In his 1970s days with the Milwaukee Brewers, George Scott, the big colourful first baseman who’d been a Red Sox favourite, had a chat with the team’s then co-owner Edmund Fitzgerald, about whose team Gordon Lightfoot did not write “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” “If we’re gonna win,” Scott told Fitzgerald, “the players gotta play better, the coaches gotta coach better, the manager’s gotta manage better, and the owners gotta own better.”
Today the Los Angeles Angels might have some among their ranks, in the dugout and in the stands alike, who think at least that manager Mike Scioscia’s gotta manage better, owner Arte Moreno’s gotta own better, and whomever succeeds Jerry Dipoto as general manager permanently gotta general manage better. Dipoto’s almost abrupt departure this week merely amplified that thinking no matter who thinks what of any of the trio.
Apparently, during a weekend meeting with the field staff and players, Dipoto either discovered or re-learned the hard way that Scioscia didn’t exactly have his back when it came to his insistence upon the on-field brain trust deploying his well-compiled scouting and statistical analyses at all. Within two full days after Fox Sports’s Ken Rosenthal disclosed the meeting, Dipoto cleaned out his office and resigned.
This wasn’t just a mere war between a stat geek and an old-school “don’t confuse me with the facts” field manager. Dipoto didn’t just spring from some business school or middle management background outside the game. And he wasn’t exactly talking out of his chapeau when he suggested numerous times that it wouldn’t hurt the Angels to draw upon the scouting and analytical data he drew forth laboriously.
He was once a useful if undistinguished major league relief pitcher (though he did finish eighth in the 1993 American League Rookie of the Year voting) for the Indians, the Mets, and the Rockies. He was a better than useful scout for the Red Sox’s 2004 cursebuster. He was a better than useful scout heading the Rockies’ scouting department. (You may have heard that the Rockies went to a World Series while Dipoto ran the scouting.) He was Josh Byrnes’s scouting director in Arizona, then took Byrnes’s job as an interim when Byrnes was fired, before the Diamondbacks hired Kevin Towers and the Angels hired Dipoto.
Baseball’s data revolution hasn’t destroyed but enhanced the game. More teams who once had to be brought kicking and screaming to it are embracing it comfortably enough. Even the Phillies, who seemed to take a back seat to no one for being set in their ways, look to be easing through that door, with president-elect Andy MacPhail suggesting he’s going to lean that way once he takes full office.
For trying to convince Scioscia that it wouldn’t kill him to ponder and integrate the data while he runs a game, and that it wouldn’t obstruct but augment whatever tried and true Scioscia deploys, Dipoto ended up putting his own head on a plate. Much has been written since to suggest Dipoto a kind of victim and Scioscia a kind of omnipotent tyrant. I’m not convinced either view is entirely true.
“By choosing Scioscia over Dipoto, Moreno emboldened the Angels’ place as the last manager-centric organization in baseball,” Yahoo! Sports’s Jeff Passan writes. “The shift to teams in which the front office’s philosophy influences the manager’s became not just the norm but the expectation. The best front offices establish a synergy with their manager that allows the analytical information that pervades the game to inform the tactics used during it. This is not an attack on how the game was. It shows how the game can be.”
Scioscia insists he isn’t so old-school as to ignore the best compiled data. But his actual or alleged feuding with Dipoto began when Dipoto executed Mickey Hatcher, Scioscia’s longtime hitting coach, which seemed to some to be a signal that it was beginning to be out with the old and in with the new, never mind how well the Angels were or weren’t hitting at the time. (And they weren’t.)
And it did come to a point where Dipoto, underestimating Scioscia’s power in the organisation, told those attending the weekend meeting that he’d give his scouting and statistical data to Angel players directly if the manager and his coaches would refuse. Try to imagine Scioscia standing for that.
I’m not sure whether Dipoto put too high a premium upon objective information and Scioscia too high a premium on subjective information. What I am sure of is that something has to change in the Angels’ organisational mindset. Scioscia can’t draw capital from the team’s first and last World Series conquest forever. And the organisation can’t tip entirely toward statistics-based scouting and game management alone.
One of the reasons the Red Sox and the Giants have won three World Series in the past eleven years is that they married statistical analysis and the ordinarily subjective “intangibles” successfully and were willing to admit that one without the other equaled an unruly child dividing and conquering a single parent.
Scioscia is seen increasingly as a kind of dugout and clubhouse despot who slaps down any player attempts to keep a loose and toxin-free atmosphere. Dipoto, however, wasn’t exactly the genius who might have made all things well if just given his head from top to bottom, either. By and large he did a few smart things and a few not-so-smart things. Consider:
* The good news is that no Dipoto move on the Angel job equaled Tony Reagins’s biggest turkey. Sending Mike Napoli to the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells—all because Scioscia didn’t particularly like the big hit/fair field Napoli, as compared to his endless taste for catchers who had everything behind the plate and nothing much at it—exploded right in the Angels’ faces. Scioscia won that one, too, but it probably helped keep the Angels out of a few postseasons while Napoli helped a couple of other teams to a World Series one almost won and a World Series the other did win.
