Everyone talks about managers, but no one knows what to really think about them. At least, that’s what Mark Twain might have said. Debating the merits of Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou or Ozzie Guillen is tremendous fun, but ultimately frustrating. There are a hundred points of view, and no way to resolve them.
Does Dusty Baker overwork his starters? Should Alou bat Bonds third? Does Guillen sacrifice too much? My own opinions are yes, yes and yes. But who’s to say? Manager debates are part of the fun of being a baseball fan.
It seems to me that there are (at least) two key ways managers affect their teams:
- Pre-game decisions, such as roster and rotation, who plays where, batting order. The manager can also affect the mood and atmosphere in the clubhouse (see Bowa, Larry). I think that these are the most important aspects of a manager’s job.
- In-game decisions, such as relieving pitchers, bunts, steals, pitchouts, pinch hitting, intentional walks. These are the most visible decisions that a manager makes.
There’s a difference between the two. Pre-game decisions can be discussed and shared. General Managers often make key roster decisions. And rotations or fielding positions may already be set, based upon the makeup of the team. But the responsibility for in-game decisions falls directly to the manager. So even though in-game decisions may have less impact than pre-game ones, we tend to judge a manager on what he did during a game.
So, to assist you with your next managerial debate, I thought we could look at a little data. Here’s a table of three elements of in-game managerial decisions: stolen base attempts, sacrifice bunts and intentional walks. I’ve also included a ratio of decisions to games, so that you can see which managers are most active, and which are least active. First, the American League:
It may not be entirely fair to include stolen base attempts in this table, because the running game is often dictated by the talent of a manager’s team. My guess is that Lou Pinella leads the league in stolen base attempts because he has Carl Crawford on his team.
Nevertheless, the table tells a tale. One thing you’ll notice is Terry Francona’s disdain for the sacrifice bunt, and Buck Showalter’s disdain for the intentional walk. Guillen does indeed lead the league in sacrifice bunts. With the pitching staff he has, why does Ken Macha hand out so many intentional walks?
It’s been said before, but managers of losing teams tend to try more things, hoping to find some hidden spark, while managers of contending teams are more apt to sit back and let their teams do the work. Also, it seems to me that younger managers may want to insert themselves into the game a bit more than the seasoned managers.
Here’s the National League table:
There are some really curious patterns in the senior league. With the offense he has, why does Jimy Williams choose to bunt so much? Why does Clint Hurdle do anything, given that half his games are in Coors? I would think that the last thing he’d want to do is give up an out via a sacrifice bunt, or let another team’s runner on base.
Bruce Bochy certainly looks like a model of restraint — particularly since he works in the NL West, where intentional walks are a given part of the game. Ned Yost, too. But Lloyd McClendon should really learn to cool his jets. Let your team play, Lloyd.
Ultimately, a manager should be judged on how often he wins, particularly compared to the talent he’s given. By that measure, I think the best managers so far this year have been Dave Miley of Cincinnati and, um, I don’t know… Scioscia? Trammell? Guillen? Hopefully, you’ve learned a bit more about each one. We’ll keep track of this information during the rest of the season.
References & Resources
Post Script: Thanks to some feedback I received, I’ve updated some of the info and tables in this post script article.
If you’re interested in managers, you really should get your hands on the Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers. Also, my thanks to Baseball Info Solutions, the providers of our data, who also produced a manager’s table in the 2004 Bill James Handbook.