How much impact do managers really have on their teams?
All of which begs the question: Just what kind of impact does a manager have on a team's performance anyway? In the essential 2006 book
The comparison to clutch hitting is apt here. The analytical stance on clutch-hitting is often misrepresented along the lines of "those eggheads don't believe clutch hitting exists." That's not exactly true. If a batter hits a three-run homer in the ninth inning with his team trailing by two runs, that is undeniably a clutch hit. However, the statistical record strongly suggest that clutch hitting for the most part is not a repeatable skill. In part because of the small sample sized involved, a player's performance in clutch situations will vary too much from season to season for that performance to be considered a meaningful indicator of future performance. Over the length of a career, as that sample size grows, those performances will trend toward the player's baseline level of production. Consider
However, in a 2004 article in
The problem is that even those purely cumulative statistics contain a significant amount of gray area. In tallying the in-game strategies of the 2,430 regular season baseball games played every year, it is impossible to definitively determine when a sacrifice bunt or pitchout was called from the bench or instigated by the players on the field, when a runner in motion was stealing or part of a hit-and-run, whether a base stealer was explicitly told to go or simply had a "green light," when a sign for any of those tactics was missed or misinterpreted, when a day-to-day injury, illness or even absence rendered a top pinch-hitting or relief pitching option unavailable, or when an in-game injury prompted a substitution. Lacking the ability to accurately determine exactly what a manager is up to, it is no surprise that it has thus far proven impossible to determine exactly what impact he has had.
It's interesting to note, however, that Click's 2006 study did make one relatively firm conclusion regarding the impact of certain in-game decisions. "Only six times in thirty-three years has any manager used sacrifice attempts, stolen base attempts, and intentional walks to increase his team's win expectation over an entire season. Even the best managers cost their team more than a game per season by employing these tactics. At worst they can cost a team three games per season." Over multiple seasons, no manager employed those tactics for a positive effect.
That supports the belief that the best baseball manager is one with a strong roster who is smart enough to let his players play and stay out of the way. Think sabermetric hero and Hall of Fame Orioles manager
Rather, a manager's most important job is widely believed to be the distribution of playing time. It's intuitively true that a manager is only as good as the players he's given, but a good manager can get more out of those players than a bad manager by knowing when, how, and how much to deploy those players. One of the secrets to
Consider the impact Gaston had when he returned to the Blue Jays in June 2008. The Jays had gone 35-39 (.473) under
Of course, as Showalter is already discovering with the Orioles, who have won just four of their last eleven games under their new skipper, such improvements can be fleeting. The Jays went 78-51 (.605) in Gaston's first 129 games back at the helm of the Jays, but just .48-73 (.397) over the next 121 through the end of the 2009 season, and 125 games into this season have effectively split the difference at 66-60 (.524).
Distributing playing time extends to the deployment of pinch-hitters and relief pitchers as well as to the batting order, which at its most basic level is a way of distributing plate appearances, with each successive spot receiving roughly 20 fewer plate appearances than the one above it over the course of a full season and the leadoff spot receiving about 150 more chances at the dish than the ninth-place in the order. Certainly the deployment of the right players can have a huge impact on team performance, but the degree to which we can credit even those decisions to the field manager remains difficult to discern.
Just as we can't be sure when a certain in-game tactic is being ordered by the manager or enacted by players acting on their own (or missing signs), we cannot be sure to what degree a manager is pulling the strings regarding playing time and other broader strategies and to what degree they are being pulled from above by the front office. The A's under general manager
Many mangers and general managers work together to maximize their 25-man roster, but not all managers get their way. It was
Given all of that, it seems impossible to make any sweeping generalizations about the impact of managers as a group. It makes little sense try to credit
According to WXRL,