Does It Matter Who Your Manager Is?

The strange thing is that it’s not like this doesn’t happen from time to time, and the manager sometimes wins. Yankee fans should be familiar with this right now, as one of the more obvious examples in recent history was Ozzie Guillen’s open disdain for Nick Swisher when Swish was with the White Sox. That feud ended with Ken Williams under so much pressure to get Swisher out of town, he traded Swish to the Yankees in what may well go down as one of the most lopsided trades in a generation in any major American sport. Needless to say, things have gone much better for Swish since 2008 than they have for the White Sox.

There’s no real point to this, I guess, other than my own observation that managers are wildly over valued in baseball these days. Sure, there was a time when managers wielded an enormous influence over the success of their teams, but that was a time in which the role of the manager was much different. Today they’re no longer principally responsible for roster construction or signing talent, they’re basically relegated to making on-field decisions. And because baseball isn’t a sport that’s highly receptive to coaching decisions’ impact on the game, this means that managers just don’t have much chance to impact the outcome of the game and, to the extent they do, they’re much more likely to hurt the their team than help them. And yet,we still act like managers are savants, and there’s at least a possibility that Tony LaRussa will run a promising centerfielder who can hit and won’t be eligible for arbitration 2012 out of town. It’s just very bizarre to me that more teams haven’t realized the limited marginal value of a manager.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

8 thoughts on “Does It Matter Who Your Manager Is?

  1. We lawyers like to say that you can’t really win your case at oral argument, but you can certainly lose your case there.  Much the same is true for managing in baseball — you can’t often manage a bad team to a win, but you can frequently manage a good team to a loss.

    Does anyone else remember the time La Russa let his starting pitcher bat for himself in the ninth inning of a tied elimination game?  Yeah.

  2. but you can frequently manage a good team to a loss.
    Girardi gave it his best try last October but Arod, CC, Jeter, Mo and company said ‘not going to happen’.

  3. Why don’t you go ask the Baltimore Orioles if it matters who their manager is…

    … i’m 100% scared of Buck Showalter’s crew next season, just based on the last 3 weeks.

  4. Exactly what I was thinking of, Brian R.  Perhaps he’ll do better this October, but I absolutely agree that the Yankees won the 2009 World Series in spite of him, not because of him.  And that’s no fun to write, because I like Joe Girardi as a person and would like to be able to root for him more enthusiastically.
    Glenn G., I think Buck is an above-average manager, and I can buy the idea that he is smart and determined enough in how he goes about his job to add a win or two over the course of a long season, but if the Orioles somehow improve to a winning record next year (which I very much doubt), it won’t be primarily because of him.
    I generally subscribe to the view that a baseball manager’s job is to manage personalities and not make stupid mistakes.  Anything beyond that is at the margins.

  5. I think everyone is right here.  On fair to good teams a manager can’t really help much but can definitely put a torpedo into a good squad.  However on a bad team managing and coaching can restore hustle, teach fundamentals to young guys and steal a few games by being aggressive.

  6. I wonder if the Orioles performance under Buck suggests that they were playing significantly under what they were capable of and are actually closer to the Blue Jays in performance than their record shows.  Having him for a whole season will be able to make a better determination on that, but there are a lot of variables that will come into play that Buck will have minimal or no control over.  (Injuries and front-office moves come to mind.)
    With that said, I do believe that it is easier to spot the negatives of a particular manager’s ability with a team than the positives.

  7. That’s a good point Moose. I don’t know that I think a great manager can do much to help a bad team, but I see where it could make a difference for a young team.

  8. Supposedly when Lou Piniella took over in Seattle, he went a long way to changing the attitudes in the clubhouse. As perennial losers, that mentality had taken hold in the clubhouse. Anyone who wasn’t on board with Lou’s firery detrmination to win was jettisoned. Now its clear that talent (Griffey, Edgar, Randy, Jay) had a lot to do with the M’s success under Lou, but what if those players were surrounded by a group of beaten down vets who no longer cared about winning?

    In Baltimore, I heard yesterday one of the players quoted as saying they got scared when Buck came in, that they knew they were playing for their jobs now. As much as I love Buck, it seems likely that a similar effect would have happened no matter who the owners brought in, so long as it was done with the same basic framework – a guy who would be there for a few years who is supposed to turn the team around. The players clearly didn’t take their previous managers seriously, but the owners sent a clear message to them that their jobs were on the line.