* The better news was that Dipoto was able to ship classic all-or-nothing Mark Trumbo (big home runs and nothing else at the plate, really) to the Diamondbacks for two valuable pitchers, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. The bad news to begin: Skaggs lost to Tommy John surgery in late 2014.
* The bad news continued: Dipoto sent Jordan Walden to the Braves for Tommy Hanson (injury bust) and Ervin Santana to the Royals for Brandon Sisk (Tommy John surgery). Microscopic value in exchange for weakening the pitching depth.
* Dipoto swapped Jean Segura for two months worth of Zack Greinke in a 2012 postseason push that went bust, part of a round of deals that actually weakened the Angels in the infield. Right there with sending Alberto Callaspo to the A’s for Grant Green, Alexi Amarista to the Padres for Ernesto Frieri, and Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers for Andrew Heaney, a pitcher who may yet prove valuable. Losing those infielders, though, hurt like hell.
* He sent Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals for David Freese and Fernando Salas. Maybe it wasn’t a terrible idea at the time considering the need to make room for Mike Trout’s emergence. But Grichuk has turned into a power plant while Salas has looked inconsistent at best out of the bullpen and Freese is still struggling to find what’s left of the form that helped the Cardinals win a staggering 2011 World Series.
* Dipoto did lock down Trout, the Angels’ most valuable asset and the best all-around player in the game, for years to come.
* The Angels’ farm system, abetted to a certain extent by some of those deals, ended up ranked rock bottom by Baseball America in the previous two seasons. And this was once one of the better farm systems in the game. Since Trout emerged only two first-round Angel draft picks have gotten anywhere near the Show (Cam Bedrosian and C.J. Cron) . . . and they’ve been in the negative WAR since. And last year’s rookie star Matt Shoemaker is this year’s bust.
* Did we mention Dipoto signed C.J. Wilson and that Wilson has turned into an extremely expensive up-and-down pitcher?
* Dipoto did also flip Taylor Lindsey, Jose Rondon, R.J. Alvarez, and Elliot Morris for Huston Street. Way to further drain the farm, fella. Street’s no bust, of course. But now he’s saying he’d prefer not to pitch in anything but dead-certain save situations, never mind that the Angels might need a stopper now in the late innings and Street does have the durability to work two-inning assignments for four outs or better. That’s the old team spirit.
Dipoto probably wasn’t responsible for signing Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton to big dollar deals, but those signings cost the Angels ther 2012 and 2013 picks, abetted the further farm depletion, and probably kept the Angels from several more useful signings.
When Dipoto moved Jeff Mathis—a classic Scioscia-friendly catcher who was as adept behind the plate as he was lost at it—it might have made room for a better hitter but it didn’t make Dipoto a close friend in the dugout. Dipoto got Brad Mills in return for that, and Mills proved less than the Angels hoped. Far less. He made one major league appearance before the Rangers claimed him off DFA waivers, from which the Blue Jays picked him from the A’s in 2014 before he ended up back in the minors and a free agent.
Moreno may be unaware or willfully ignorant of the fact that the Angels’ clubhouse no longer seems to be a user friendly one. ”Luddism in 2015 isn’t a quirk,” Passan writes. “It’s practically a sin, the open defiance of knowledge, which is the most powerful entity in baseball today. For Scioscia to create a culture in which his players live in fear of him–inside his clubhouse, he is considered the antithesis of a players’ manager, according to multiple sources–and his supposed boss wields no authority over him epitomizes the backwardness of an Angels organization in flux.”
The Angels may have to think about succeeding not only Dipoto but Scioscia as well. And Scioscia may actually be losing his once-formidable touch. Once upon a time any player expressing sentiments like Street’s wasn’t long for an Angel uniform. Once upon a time Scioscia ran Jose Guillen out of town after Guillen showed him up violently over a pinch-running move with a division title on the line in a season’s final week. Now Street can dictate when he will and won’t work and nobody goes boo?
Scioscia needs to think hard there. A lot harder than he’s thinking about Josh Hamilton “needing” to “explain himself” to Moreno over last winter’s dustup. Hamilton owes Moreno and the Angels nothing. Hamilton did the absolute right thing when he relapsed, he didn’t try to shirk it, he reached out for help, and Moreno not only threw him under the bus but got behind the wheel to drive it. (Some would still like to know who leaked the news of the relapse in the first place.) And Hamilton owes Moreno an explanation?
Scioscia can opt out of his contract at this season’s end. Some Angel fans may be praying he does and that either interim GM Bill Stoneman (who built the Angels’ early-Aughts success with Scioscia) or the permanent designee to be has a solid candidate in mind. Either that or the designee to be has a plan to continue pressing analytics while staying on Scioscia’s good side.