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.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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14 years ago

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?

14 years ago
Reply to  Steve

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.

14 years ago
Reply to  Ryan

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.