BY PETER HOUSTON – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
Do you remember your reaction when the Toronto Blue Jays traded Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles for Esmil Rogers? Let me guess, it was more or less “meh, whatever.” Well your reaction to the Jays hiring John Gibbons as manager should be more or less the same.
That is not a stab at Gibbons, but more a comment on the impact that managers have on a team’s performance. Which is, you guessed it, pretty minimal.
James Click tried to quantify their impact in the 2006 book Baseball Between the Numbers. He examined in-game strategies, win-loss record relative to run differential, playing time distribution, in-game substitutions and impact on player performance. What he found was a whole lot of nothing, suggesting that managing a baseball team is pretty similar to clutch hitting, or in other words, not a repeatable skill.
Basically, performances by managers varied so much from year to year (like clutch hitting usually does) that their team’s records are probably more related to luck than anything else. Luck, in this case, being who the general manager was lucky enough to give you on your team.
Obviously, the big problem with evaluating managers is determining when calls were made by the manager. Players often decide on their own whether to bunt or steal or swing on a 3-0 pitch, so crediting or discrediting the manager for this is a little bit difficult. Another problem is when people point to a manager’s intangibles – which are by definition impossible to measure – to support his cause. They will spew narratives like “he gets the most out of his guys” which is pretty much impossible to prove/disprove.
One thing that was interesting about Click’s research, which fans of advanced statistical research in baseball will surely be familiar with, is that sacrifice bunts, stolen base attempts and intentional walks usually have a negative correlation with a team’s win probability.
None of this is meant to take anything away from the Gibbons hiring, but meant to put it in perspective. Whether you wanted Joe Torre and now think the Jays are going to miss the playoffs or you thought the Jays were a fringe contender and now think Gibbons is going to take them to the World Series, you’re getting too caught up in the manager hype.
At best, a manager is going to alter a team’s win-loss record by about one to three wins a season. It would make just as much sense to get your knickers in a twist over the guy they signed to eat up some innings in the bullpen.
More MLB: Blue Jays 2013 lineup (so far)