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Monday, April 25, 2005

The measure of a manager

In this spring of discontent, every member of the Royals' brain trust is under heightened scrutiny, none more so than manager Tony Pena.

For baseball managers, it's the nature of the beast. When a team falls short of perceived expectation, the chorus will shout, "Bring me the head of the manager."

The Royals have been remarkably patient in this regard during the Glass family/Allard Baird regime.

Former skipper Tony Muser posted the lowest winning percentage in team history among the ten managers (prior to Pena) who managed at least a season's worth of games. Yet only Dick Howser managed more games in a Royals' uniform.

Through Sunday, Tony Pena has compiled a career .416 winning percentage. That's eight points worse than Muser.

Of course, this only tells us so much. What kind of players has Pena had to work with? Have an inordinate amount of players been injured? Wins and losses only tell us a part of the story when evaluating a manager.

Unfortunately, there is no generally accepted method for measuring a manager's contribution to the bottom line. But that doesn't mean that there aren't indicators that we can look at. Perhaps looking at a variety of categories can yield something close to an empirical truth.

Let's start with five abstract "responsibilities" for a baseball manager. We'll rank the categories in importance, with the most important being worth five times the least important and so on. We'll then select a metric for each area that suggests ability one way or another. Then we'll rank each manager in each category and tally up the rankings. It's like a managerial BCS.

Here are the categories, ranked from most important to least important:

* MEETING EXPECTATIONS: The general manager sets the roster. The roster has a collective performance record that can be analyzed, thus yielding reasonable expectation for victories. It's up to the manager to meet these expectations. DiamondMind Baseball is the consensus king of baseball simulations. Thankfully, the DMB staff publishes their projected standings each spring, so we'll use these to establish our win expectancy.

* MAXIMIZING TALENT: Most would agree that getting the most from the hand you are dealt is a key measure of a manager. To do this, we'll look at how teams have over or under performed in relation to the record they should have posted based on run differential (i.e., the Pythagorean record).

* MATCHING TACTICS: It's a controversial topic but Bill James created a method for evaluating managers based on performance in one-run games. We'll put that to use.

* TEACHING: This is probably the area where Pena gets the most criticism. There is no perfect measure of a team's fundamentals. James has used double plays-to-errors ratio to approach this problem. We'll do the same here.

* RISK MANAGEMENT: How does a manager oversee his baserunners? We'll look at percentage of baserunners squandered, using a Stat Guy method introduced last season.

A couple of qualifications are in order. We'll give Pena a pass for the end of the 2002 season, when he took over mid-stream for Muser. So we're measuring from the beginning of the 2003 season through games on Sunday.

We'll only look at managers who have been active during that entire period. There are 19 such managers. Also, prior to the study, you would expect a natural bias towards teams with better players. We'll see how it plays out.

Expectations

The top of the rankings are largely populated by the most successful teams of the last couple of years. But not entirely. Devil Rays' manager Lou Piniella has consistently outperformed expectations during the period of this study but the Devil Rays have not been anywhere close to .500.

Sure-fire Hall of Famer Bobby Cox is at the top of the list with 26 wins above expectation. As for Pena, the news is not good. Only Colorado manager Clint Hurdle has done worse. The Royals are nine wins below expectation under Pena through Sunday.

ACTUAL WINS VS. EXPECTED WINS


2003"

2004"

2005"


Manager

EXP

W

EXP

W

EXP

W

NET

B.Cox

86

101

86

96

10

11

26

J.Tracy

82

85

77

93

10

13

22

L.Piniella

54

63

64

70

7

8

16

B.Showalter

73

71

72

89

9

10

16

F.Alou

90

100

87

91

9

8

13

J.Torre

86

101

101

101

11

8

12

T.LaRussa

89

85

92

105

10

12

11

R.Gardenhire

90

90

83

92

9

10

10

L.McClendon

71

75

67

72

7

6

8

D.Baker

81

88

90

89

9

9

6

K.Macha

95

96

92

91

9

9

0

A.Trammell

56

43

61

72

8

7

(3)

