Just How Important Is A Manager? Do Good And Bad Managers Even Exist?

After witnessing an exasperating two and a half seasons of my favorite ballclub and #1 life passion under the helm of (...cue the Debbie Downer jingle...) Buddy Bell, the two questions in this title have been perhaps my two most burning and ponderous ones throughout this still premature offseason.  Just how much of an effect does a particular manager have on a clubhouse and - perhaps more importantly - a team's output in simple wins and losses?  Some managers are known to emphasize "little ball" fundamentals, such as hitting-and-running and bunting where he feels the situation is fit.  Classic managers such as Connie Mack, John McGraw, and perhaps to a lesser extent, Tony La Russa, have been known to implement such a style into daily baseball strategy.  On the contrary, other managers limit a team's sacrificing, and focus instead on "waiting for the three-run homer."  Earl Weaver, long considered a walking, talking prelude to the "Moneyball" theory, uncompromisingly implemented this particular style into his managerial career - and it worked, as the Orioles finished above .500 in every one of Weaver's 14 1/2 seasons at the helm - from 1968 to 1982 (before Weaver's short second tenure with the Birds).  Weaver's style worked.  Or did it?  For one glorious season, Ozzie Guillen implemented "smartball" tendencies - which supposedly combined "smallball" with "largeball" (so to say), and guided his club to a respectable, but by no means overwhelming, 741 runs.  Combine that with 137 SB's (third in the American League) and 53 sacrifice hits.  Needless to say, it worked.  Or did it?

Don't be fooled by what you may be psychologically convincing yourself.  From the naked eye, it appears that Derek Jeter can field his position at an acrobatic (read: superb) level, with range, arm strength, ability with the leather rivaled by few, if any, other Major League shortstops.  However, cold, hard stats - overwhelming but slightly controversial evidence, indeed - indicate that Jeter, for many years, actually fielded his position at a below average to poor level.  

FRAA at shortstop, before 2007:

Player          FRAA
Ozzie Smith*    272
Roy McMillan    137
Dave Concepcion*134
Cal Ripken    127
Tony Fernandez    119
Mark Belanger*    112
Omar Vizquel*    100
Luis Aparicio*    84
Alan Trammell    73
Gene Alley    72
Alex Rodriguez    58
Barry Larkin    57
Rey Ordonez    40
Zoilo Versalles    29
Maury Wills    15
Don Kessinger    -29
Larry Bowa    -32
Edgar Renteria    -69
Derek Jeter*    -118

On the contrary, Emil Brown was lauded by much of the Royals fanbase as a subpar defender, with an inconsistent glove, inaccurate throwing arm, and questionable instincts.  However, as JQ posted, Emil Brown has actually improved as an outfielder, now ranking at about league average.

Emil's Range Factor/Revised Zone Rating/E-total(taken from JQ's post):

2.05/.650/12 (2005, RF)
2.13/.915/9 (2006, LF)
2.40/.843/9 (2007, LF)

(Modest but overall improved numbers for "E-7")

As fans, are our own two eyes that misleading?  Or are, perhaps, the statistics?  Nonetheless, does that much disparity exist between how managers are perceived?  Because if so, neither Cox nor LaRussa might not be considered the uber-wizards they are today.

No Major League manager has ever held one particular defined theory of baseball - whether from the "scouting" perspective, the "sabermetric" perspective, or any other perspective.  It's not that simple.  Rather, the majority of big-league managers, today at least, operate from their own individual but highly uniform standpoint.  Sure, some managers get criticized for maneuvering against statistics from time to time - Reds manager Dusty Baker and ex-Royals manager Buddy Bell being two of them - but, as suggested above - 1) are their perceived blunders simply our own two eyes distorting the truth?...and 2) how can we ensure Joe Torre wouldn't have made that same move?  Some statistics argue, that in particular circumstances, even Torre would have penciled Jason LaRue in the "C" slot approximately 35% of the time in 2007, and even Cox would have used reliever Jimmy Gobble in crucial late-inning lefty/lefty situations with runners on base, when his career peripherals suggest that he pitches righties better, especially with no runners on base?

Throughout the previous umpteen - mostly miserable - Royals seasons, the Royals have underachieved in relation to their Pythagorean win-loss record.  One can argue that their personnel have also underachieved based on their talent level, and others can argue that a number of Royals personnel - players like Matt Diaz, Terrence Long, David McCarty, and Jason LaRue to name a few - have been grossly misused in the past, which perhaps have lead to skewed final results for our ballclub.  Since managers Bob Boone, Tony Muser, Tony Pena (sans-2003), and Buddy Bell have been under constant intense scrutiny by the Royals faithful, are they seriously responsible for this disparity - or at least a small fraction of it?

