Evaluating managers

Who was the greatest manager of all time? What constitutes a Hall of Fame manager? How can we identify active managers who are on a Hall of Fame path, and what do they still need to do to make it?

There are lots of tools to evaluate hitters and pitchers, but there seem to be no generally accepted standards for managers. So I’ve created a method to compare them to one another, and to gauge the Hall-worthiness (or lack thereof) of any given manager.

I decided to use the same general concept as Bill James’ old Hall of Fame monitor: a score of 100-plus is a likely Hall of Famer; below that, and induction is highly unlikely. The lowest possible score is zero; there are no negatives. I used six basic input values:

Wins (times 0.2)
Games over .500 (times 0.1, with all negatives rounded to zero)
12 minus average rank (times 1.7)
Postseason appearances
Pennants (times 7)
World Series (times 10)

These numbers are added up, and as I said, a score more than 100 indicates a likely Hall of Famer. Obviously, I made some arbitrary decisions about how to weigh the different categories. But while you can quibble with the details, most adjustments won’t change the general shape of the rankings.

Twenty 20 men have made the Hall of Fame as managers (not counting guys like Fred Clarke, Frank Chance, and Cap Anson, who were Hall-quality managers but who made the Hall as players). Seventeen of those 20 scored over 100. Of the three who didn’t make the cut, Bucky Harris scored at 99 and Ned Hanlon (for much of whose career the World Series did not exist) scored at 89. I’ll get to the third exception later.

First, my list of the top 25 managers of all time (active managers’ stats through May 26):

 Rank  Score    Manager
   1    281   Joe McCarthy
   2    270   John McGraw
   3    208   Connie Mack
   4    207   Casey Stengel
   5    195   Walter Alston
   6    188   Joe Torre
   7    171   Bobby Cox
   8    167   Sparky Anderson
   9    165   Tony LaRussa
  10    149   Miller Huggins
  11    132   Earl Weaver
  12    128   Fred Clarke
  13    123   Billy Southworth
  14    121   Bill McKechnie
  15    120   Tommy Lasorda
  16    119   Frank Selee
  17    119   Leo Durocher
  18    116   Frank Chance
  19    115   Harry Wright
  20    113   Billy Martin
  21    112   Dick Williams
  22    111   Cap Anson
  23    101   Al Lopez
  24     99   Bucky Harris
  25     98   Ralph Houk

Billy Martin and Ralph Houk

Not counting active managers, the only non-Hall of Famer who scores over 100 is Martin, and I am certain that he belongs in the Hall. Yes, he ranks only 33rd all-time in career wins, but he was 240 games over .500 (19th all-time), and most impressively, his average seasonal rank was 2.3. Among managers with at least 2,000 career games, Martin’s figure is fourth all-time.

The other non-Hall of Famer on the list above is Ralph Houk, who, like Martin, had his best years with the Yankees. Houk’s problem is that he had three great years at the outset of his career (winning three pennants and two World Series), but never reached those heights again. He oversaw the dark ages of the Yankees (1966-1973), managed some lousy Tigers teams in the ‘70s, and finished his career with the Red Sox in the early ‘80s. He had a long career, but apart from the very beginning, it was pretty disappointing.

Al Lopez

Of the 100-plus men, Al Lopez has the least impressive postseason resume. He won just two pennants and zero World Series titles; every other manager on the list has at least three pennants, and all the other post-1903 skippers won at least a single World Championship.

But Lopez made it into the Hall—and is judged as Hall-worthy by this system—on the strength of his incredible consistency. In his 15 full seasons as a manager, Lopez never led his team to a losing record. Think about that. Every single year, his clubs finished over .500, and they were either first or second in the league 12 times. His average rank of 2.4 is equal to Joe Torre and Bobby Cox, and better than the likes of John McGraw and Walter Alston.

Lopez’s teams were 406 games over .500, which is better than all but seven managers in baseball history, and .584 winning percentage works out to an average of 94.6 wins per 162 games.

Herzog and Johnson

Some of the scores surprised me. I’ve always generally believed that Whitey Herzog and Davey Johnson belong in the Hall of Fame. And maybe they do, but my system doesn’t agree.

Herzog’s score of 94 is very close, but he’s smack in between Charlie Grimm and Danny Murtaugh, neither of whom have any Hall of Fame buzz. He’s 30th all-time in wins and in games over .500, and while his average rank (2.6) is good, he won just a single World Series. To make it into the Hall of Fame with only one World Championship, you’ve got to have a lot of other things going for you (wins, games over .500, pennants), and Herzog just doesn’t quite make it.

