In the baseball world of ever-growing statistical analysis, whether it be WRC+ to discover the best hitters, ERA+ for the best pitchers, or WAR for all-around, there still is yet to exist a universally accepted metric for baseball managers. I believe that the influence of a manager is slightly exaggerated as the players control what happens on the field. It’s curious that baseball is the only major sport that uses the term “manager” in contrast to “coach” as that leads to an interpretation that in baseball, the guy in charge only “manages” the club and doesn’t necessarily coach them to become better. In football and basketball, plays are drawn up for almost every possession. Baseball is moving in this direction as ideas such as fielders’ shifts influence pitch selection and it appears that “play-calling” is becoming more of a concept rather than just an idea.
It’s only a matter of time until a managing statistic is created but until then the easiest way to determine who the best managers are, and the easiest way for them to keep their job, is all up to wins and losses. Going further into that, the ultimate trump cards to determine the best manager is to count the rings that individual has won. Right now, the current manager who can trump all others is Bruce Bochy. His Giants have been the kings of all of the even years this decade, but do we know how much can be attributed to solely his influence?
Before the 2012 season, Beyond the Box Score came out with an article diving into statistics for managers. Since there hasn’t been a follow-up in the last three years and sites like baseball-reference.com hasn’t picked up either stat discussed, the validity of the numbers have probably not yet proven any relevance. However, three years ago (or two World Series victories ago), Bochy was the 19th best manager of all time based on a Pythagorean record, and perhaps more-telling, already 4th in their WAR-based approach.
Obviously, it is difficult to determine the true merit of a baseball manager because it is the players on the field that determine the outcome of the game. The manager rarely has much influence on the 25 players he is given to his disposal, even though he has the ability to choose the nine starters and any future substitutions. With that said, a counter to this argument to show a manager’s worth would be for a manager to show continued success for a long period of time. Another factor would be to show success in multiple organizations truly showing that they know how to win no matter what ingredients they have to work with.
Bochy started his coaching career in the San Diego Padres organization. After a relatively short stint managing in the minor leagues (4 years), he got “called up” to be the third base coach and after an even shorter stint (2 years) became manager. Bochy had instant success as he won Manager of the Year in his second year (1996) and made it to the World Series in 1998 (Bochy’s even-year success started earlier than most people know). The Padres oddly let him go after 12 years, and still through today the organization has only made the playoffs five times and Bochy was their manager for four of them. Oddly enough, he was a player for the team in their other appearance.
For the most recent nine years, Bochy has managed the San Francisco Giants. After a rough two year start, the Giants have only won less than 86 games once in his tenure. In an attempt to develop an easy metric for managing-effect, I will use the Pythagorean method which essentially takes how many runs a team scores and gives up, then calculates a win-loss record based what those run differentials would usually output. If a team is outperforming their Pythagorean record, it can be argued that the team is getting more wins out of what a typical team would with the same run differential. These wins may just be attributed to a few borderline decisions made in the game, often made by the manager. The Giants have finished above their Pythagorean record every year but one in the last seven, including two seasons of six wins above. The one year they didn’t finish above – 2010, and oh yeah, their first World Series in this run.
Baseball, also unlike the other sports, rarely has strong correlations between the best player in the league being on the best team. Miguel Cabrera hasn’t won a World Series and Mike Trout has yet to win a playoff game. However, it’s an easy argument to say a manager wins only because he has the best players. Bochy has accomplished this run without a conglomerate of stars. In the last five years, the Giants have only sent three position players to the All-Star game once. In 2010, the Giants only sent their ace (Tim Lincecum) and their closer (Brian Wilson). To be fair, Buster Posey was the Rookie of the Year but he had still yet to fully blossom into the star that he’s become. In 2012, Posey won the MVP and that season may perhaps have been the most star-studded roster Bochy has had in San Francisco.
Bochy has almost shown every attribute that you would look to have in a manager. He has won in multiple places. He has shown a sustained tenure of success. Most importantly, he has won championships. Perhaps all he has left to do…is win one during an odd year.