F.Robinson

78

83

77

67

9

10

(4)

E.Wedge

73

68

78

80

9

8

(4)

B.Bochy

72

64

83

87

9

8

(5)

D.Miley

77

69

75

76

7

9

(5)

M.Scioscia

91

77

86

92

9

11

(6)

T.Pena

70

83

78

58

7

5

(9)

C.Hurdle

86

74

73

68

7

6

(18)

KEY: EXP - expected wins for season, based on DiamondMind Baseball's preseason projections; W - actual wins; NET - total differential between expected wins and actual wins.

Getting the most out of your talent

There is a surprise winner in this category: Cincinnati's unassuming Dave Miley is 17 wins above the expectations set by the Pythagorean formula. However, most of the managers with good reputations have migrated to the top of the list.

Under Pena, the Royals have under performed by one win based on their run differential. That puts him in the middle of the pack.

MAXIMIZING PERFORMANCE

2003"

2004"

2005"


Manager

EXP

W

EXP

W

EXP

W

NET

D.Miley

63

69

67

76

7

9

17

J.Torre

96

101

89

101

9

8

16

F.Alou

93

100

88

91

8

8

10

R.Gardenhire

85

90

87

92

10

10

10

J.Tracy

83

85

89

93

11

13

8

K.Macha

94

96

86

91

8

9

8

B.Cox

96

101

95

96

12

11

5

B.Showalter

69

71

87

89

9

10

5

F.Robinson

80

83

67

67

8

10

5

T.LaRussa

88

85

100

105

11

12

3

L.McClendon

76

75

74

72

4

6

(1)

T.Pena

78

83

64

58

5

5

(1)

L.Piniella

68

63

68

70

7

8

(2)

M.Scioscia

80

77

91

92

11

11

(2)

D.Baker

85

88

94

89

10

9

(3)

B.Bochy

66

64

87

87

10

8

(4)

E.Wedge

73

68

81

80

9

8

(7)

C.Hurdle

78

74

73

68

7

6

(10)

A.Trammell

49

43

79

72

10

7

(16)

KEY: EXP - expected wins for season, based on Bill James' Pythagoreum theory, which projects a team's wins and losses based on its run differential; W - actual wins; NET - total differential between expected wins and actual wins.

Performance in one-run games

The full explanation of James' method is here: http://www.diamond-mind.com/articles/james_onerun.htm. In a nutshell, the method calculates the expected won-loss record in one-run games based on overall runs scored and runs allowed. The difference between the expected record and the actual record is our measurement.

Miley wins another category. The Reds' performance in one-run encounters is likely the explanation of why the team has outperformed its run profile in recent years, so that is not really surprising. Some of the managers with reputations as masterful tacticians, like Tony LaRussa, don't fare as well as you'd expect. Pena again posts a negative score in relation to expectation.

Measuring managers by this criterion is questionable. Taken by itself, any conclusion here could be misleading. Much of the success in one-run games is often attributed to strong bullpens. Even more is attributed to luck.

However, when you hear the relative virtues of a manager being discussed, the record in one-run games is usually going to come up. This approach looks at the question rationally and gives us further grist for our mill.

ONE-RUN PERFORMANCE

2003"

2004"

2005"


