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The Angels from 2005 to 2009: Was Mike Scioscia That Good?


A couple weeks ago, I took at look at Wins Above Expectancy for Managers. My goal was to see which managers' teams most often out-performed their win expectancy. While I originally set out to see of a "WAR for managers" was possible, it became clear pretty quickly that Wins Above Expectancy was not that. It simply gives us an idea of which teams tend to outperform their expectancies. How much of that has to do with the manager is something we don't know.

To determine "win expectancy", I used both Pythagorean record and WAR (total WAR of all players on the team) and calculated different results based on each.

While there were many differences between the two lists, some managers ranked well on both. Mike Scioscia, for example, ranks third all time in Wins Above Expectancy by Pythagorean record (WAE/pyth) at +25.5. Using WAR (WAE/war), he ranks second all time with +80.7.

Scioscia's Angels have long had a reputation for out-performing their pyth record. Let's take a look at the top 12 individual seasons all time in WAE/pyth.

Most Wins Above Expectancy (by Pythagorean Record), Single Season, 1876-2011
Year Team WAE/pyth
1905 Detroit Tigers 13.6
2004 New York Yankees 12.3
2008 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 12.1
1984 New York Mets 11.7
1954 Brooklyn Dodgers 11.5
1970 Cincinnati Reds 11.5
1972 New York Mets 11.4
1924 Brooklyn Robins 11.2
2005 Arizona Diamondbacks 11.2
2007 Arizona Diamondbacks 11.1
1943 Boston Braves 10.3
1961 Cincinnati Reds 10.1

Scioscia's 2008 Angels place third, beating their pyth record by a dozen games. However, If Scioscia routinely beats his Pythagorean records, he simply destroys his expected records according to WAR. Just look at this list:

Most Wins Above Expectancy (by WAR), Single Season, 1876-2011
Year Team WAE/war
2009 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 31.8
2008 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 25.2
2007 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 21.4
1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys 21.2
1944 Chicago White Sox 18.8
1942 Washington Senators 18.4
2005 Arizona Diamondbacks 18.1
2005 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 17.3
1943 Chicago White Sox 16.8
1943 New York Yankees 15.2
2004 Cincinnati Reds 14.5
2006 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 14.5

That list features five consecutive Mike Scioscia-led Angels teams (2005–2009), a horrendous 19th century team, four World War II teams, and a couple random 21st century squads.

In those five seasons alone, the Angels beat their WAR win expectancy by 110 wins. While we knew the Angels consistently beat their pyth record, I don't think we knew how much they were out-playing their WAR. It's pretty remarkable.

I'm far from the the first person to write about how the Angels did this, but here are some numbers behind the theories.

The first is an obvious one—one-run games:

Los Angeles Angels in 1-Run Games, 2005–2009
Year W L RS RA ExpW WAE/1run
2005 33 26 229 222 30.3 2.7
2006 25 22 173 170 23.9 1.1
2007 25 19 179 173 22.7 2.3
2008 31 21 184 174 27.3 3.7
2009 27 18 179 170 23.6 3.4
Total 141 106 944 909 127.8 13.2

In that five-year stretch, Scioscia's Angels won 13 more games than expected, just in one-run games. One of the big reasons for this run of success has to be Francisco Rodriguez. 2005 happened to be K-Rod's first year as the Angels closer. Rodriguez closed for the Angels through 2008. He tallied 12.8 WAR (Baseball-Reference variety) over those four seasons.

Granted, this doesn't explain 2009. Brian Fuentes closed that year—and wasn't particularly good. He saved 48 games (which led the league), but his record was 1–5, his ERA+ was 112 and his WAR was 1.0. Not terrible, but not K-Rod. While Fuentes didn't stand out, relievers Darren Oliver and Jason Bulger certainly contributed to 1-run success. They combined to go 11–2 and had ERA+ figures of 162 and 123, respectively.

One more area where the Angels stand out is performance in the clutch. Not only were they the top team over the five-year stretch, they were way ahead of everyone else.

Clutch Rating, 2005–2009
Team Clutch
Angels 33.54
Astros 17.76
Twins 17.59
Mariners 12.21
Reds 11.80
Cardinals 10.53
White Sox 10.20
Brewers 8.66
Diamondbacks 6.78
Giants 6.59
Phillies 5.33
Red Sox 4.90
Padres 3.42
Nationals 1.98
Yankees 1.33
Mets 0.94
Tigers -1.66
Athletics -2.37
Marlins -3.62
Royals -6.11
Pirates -8.29
Cubs -9.02
Rangers -9.09
Dodgers -9.67
Devil Rays -14.14
Orioles -14.42
Blue Jays -15.41
Braves -16.17
Rockies -16.80
Indians -21.48

This data came from Fangraphs and shows the Angels with twice the score of any other team.

Were the Angels lucky? Were they just good? Is Mike Scioscia a magician? I'm inclined to think that all three contribute to the Angels ridiculous run of overachievement.