the players know that he likes to "get aggressive" and keep people involved. I think Scioscia does the same thing sometimes. Whitey Herzog said something about baseball in the 1990's being "sit on your a** baseball." Scioscia seems to be the antithesis of that.


I just re-read my paragraph. I know I'm trying to say something, I'm just not sure what. ;)
What about the failed suicide squeeze in the 7th? The go ahead run is at 3rd base with Orlando Cabrera and Vladamir coming up. The infield was even in for Orlando's at bat. How can you possibly justify that play with those two batters coming up? Predictably Vlad got a hit.
No, you're right, Seitz, I misread the tables. Thanks for the correction.

Steve: quite true, especially considering the negative return on the game at that point. Scioscia could have had men on the corners with nobody out or one out and Cabrera and Vlad coming up.
Can we can we can we can we please please please please start Kendrick at second base starting today for the next 6 seasons? Please?

(Trade Adam Kennedy. Now.)
There is a surplus of anti-bunting Steves in this world. Well, perhaps not a surplus -- I would argue you can never have too many.
Was Murphy a defensive replacement in the top half of the inning or was he in there to bunt?
You can see in the box score that he was called in as a pinch-hitter.
To pile on Scioscia, it seems to me that Napoli has earned the right to DH on his non-catching days if a left-handed starter is on the agenda. Making Anderson the DH against a LHSP is just silliness at this point.

Also, the statement that Izturis will probably keep the 3B job when D-Mac is activated is equally silly. Say what you want about D-Mac, but he squares the ball up better than any other player called up in the last two years. He swings and misses a lot, but when he connects he hits it hard - singles included. I just don't know what he has to do to get an iota of respect from the Halos. He should be allowed to play against ALL righties and left alone. Of course, staying healthy would be a plus, I am sure.

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