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Managers

What kind of players make good managers?

Let’s take a quick break from execs and pioneers and return to our friends the managers. What can we tell about managers from their playing days?

I took our collection of skippers with 1,000 or more games managed, and I removed those whose careers were all or mostly before World War II. That leaves us with 88 managers, including those still active. Now we can look demographically, if you will, at their playing careers to see what information may lurk there.

Position
There are at least two old canards about managers and their playing-years positions:

  1. Pitchers don’t make good managers
  2. Catchers do make good managers.

With 88 men our sample size isn’t very big, but below we’ll see how those clichés play out. The EXP column below is based on a 60/40 split between position players and pitchers. For this purpose, we’ll count DHes as first baseman. Each fielding position, therefore, is expected to get 7 representatives. (.6 * 88) / 8 = 6.6

POS   #MGRS  EXP     W-L      PCT.
==================================
ALL POS. AVERAGE              .515
ALL POS. MEDIAN               .508
P       4    35   3816-3716   .507
C      26     7  25739-24301  .514
1B/DH   9     7  10193-9467   .518
2B     13     7  18151-16261  .527
3B      9     7   9302-9371   .498
SS      9     7   9767-9296   .512
LF      8     7   9448-8975   .513
CF      3     7   2519-2362   .516
RF      7     7   7891-7417   .515

So what we see here is that there are many fewer pitchers than expected, many more catchers than expected, a few more second basemen than expected, and several fewer centerfielders than expected. We can also observe that pitchers do indeed have a lower winning percentage than all but one other position, though it’s hard to say whether that’s a real thing or not since it’s just four guys. Then again: Joe Kerrigan.

Only two positions are dramatically different from the group in terms of winning percentage: second base to the good, third base to the bad. Here’s the breakout:

Second base

  • Sparky Anderson: 2194-1834, .545
  • Dave Bristol: 657-764, .462 (was a minor-league second baseman)
  • Terry Collins: 840-852, .496 (minor-league second baseman)
  • Phil Garner: 985-1054, .483
  • Davey Johnson: 2013-1372, .562
  • Tony La Russa: 2728-2365, .536
  • Jerry Manuel: 704-684, .507
  • Billy Martin: 1253-1013, .553
  • Gene Mauch: 1902-2037, .483
  • Danny Murtaugh: 1115-950, .540
  • Bill Rigney: 1239-1321, .484
  • Red Schoendienst: 1041-955, .522
  • Earl Weaver: 1480-1060, .583 (was a minor-league second baseman)

Not bad. Three of the more impressive winning percentages in recent history, and a couple really long and productive careers. Now for the flipside—children may need to cover their eyes. Given how small our sample is, this could simply be random variation. Then again, here’s some conjecture. eight of these guys had either no major league appearances or were out of the big leagues very quickly. Second base is a position where if you lose a step, you’re done: you’ve already moved there because you couldn’t handle shortstop, you’re not a catcher, and you don’t have the bat to play any other position. That’s why college second baseman don’t get drafted very often, and in this case, it’s possible that baseball’s natural selection process led these guys to early exits as players, which then gave them ample time to learn managing in the minors.

Third base

  • Buddy Bell: 519-724, .418
  • Bobby Cox: 2504-2001, .556
  • Chuck Dressen: 1008-973, .509
  • Jimmy Dykes: 1406-1541, 477
  • Fred Haney: 629-757, .454
  • Pinky Higgins: 560-556, .502
  • Art Howe: 1129-1137, .498
  • Jim Riggleman: 662-824, .445 (was a minor-league third baseman)
  • Don Zimmer: 885-858, .508

A little Buddy Bell goes a long way. Without him, the third basemen are 8783-8647, .504. Still pretty bad for this group, but not as hideous. Seriously, if your team is even rumored to be interested in Buddy Bell as a manager, you should immediately switch allegiances. On the other hand, a lot of Bobby Cox goes even further. He’s the only fellow in this group who is above the average winning percentage of our 88-man pool (Dressen is jusssst above the median and Zimmer hits it exactly). Without Cox, this group goes 6798-7370, a cool .480 percentage. Maybe Robin Ventura and Matt Williams weren’t destined for greatness after all….