Manager

W

EXP

W

EXP

W

EXP

NET

D.Miley

30

23

25

21

6

4

13.8

J.Tracy

26

25

32

25

2

2

8.4

K.Macha

25

24

33

27

3

3

7.2

B.Bochy

21

19

25

21

2

2

6.5

J.Torre

22

20

24

21

3

3

5.9

R.Gardenhire

22

22

24

21

4

4

4.0

L.Piniella

23

24

17

17

4

2

1.5

B.Showalter

17

17

24

22

4

4

1.2

F.Alou

28

21

18

22

1

2

1.2

L.McClendon

24

25

20

22

2

1

-2.4

B.Cox

17

23

27

24

3

3

-2.9

E.Wedge

15

19

26

23

3

5

-2.9

T.LaRussa

14

20

29

27

4

3

-3.3

T.Pena

18

20

14

15

2

3

-3.3

M.Scioscia

16

18

19

21

5

5

-3.9

D.Baker

27

23

19

26

2

3

-4.0

C.Hurdle

17

19

16

19

1

0

-4.7

F.Robinson

22

23

16

21

3

2

-4.9

A.Trammell

19

15

12

19

1

3

-5.5

KEY: EXP - expected wins for season in one-run games, based on a Bill James' formula; W - actual one-run wins; NET - total differential between expected wins and actual wins.

Fundamentals

Errors and double plays - two obvious manifestations of fundamental baseball. But does molding the two into a ratio really say anything about a manager?

By keeping this category in the study, we are, in essence, saying that the manager is responsible for what happens on the field. If the fielders are failing, well, the manager put them there.

At the same time, it must be acknowledged that the year-to-year correlation of double plays-to-errors from team to team is not as high as we'd like. Since we're dealing with relatively rare events, we are at the mercy of sample size limitations. So take the results of this category with a grain of salt.

Our man Miley turns up dead last in this area. Pena is 17th out of 19. So far in 2005, the Royals have turned 13 double plays and committed 20 errors, for a ratio of 0.65. In 2003 and 2004, no team had a ratio less than 1.00.

Our two leaders in double plays-to-errors are a pair of venerable potential Hall of Famers - Felipe Alou and Tony LaRussa.

DOUBLE PLAYS / ERRORS RATIO

2003

2004

2005

TOTAL

Manager

Ratio

Ratio

Ratio

Ratio

F.Alou

2.04

1.51

1.14

1.703

T.LaRussa

1.79

1.59

2.00

1.692

C.Hurdle

1.42

1.81

2.00

1.615

K.Macha

1.36

1.89

1.56

1.599

F.Robinson

1.49

1.74

1.33

1.596

J.Tracy

1.38

1.99

1.00

1.568

L.McClendon

1.29

1.83

1.50

1.538

B.Showalter

1.79

1.30

1.23

1.500

D.Baker

1.48

1.47

1.69

1.488

R.Gardenhire

1.31

1.56

1.58

1.455

B.Cox

1.37

1.47

2.00

1.448

E.Wedge

1.41

1.43

1.00

1.394

M.Scioscia

1.31

1.40

1.25

1.348

B.Bochy

1.38

1.35

1.00

1.345

J.Torre

1.11

1.49

2.09

1.326

L.Piniella

1.53

1.17

0.94

1.310

T.Pena

1.32

1.29

0.65

1.255

A.Trammell

1.41

1.11

1.15

1.251

D.Miley

1.08

1.09

2.00

1.114

Risk management

In this category, we first estimate the number of baserunners for each team by taking on-base percentage times plate appearances. Then we calculate runners squandered by subtracting runs scored and runners left on base.

What remains are the players who disappeared by means of a caught stealing, a double play or by failing on an attempt to take an extra base. Divide runners squandered by total base runners and you have the percentage of baserunners squandered.

It's debatable whether or not this should be the one-point category but, for the time being, it is. What's interesting is that among the leaders in this statistic are the members of baseball's managerial pantheon. Cox, LaRussa, Piniella, Torre and Alou all rank highly in this area.

The leaders are a pair of managers who are conservative with the running game - Ken Macha and Buck Showalter. Tony Pena is in the middle of the pack, just below the overall average. While Showalter stands head and shoulders above the pack, no one is really too far below the group at the bottom of the rankings.

It's also interesting to note that Ron Gardenhire ranks second-to-last in this statistic. He's obviously led his team to some success anyway.

