What Makes a Manager?

MLB Power Rankings


This could be long.  We’re skipping the power rankings this week since three games aren’t really going to change a whole lot.  Instead, the resident stat geek has taken control of the site and decided that there has been an ongoing discussion that has driven him too far.


What makes a manager successful?


Back in 2013 Bill James came up with a method figuring out HOW SUCCESSFUL a manager is.  There are four components:


  1. Winning a lot of games
  2. Winning a high percentage of games
  3. Winning championships
  4. Having teams that exceed reasonable expectations


The goal was for 100 points to be the “magic number” so to speak for a Hall of Fame level and here was his scoring method:   Obviously there can be other factors, like how many young players did he develop into major leaguers, revolutionary strategies that changed the game for the better, etc., and we can factor those in later as we please, but this is a sound start.  Bill’s formula:


1 point for every 40 wins

1 point for every 10 games above .500 (no negative points)

3 points for winning a division/wild card spot

6 points for winning a pennant

9 points for winning the World Series (more on these three points in a minute)

1 point for every 5 games above expectations (more on this, too, and again, no negative points)


For this I’ll use four managers:  MA, MB, MC, MD, and ME.


Let’s take care of the first two points at once.


MA:  2008 wins, 1709 losses, 299 games over .500

MB:  1480-1060, +420

MC:  1904-1095, -1

MD:  1537-1313, +224

ME:  1281-1125, +156


To convert those over to HOF Points:


MA:  50 (2008 / 40 rounded down) + 29 (299 / 10 rounded down) = 79

MB:  37 + 42 = 79

MC:  47 + 0 = 47

MD:  38 + 22 = 60

ME:  32 + 15 = 47


OK, now to the points for championships.  It is three points for every step.  If a team wins the World Series it’s nine points, not nine for winning the Series, six for the pennant, and three for the division/wild card.  To break those down:


MA:  3 Pennants, 1 World Championship = 21

MB:  6 Division championships, 4 Pennants, 1 World Championship = 33

MC:  7, 4, and 3 = 42

MD:  8, 3, and 2 = 39

ME:  6, 3, and 1 = 30


Adding those totals:


MA:  79 + 21 = 100

MB:  79 + 33 = 112

MC:  47 + 42 = 89

MD:  60 + 39 = 99

ME:  47 + 30 = 77


OK, the next part to explain is the “reasonable expectations” portion of the program.  If a wins 91 games in back to back seasons, how many wins could one reasonably expect that team to win?  The method James created (and it does work) is:


(Wins from the previous year plus twice the wins from two years previous plus 162 (154 for teams before 1962)) / (Games from the previous year plus twice the games from two years previous plus 324)


The 162 and 324 are for the natural regression to the mean.  So for this said team:


(91 + 91 + 162) / (162 + 162 + 324) = .537


Which means that one would reasonably expect this team to win 87 games the following season. If you took a group of teams with that resume, on average they would win that number of games.  MA for example took over a team that two year previous went 62-91 and the next year went 69-80.  His team we would reasonably expect to win 71 games.  His team won 84, 13 games above the level.  Therefore we credit MA with two points for that season.  For all five:


MA:  29 points

MB:  17

MC:  15

MD:  13

ME:  13


So we have our totals:


MA:  129 points

MB:  129

MC:  104

MD:  112

ME:  90


OK, so who are these guys?  Let’s answer:


MA is Leo Durocher

MB is Earl Weaver

MC is Bruce Bochy

MD is Terry Francona

ME is Whitey Herzog


A, B, and C are in the Hall of Fame.  C and D most likely will be.  There has been complaints in the Nation about Francona and his loyalty towards certain players.  Why is loyalty an issue?  Every one of these guys have had their loyalties.  Durocher stuck with a young center fielder despite the fact he hit .236 the year before he served in Korea.  Was Durocher stupid for sticking with Willie Mays?


Durocher was noted for his temper and how he would blast a player in the press.  In the days before free agency he could get away with that.  Billy Martin never lasted longer than three years with any team; he kept going back to the Yankees because he lived to be a Yankee (him being traded from the Yankees was devastating to him).  Why?  Because players aren’t going to (and shouldn’t) tolerate such BS.  A manager has to manage.  As Bill James wrote in his 1996 book, “The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers”, “[A] manager is not someone who excels; a manager is someone who copes.”


The biggest key to being a manager is getting the 25 guys to buy in.  Billy Martin never lasted long because he was, simply put, a jerk.  You wouldn’t want him showing up at your family reunion let alone being your boss every day.


Let’s take a moment to look back at the late Sparky Anderson.  Sparky was lucky enough to take over what became arguably the greatest team in baseball history.  But he also knew the game was simple.


“If you have good players and if you keep them in the right frame of mind, then the managers is a success.  The players make the manager; it’s never the other way.”


While some see a player struggling and figure it’s time to just get someone else in there, guys like Anderson, Tito, and Weaver figured they should figure out what’s wrong with that player and solve it.  What I put up above is strictly a statistical measurement – a “HOW SUCCESSFUL WERE THEY?” figure.  That has nothing to do with why.


Walter Alson didn’t blast guys in the press, unlike Durocher.  Alston also won more pennants and more World Series than Durocher ever did in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Coney Island, Chicago, or wherever.  Alston understood how to treat people.


Everyone knows what they look for in a good boss and what they can’t tolerate from a bad boss.  There is an old saying that “you’re promoted by those under you, not those above you.”  Treating people right is far more important to success than how many times a team bunts or when they walk someone intentionally or whether they pitch someone I despise or play a second baseman who people don’t’ like or whatever.


The bottom line is that the Indians’ manager is 110 games over .500 since he took over in 2013.  He stuck with a kid who looked overwhelmed through 2015 and is now one of the top 10 players in all of baseball.  He has stuck with his second baseman who over the last two months has produced an OPS over .800.  He stuck with a left fielder who we believed should not have been resigned.  He has had an All-Star season.


Yes, there are downsides.  But you know what?  If I’m working for a man like Francona, I know I’m getting every opportunity I can to prove what I can still do.  That’s motivation.  That matters.  And that is something that not even this stathead can calculate.  His approach led to the biggest comeback in baseball history.  His approach got a team with a skeleton of a rotation to within an inning of a World Series championship.  Both of those franchises have had torchered histories.  Both have had Hall of Famers manage them before him.  I trust in Tito.


But if he puts Tomlin on the hill one more time . . .

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