Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Who's Next?

"Pick the right manager, and the Royals could thrive. Pick the wrong one, and they might as well put a down payment on last place."
-- Jeff Passan, Kansas City Star, 5/17/05

Let's make sure we understand one thing: this team will not thrive this season and probably will not thrive next season. No manager dead or alive could prevent this team from losing 100 games this season, and unless the Royals' offense breaks out in a seriously unexpected way next year I don't think they'll lose less than 90. I think the net impact of a manager on a team's performance is on the order of +/- 3 or 4 wins, which could be crucial for a team on the verge of contention but doesn't particularly matter for this team right now.

But it IS important that the Royals hire a good manager, if for no other reason than to signal to the public that they care about building a winning organization. PR wise, the last thing this team needs is to hire another greenhorn or "promoted-from-within" manager. The second-to-last thing the Royals need is to hire another in-game micromanager who is addicted to destructive intervention at every possible opportunity.

My problem is that I find it difficult to evaluate a manager's credentials. In journalistic circles, Joe Torre is hailed as a premier motivator, confidante, and overall managerial genius; in the performance analysis subculture, he's ridiculed for his poor roster and in-game management. The truth is probaby somewhere in between, but the fact is that he's been managing some extremely talented Yankee teams. That's not to say that anyone can do it, but it just makes things fuzzy. The evaluation process in basketball and football is simpler, I think, because its easier to decipher which are the good and bad coaches, for two reasons:

1) The team concept is much more important in those sports, so a coaching strategy and philosophy can make a big difference in team performance;

2) Every team operates under a salary cap, so there is a reasonably level playing field in terms of talent acquisition resources.

So how to decide on the Royals' next manager? Allard Baird is contacting a number of experienced candidates, but frankly I'm loathe to evaluate a manager on the basis of his record alone, since it is very much an artifact of the team he inherits -- Grady Little, for example, has a winning record in his managerial career but he managed a team with one of the highest payrolls in baseball.

A more "objective" method would be to compare the actual vs. Pythagorean record over managerial careers to see if there is any kind of net effect of managerial (in)competence. I'd expect fluctuation from season to season based more on baseball metrics (for example, Tony Pena was Manager of the Year in 2003, but the real reason they won more than expected was that the Royals led the league in BA with RISP, which led to considerably more runs than expected). But over the course of several years you'd expect these performance fluctuations to smooth out and that the net +/- effect would be something closer to resulting from managerial skill. Batter's Box created conducted just such an analysis for managers beginning their careers from 1980 to 2003, and found this:
Cumulative Pythagorean +/-
Manager Team(s) Seasons +/-

Bobby Valentine Tex,NYM 13 +22
Dusty Baker SF,ChC 11 +18
Felipe Alou Mtl,SF 10 +13
Ron Gardenhire Min 2 +13
Pete Rose Cin 5 +12
Jim Frey KC,ChC 3 +11
Mike Hargrove Cle,Bal 12 +10
Art Howe Hou,Oak,NYM 13 +10
Jim Tracy LA 3 +9
Kevin Kennedy Tex,Bos 4 +8

And the worst:

Manager Team(s) Seasons +/-

Jimy Williams Tor,Bos,Hou 10 -27
Jim Riggleman SD,ChC 7 -23
Buddy Bell Det,Col 5 -21
Larry Dierker Hou 5 -16
Lee Elia ChC,Phi 4 -16
Phil Garner Mil,Det 10 -14
Doug Rader Tex,Cal 5 -13
Bud Harrelson NYM 2 -10
Gene LaMont ChW,Pit 7 -10
Tom Trebelhorn Mil,ChC 6 -9
(And what do you know: there's my guy, Bobby V., and the top of the list! Come on down, Bobby!)

What other criterion could we use? Experience probably matters, but it isn't a substitute for sound managerial strategies and tactics. I don't care that Jimy Williams and Larry Dierker are experienced; they've both demonstrated that their managerial acumen is poor and that their teams consistently underperform expectations.

The Next Big Thing in baseball management should be the development of a new SABR-oriented managerial class that embraces the translation of objective performance analysis into managerial strategy and tactics. Tony Pena claimed to be part of that revolution when he was hired by Allard Baird, but First-Inning Bunt Tony was eventually exposed for the unyielding traditionalist that he is. But unfortunately that day isn't here yet, so the Royals are going to have to settle for an experienced manager who demands the most from his players, protects his young pitcher's arms and understands the basic tactical nuances of the game, if not the most efficient path to run creation and prevention.

I'd love to see Bobby Valentine as the next manager of the Kansas City Royals.


At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post... although the comments in the star that the manager really matters seem a bit off

At 2:44 PM, Blogger DL said...

When I was first posting this, I was going to write just that - the manager isn't nearly as important as the Star writer says he is. And I tried to make that point somewhat in the first paragraph. But as the article evolved I found myself writing about a different subject...

At 3:33 PM, Anonymous D. Sanford said...

I think that's a pretty interesting way to look at managers. But I wonder...wouldn't the average number of wins above pythagorean per season be a more valuable number than the cumulative totals? If calculated that way, your list would look a lot different, as Bobby Valentine might not even make the list, for he would average under two "extra" wins per season. Gardenhire is averaging 6.5 thus far.

Regardless, it's something to think about.

At 3:49 PM, Blogger DL said...

I think that's probably a good idea. I also think that the statistic probably doesn't mean very much until a manager gets at least 5-6 years of managerial experience. Gardenhire looks great right now, but its not bloody likely that Gardenhire is going to be 6 to 7 wins above expectation every year, given that the very best (at least according to this measure) can deliver 2 to 3 wins per year over the long term.

At 8:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the pythag method measures just a very small aspect of what a manager controlsand in NO way could be used to measure his ability to do any number of things important to a major league manager
motivate, choose the correct matchups, manage a pitching staff, deal with injuries...really all it does is measure performance in blowouts vs one run games...

At 10:00 AM, Blogger cfos said...

good post and very interesting...I imagine Cub fans would be suprised to see Dusty's record in this regard.

Bobby Valentine would be an entertaining choice, if nothing else. I have not heard him mentioned much, however.

At 1:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol... i took the link to the star, only i'm not a member... it's probably cause i'm tired, but at first i thought the stars membership regestration was a joke to apply to be the royals manager.


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