PERCENTAGE OF BASERUNNERS SQUANDERED

2003

2004

2005

TOTAL

Manager

SQR

SQR

SQR

SQR

B.Showalter

5.3

4.9

3.8

5.0

K.Macha

6.2

6.7

3.2

6.3

B.Cox

6.7

6.5

9.0

6.7

J.Torre

7.6

7.1

3.3

7.1

T.LaRussa

7.5

7.2

2.9

7.2

F.Alou

7.3

7.3

5.9

7.3

L.Piniella

7.2

7.2

9.0

7.3

D.Miley

7.4

7.3

9.6

7.5

D.Baker

8.0

7.3

5.8

7.6

C.Hurdle

7.0

8.5

7.7

7.7

J.Tracy

8.0

7.7

6.1

7.8

B.Bochy

8.8

7.2

5.6

7.9

T.Pena

7.8

8.2

7.1

8.0

L.McClendon

7.8

8.1

8.1

8.0

M.Scioscia

9.8

8.3

4.6

8.8

F.Robinson

9.1

8.5

8.7

8.8

A.Trammell

10.0

8.2

7.0

9.0

R.Gardenhire

8.8

9.4

10.5

9.2

E.Wedge

9.6

9.2

5.5

9.2

KEY: SQR - estimated percentage of baserunners lost on basepaths

The overall results of our study are indicated by the accompanying chart. A more thorough examination of each area can be found on the Stat Guy Blog, at. THIS IS FOR THE PRINT VERSION

Tally it all up and Tony Pena is tied for 16th out of the 19 managers who have been employed since the beginning of 2003. At the top of the list are have pretty solid reputations - Jim Tracy is on top, followed by Felipe Alou, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox. Ranking fifth is Buck Showalter, who lost out on the Royals' job when Pena was hired in 2002.

It's tough to say whether the list is actually biased towards the better teams, as was anticipated. Showalter comes in fifth despite guiding a team that has not made the playoffs over the span of this study. Also, Mike Scioscia, who has led some very successful squads, ranks near the bottom.

What does all this say about Tony Pena? The answer to that question really depends upon how much stock you put in the criteria used to compile these rankings.

Pena comes up short in across the board - by the numbers. If you believe in the numbers then you're already a member of our aforementioned chorus.

However, if you think these numbers are malarkey, then you must rely on what you see. Fair enough. The question for you, then, is this:

What do your eyes tell you?

Manager rankings

Manager

Exp

Max

1-run

Fund

Base

Total

1

J.Tracy

90

60

54

28

9

241

2

F.Alou

75

68

33

38

14

228

3

J.Torre

70

72

45

10

16

213

4

B.Cox

95

52

27

18

17

209

5

B.Sh0walter

80

48

36

24

19

207

6

K.Macha

45

56

51

32

18

202

7

R.Gardenhire

60

64

42

20

2

188

8

T.LaRussa

65

40

21

36

15

177

9

L.Piniella

85

28

39

8

13

173

10

D.Miley

20

76

57

2

12

167

11

L.McClendon

55

36

30

26

6

153

12

F.Robinson

35

44

6

30

4

119

13

D.Baker

50

20

12

22

11

115

14

B.Bochy

25

16

48

12

8

109

15

E.Wedge

30

12

24

16

1

83

16

M.Scioscia

15

24

15

14

5

73

16 (tie)

T.Pena

10

32

18

6

7

73

18

C.Hurdle

5

8

9

34

10

66

19

A.Trammell

40

4

3

4

3

54

KEY: The numbers listed in each column represent the score for each manager in that category. Managers are ranked on a 19-18-17, etc. basis in each category. The score for the most important category is multiplied by five, the next most by four and so on. Categories are as follows: Exp - expected wins vs. actual wins; Max - win as predicted by team's run profile vs. actual wins; 1-run - actual wins in one-run games vs. expected wins; Fund - double plays to errors ratio; Base - percentage of baserunners squandered.

NOTE: astute reader Ray from Washington noticed an error in the overall standings. Tony Pena should have had a 6 in DP:E ratio. There was a bad cell in my spreadsheet. I re-checked everything and that appears to be the only faux paus. It's a small error but it does move Pena into a tie for 16th. My thanks go out to Ray.