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THT: The Manager of the Year

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com

November 26, 2008

We recently had a discussion on the Baseball Evolution message boards concerning what the criteria should be for selecting the Manager of the Year Award.  Basically, the discussion centered around whether success, overachievement, or intangibles should factor most into consideration.

Coincidentally, The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009 became available days later, and featured an article by Michael Lichtman entitled, "The Manager of the Year."  You may remember Michael Lichtman from such enterprises as developing Ultimate Zone Rating and co-authoring The Book, which uses sabermetrical analysis to evaluate playing baseball by "the book."  So it should be no surprise to learn that Lichtman chooses to use deep statistical analysis rather than guess at how well certain managers handle themselves in the clubhouse.  Actually, he has very little choice once he cites the actual criteria from MLB:  The Manager of the Year Award is supposedly awarded to "the Major League manager who takes the talent given to him by team owner and accomplishes more than expected."

Of course, you can still approach this from several avenues.  For my own balloting (had I an actual voice), I could simply compare my pre-season predictions to the actual 2008 standings and see which teams achieved more than I had anticipated.  By this rudimentary analysis, I would take Tony LaRussa (Cardinals, +15) , Freddy Gonzalez (Marlins, +14), or Cecil Cooper (Astros, +12) as my NL Manager of the Year and Joe Maddon (Rays, +15) or Ron Gardenhire (Twins, +12) in the junior circuit.

Another option is to look at the Pythagorean differential between each manager's expected record based on runs scored and runs allowed and compare that to their actual records.  This puts Mike Scioscia (Angels +11) as the runaway favorite in the AL and Cecil Cooper (Astros, +9) as the easy National League choice.  You could take this even further by looking at the components of runs scored and difficulty of competition.  Baseball Prospectus does this (calling them third-order wins), but the results don't really change: Scioscia (+16) and Cooper (+10) once again blow away their peers.   

But yeah, you guessed it: Lichtman goes even deeper than all of that.  Still, it's in a very similar vein:

I am going to evaluate the talent of each team going into the season, based on some rough estimates of personnel and playing time (I used Baseball Prospectusí preseason depth charts). Then Iím going to evaluate each team by using the actual playing time of each player instead of projected playing time. In both cases, Iíll calculate each teamís runs scored and runs allowed using my preseason projections for each player. Based on that, and their schedule, Iíll project each teamís wins and losses...

Iíll also show you how well each team performed in the various areas: pitching, hitting, base running and defense (the "big four") as compared to their preseason projections. This will let you see the strengths and weaknesses of your favorite team going into the season, as well as how they actually performed in each of the areas during the season. And finally, I will provide you with updated projections for each team, given the same players and identical playing time (as in 2008), so that you really will be an expert on your teamís chances in 2009.

Whew.  He then wrangles the teams' post-adjustment preseason projection wins, expected wins using the actual performance of those players, and Pythagorean differential into a metric for managers (taking care to use the fabled sabermetrician slight-of-hand in devaluing stolen bases:  He uses a ridiculous 72% break even point for his stolen base runs, then even after doing so, attaches twice the detriment to managers who compile negative stolen base runs than the positive attached to those who compile positive SBR).  The result is expressed in wins above or below average, but Lichtman is not so naive as to think that this is actually what it measures.  He calls it a "toy" and realizes that it is but a rough estimation of wins, unlike the wins measurement you get from pure linear weights analysis.  Here is what his "toy" had to say about the Manager of the Year candidates in both leagues:     

National League
Cooper HOU (5.2)
LaRussa STL (4.1)
Piniella CHC (3.7)
C. Manuel PHI (3.4)
Gonzalez FLO (2.9)
Yost/Sveum MIL (1.7)
Torre LAD (-.8 )
Randolph/J.Manuel NYM (-1.2)  

American League
Scioscia LAA (6.1)
Gardenhire MIN (5.1)
Maddon TBR (4.0)
Francona BOS (2.3)
Gibbons/Gaston TOR (2.1)
Guillen CWS (1.8)

All that work, and we really only got confirmation of what we had expected using our eyeball analysis.  The names at the top of these lists are the same ones that exceeded my preseason expectations, the same ones that outperformed Pythagoras, an the same ones that beat out their third-order wins.  We do learn some interesting things - Lou Piniella and Charlie Manuel probably were solid picks despite their poor showing versus Pythagoras, as they should get some extra credit for actually winning their respective divisions.  There's also a lament - All that work, and no effort was made to separate the Blue Jays, Brewers, and Mets' dual managements.  Jerry Manuel's .591 winning percentage was second only to Piniella among NL managers while Cito Gaston's .580 mark was good for fourth in the AL.  Obviously, their "toy" rankings should each be higher than the aggregate marks for Mets and Jays managers, but by how much, we cannot say.

Basically, for all the work involved in Lichtman's managerial analysis, it gives us very little that intuition and quick number-crunching provide.  Evaluating managers is but one application for Lichtman's analysis, however.  Like the winners of the Manager of the Year Award, Lichtman "accomplishes more than expected" with his research.  Using the charts in the THT article, we find that the Padres exceeded all expectations from a defensive standpoint despite completely botching the rest of their season.  We learn that Boston hitters and pitchers exceeded their expectations for runs, offsetting the fact that the team had the best record in the AL according to Pythagoras.  We learn that with average luck, before even analyzing offseason player movement (what Asher once dubbed as "pre-disposition picks") we can expect the Indians and Braves to improve while the Rays and the Astros will get worse.

Those pre-disposition picks are another one of those things we probably could have figured out for ourselves without all of the lengthy number-crunching.  Still, it's nice to have numbers attached to the ideas, especially when it's someone else shouldering all the work.

Get a copy of The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009 for $21.95 from ACTA Sports.       




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com or found at the Baseball Evolution Forum

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