Year / W-L Record / Pyth W-L Record

2007 / 69-93 / 74-88
2006 / 62-100 / 63-99
2005 / 56-106 / 62-100
2004 / 58-104 / 64-98
2003 / 83-79 / 78-84
2002 / 62-100 / 67-95
2001 / 65-97 / 69-93
2000 / 77-85 / 77-85
1999 / 64-97 / 75-86
1998 / 72-89 / 64-97
1997 / 67-94 / 74-87
1996 / 75-86 / 77-84
1995 / 70-74 / 66-78

A combined 29 games under our Pythagorean W-L!

However, one must note that it's possible even the "greatest" managers in the game today - names such as Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa - would have implemented our players in nearly the same manner Buddy Bell or Tony Pena would have.  It's possible, correct?  Managerial skill is such an arbitrary measurement that those cold, hard stats to determine skill can be misused.  In the chapter of Baseball Between The Numbers, a book written by Jonah Keri and several of Baseball Prospectus' team of experts, one study concludes that managers hardly make a significant difference in a ballclub's output.  (Should you need a link or further reference, e-mail me from my RR profile...or just buy the book!).

Managerial skill is as much, if not more, subjective than objective.  Handling - and in many cases, nurturing, a player's personal psyche (Zack Greinke?), coaxing as much spunk out of a certain player (Ross Gload?), making adjustments on a particular swing (Alex Gordon?), and enhancing a pitcher's delivery (De La Rosa?) is every bit as vital as pinch-hitting the right person for Tony Pena in the eighth inning of a one-run game.  Which is exactly why RoyalsReview, NHZ, RoyalsRetro, or myself are probably ill-qualified to manage a Major League squad (I would presume?).  We might operate by the numbers, but can we, at the necessary time, make the necessary fundamental adjustments in players themselves?  (No offense intended to any of these RR members smirk)

As an avid baseball fan, I have long held the belief that such a "Central Casting" manager (of which RoyalsReview mentions in a previous post) can hold a significant and possibly profound difference in the output of a ballclub.  I don't need statistics to convince me that certain managers are better qualified than others.  Using Grimsley, a pitcher who constantly struggled with runners on base, in crucial situations is an unfounded idea.  Batting a .150/.200/.250 hitting backstop 35% of the time is a bad idea.  Starting an already-peaked Terrence Long over a much-deserving .360 hitter in Omaha is a bad idea.  Changing Buck's hitting stance in the midst of a torrid, 6-homer April is a bad idea.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  No, managers generally can not concoct magic and force Tony Pena and Joey Gathright to hit 25 homers and steal 50 bases a year with great accuracy.  It ain't gonna happen, folks.  Therefore, I believe true managerial skill involves nothing more than simply getting the most out of your 25 men.  Most - if not all - managers will not get the absolute most out of their men, but rather a majority of their potential output.

Many managers, such as Lou Pineilla, Joe Torre, and Dusty Baker, do not retain the same skill over a consistent time period.  For example, Tigers manager Jim Leyland, long considered an intelligent Supreme Being for guiding his team to the promised land only one year into his tenure and one full season after a disappointing 70-92 showing with many of the same players, must have recaptured that same skillful prowess that led the 1992-1993 Pittsburgh Pirates to the postseason?  As writer Jon Heyman explains, Jim Leyland, simply "didn't have the heart" in his short tenure with the Colorado Rockies, where he finished 72-90 in 1999.  Did he really just say "screw it, I'm winging this bitch" after signing that contract with Colorado?!  Quite doubtful.  And that's evidence that players - those who throw, hit, field, hurl, thwack, scoop, ole, fling, lob, and sometimes butcher baseballs on the diamond - have a much greater impact than that grizzly, mustached, surly ol' fart sitting in the dugout.

To place an estimate as to how many games, say, Buddy Bell potentially cost the Royals in 2007 would be daunting and almost fundamentally impossible from a statistical standpoint because of how much goes into managerial skill beyond simply in-game tactical decisions.  Did Buddy Bell order John Buck to change his swing?  Did Bell order McClure to halt Jorge De La Rosa from throwing his changeup?  Did Bell "accidentally" place laxatives in Justin Huber's water three hours before all but three September games?

In conclusion, nobody has learned anything from reading this article.  Just kidding.  Perhaps it was a colossal waste of your time, and perhaps you learned that there's another baseball fan out there - somewhere - who believes that from a statistical standpoint, managerial analysis leaves much to be desired.  As an amateur stathead at heart, I can only long for the days where those cold, hard numbers can predictably and accurately measure "x" person's ability as a manager.  Until then, we'll have to settle on "what would Sparky Anderson have done in that situation?"  Until we discover a true empirical statistical means of analysis, it's all speculation for the RR faithful.

But speculate we must!

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.