Davey Johnson comes in at 88, which, while good, is still a ways off of the Hall of Fame standard. Given his won-lost records, I thought for sure that he would be over 100. Johnson’s average rank of 1.9 is the highest of all time (minimum 2,000 games)—better than Joe McCarthy (2.0), Earl Weaver (2.2), and everyone else. But he won just one pennant (and one World Series), and no manager has ever made the Hall without at least two pennants.

Future Hall of Famers?

Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa will go into the Hall of Fame without any trouble. Aside from them, here are the highest-scoring active managers:

 Score   Manager
   88   Lou Piniella
   77   Cito Gaston
   75   Terry Francona
   71   Jim Leyland
   71   Mike Scioscia
   63   Dusty Baker
   59   Charlie Manuel
   50   Ozzie Guillen
   48   Bruce Bochy
   45   Ron Gardenhire
   37   Ken Macha
   35   Jerry Manuel

Among that bunch, Francona clearly has the best chance of eventually making the Hall. At 50, he already has two World Series rings, and you have to figure he’s got at least 10-15 years left in the tank. Given that he manages the perpetually-contending Red Sox, he should make the Hall of Fame without much trouble.

Scioscia’s position is almost as good. Like Francona, he’s 50 years old, and his average rank of 1.9 is among the best ever. He needs more rings, but he has plenty of time to get them.

Piniella is close. If he leads the Cubs to the World Series, he’ll be a shoo-in, and even if he just adds another pennant, he should make it. Without that, though, he’ll probably fall just short. Also missing the cut are Cito Gaston and Jim Leyland. They’re both in their mid-60s, and both will need at least another World Series victory to have a real case.

The worst managers ever

Among managers with at least 1,000 games, the worst ever—with a score of just 19—is Jimmie Wilson, who managed the Phillies and Cubs in the 1930s and early 1940s. A player-manager for much of his career, Wilson’s teams were 242 games under .500, making him, by that measure, worse than any other manager in history. His .401 winning percentage is equivalent to a 65-97 record. That he was able to hang onto a job for more than 1,200 games is remarkable.

If we look only at post-World War II managers, Buddy Bell is the worst, with 23 points in the system. Bell comes in at 205 games under .500, fourth-worst all-time and the ugliest mark since Jimmie Wilson. The amazing thing about Bell is that he was given three chances—with the Tigers, Rockies, and Royals. By the time the Royals hired him, they should have realized that he wasn’t cut out to manage.

Moving the bar up to 2,000 games, the worst manager ever is Frank Robinson, with a score of 34. This was somewhat of a surprise to me. I mean, Robinson did win the 1989 AL Manager of the Year Award after overseeing the recovery of the Orioles, and I’ve always thought of him as pretty solid. But he never once made the postseason, and all but one other manager with 2,000-plus games had at least one postseason appearance. (The one exception is Jimmie Dykes. But the difference between Dykes and Robinson is that when Dykes managed, there was only one way to make the postseason—by winning the pennant—whereas Robinson has spent his whole managerial career in divisional play.)

Uncle Robbie

Earlier, I said that 17 of the 20 Hall of Fame managers had a score of 100 or better. Bucky Harris is at 99, and Ned Hanlon (score of 89) won five pennants in an era before World Series play began. I have no problem with either of those guys being in the Hall of Fame.

But that leaves one manager who most definitely does not belong in the Hall. He is the George Kell of managers, a guy who is so far below the Hall of Fame standard that he’s in a class by himself. That man is Wilbert Robinson, “Uncle Robbie,” the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers (then nicknamed the “Robins” in his honor) from 1914-1931.

Looking at his record, it’s not immediately clear why Robbie was elected to the Hall. He won a decent number of games (1,399), but he lost just as many (1,398). The Robins won a pair of pennants during his long tenure (1916 and 1920), but they won no World Series, and apart from the pennant years, they finished in the first division just four times. More often than not, Robbie’s teams were in fifth or sixth place. I guess he made the Hall because of his longevity, but I don’t think extended mediocrity warrants that kind of reward. He is, without question, the least successful manager in the Hall of Fame.

In conclusion…
I’m rather impressed with the Hall of Fame’s track record with managers. Voters missed badly on Wilbert Robinson, but that was more than six decades ago. They have yet to elect Billy Martin, but then, I can understand why, what with his career being broken up by constant firings and partial seasons.

Also, the standards for a manager’s election to the Hall of Fame are pretty clear. For the most part, you need to manage more than 2,000 games (probably closer to 2500) and win at least three pennants and one World Series.

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