Major League Tenure

Well, maybe the key is being around the big-league game a whole lot. Then you know the ins and outs and can related to the players more. Setting aside the four pitchers, let’s look at the number of MLB PAs the other 84 pilots had. We’ll break them into a few groups for convenience:

PAS        #MGRS    W-L       PCT.
==================================
AVERAGE                      .515
MEDIAN                       .509
10000+       2   1584-1900   .455
7500-10000  10  11607-11038  .513
5000-7500   14  17028-15163  .529
2500-5000   13  13782-12495  .524
1000-2500   12  10999-10965  .501
500-1000     8  12226-11582  .514
1-500       14  14620-13609  .518
0           11  11164-10698  .511

This way of looking at our data shows that managers with careers of 2500–7500 PAs have won more often than those with careers of other lengths. And it’s not that close. Who are these guys?

5000–7500

  • Hank Bauer: 594-544, .522
  • Lou Boudreau: 1162-1124, .487
  • Felipe Alou: 1033-1021, .503
  • Al Dark: 994-954, .510
  • Leo Durocher: 2008-1709, .540
  • Jim Fregosi: 1028-1094, .484
  • Phil Garner: 985-1054, .483
  • Ozzie Guillen: 747-710, .513
  • Mike Hargrove: 1188-1173, .503
  • Pinky Higgins: 560-556, .502
  • Davey Johnson: 2013-1372, .562
  • Al Lopez: 1410-1004, .584
  • Steve O’Neill: 1040-821, .559
  • Lou Piniella: 1835-1713, .517
  • Mike Scioscia: 1417-1180, .546
  • Luke Sewell: 606-644, .485
  • Bill Virdon: 995-921, 519

2500–5000

  • Chuck Dressen: 1008-973, .509
  • Cito Gaston: 894-837, .516
  • Joe Girardi: 816-647, .558
  • Art Howe: 1129-1137, .498
  • Billy Martin: 1253-1013, .553
  • Danny Murtaugh: 1115-950, .540
  • Buck Rodgers: 784-774, .503
  • Billy Southworth: 1044-704, .597
  • Casey Stengel: 1905-1842, .508
  • Birdie Tebbets: 748-705, .515
  • Harry Walker: 630-604, .511
  • Dick Williams: 1571-1451, .520
  • Don Zimmer: 885-858, .508

I’m not sure what to make of this, quite frankly. I might speculate that good players last longer and may have a coaching/knowledge component to their skillset, but Ted Williams famously didn’t. It’s not quite so simple. I’m stumped, but with small numbers of managers, we might simply be seeing variation at work. And speaking of good players, our final piece of manager demography is what caliber of player these managers were on the field.

WAR   #MGRS     W-L       PCT.
===============================
AVERAGE                  .515
MEDIAN                   .508
40+      9   9828-9898   .498
25-40   10  11293-10441  .520
10-25   12  13409-11973  .528
0-10    29  31260-29817  .512
0       12  13204-12311  .517
0-(10)  16  17832-16726  .516

As we might have expected, this way of looking at things mirrors what we saw in our previous view. Better players get more PAs and rack up more value. This time, though, the 10–25 WAR group stands out a little more from the pack. Let’s have a look at them:

10–25ers

  • Bud Black: 649-713, .477
  • Roger Craig: 738-737, .500
  • Charlie Grimm: 1287-1067, .547
  • Ozzie Guillen: 747-710, .513
  • Art Howe: 1129-1137, .498
  • Al Lopez: 1410-1004, .584
  • Steve O’Neill: 1040-821, .559
  • Lou Piniella: 1835-1713, .517
  • Billy Southworth: 1044-704, .597
  • Casey Stengel: 1905-1842, .508
  • Bill Virdon: 995-921, 519
  • Harry Walker: 630-604, .511

Again, there’s not much to distinguish these folks from other groups. There’s shorter and longer careers. NL and AL guys. There’s infielders, outfielders, catchers, and pitchers. Curiously there are no second basemen. There’s guys who started in the 1930s and the 2000s.

Conclusions? Ha!

What are we supposed to take from all this? In one sense we could say that Davey Johnson is probably just about the person of best fit for what we’ve seen. He’s a second baseman, his career WAR total is 27.5 (just above the 10–25 group we discussed a moment ago), and his PA total falls into the 5000–7000 range. In all those ways, he’s a member of subgroups that have the highest winning percentages among the 88 men with 1000 games managed. Beyond that, I got nuthin’. I thought maybe we’d see something, but there’s little to connect success in the dugout to success on the field.

And maybe that’s about right? With the possible exception of catchers, baseball players aren’t selected for their soft skills, their people skills. They are selected for specific athletic attributes. Soft skills may well be randomly distributed among the populace and among ballplayers (again with the possible exception of catchers). In which case, the data we’ve just looked at make perfect sense by making little if any sense.

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