People like to talk about baseball managers, about Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. The talk focuses almost entirely on who is a good manager and who is a lousy manager. The average fan has a one-dimensional image of a manager. He's good or he's bad. If he's real good, he's a genius. If he's real bad, he's an idiot.
When the discussion turns to why a manager is good or why he is bad, you realize how little solid information is being used. On a talk show, 97 percent of all explanations as to why the local manager is an idiot will begin with the words "Well, one time he ..."
--Bill James, "The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers" (1997)
Not a lot has changed since Bill wrote that 17 years ago. We know how many revolutions per second Colin McHugh gets on his curveball, but the discourse on managers hasn't advanced a whole lot. Yes, this gets us to Ned Yost and I'm including myself in this criticism, picking out an isolated moment the other day -- and important moment, true, but still one decision in a season of countless decisions -- and hammering Yost for it.
Here's a more nuanced piece from Mike Petriello of FanGraphs, looking at Yost's bullpen usage. It's sort of a defense of Yost, at least in the sense that Yost isn't really doing anything unusual:
It’s easy to find complaints about every single manager's bullpen decisions, and maybe that's the point. Yost, it seems, has some obvious issues with bullpen management. He's also very likely not really an outlier here, and he’s perhaps just an easier target because he’s got a history as being a manager fired from a first-place team in September, and because he recently (and inexplicably) called out his own fans.
Of course, you can argue that a manager makes his mark in games like the one on Sunday, when a key decision -- one that may force a manager to go slightly outside his comfort zone or regular pattern -- can decide a game. Bill James, I suppose, would suggest that still just circles us back to the way fans complain about their local idiot manager.
In his book, James wrote, "There is one indispensable quality of a baseball manager. The manager must be able to command the respect of his players. This is absolute; everything else is negotiable." Tony La Russa, the new Diamondbacks' chief baseball officer, recently said the same thing, that a front office can't interfere with a manager's in-game decisions or the manager loses the respect of the clubhouse. (Which isn't saying a smart front office can't help to properly prepare a manager prior to a game.)
Of course, it's those in-game decisions we primarily focus on. Ned Yost has managed 11 years in the major leagues. I find it hard to believe he'd have lasted this long if his bosses believed his players didn't respect him. So if that is the most important attribute of a manager, maybe Yost is a success in that area.
That doesn't mean in-game decisions aren't important. But how do you evaluate a manager on such things, without getting into isolated moments? How do you separate him from his environment? Here's an example. Most sabermetricians will tell you that bunting is usually a poor strategy, that outs are too precious to give away. Most sabermetricians will also say that Joe Maddon is one of the best managers in the game. Well, here's an interesting column from August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs in late August pointing out that Madden's Rays have attempted the most sacrifice bunts in the AL this season. (They still lead with 68 attempts entering Tuesday; Terry Francona's Indians have the second-most with 60, the same Francona who rarely bunted in Boston.)
Does that mean Maddon has become a bad strategist? Has he simply adapted to a different environment?
So how many wins is a manager worth each season? When you factor in everything ... I'm not sure we really know. My guess is it's small, maybe five wins between a manager who pushes all the right buttons and a bad manager who makes all the wrong moves, plays the wrong players, doesn't communicate or uses Aaron Crow to pitch to Daniel Nava (sorry, cheap shot).
There's also this: If a good manager was worth more wins (I think La Russa once said a good manager is worth seven wins), wouldn't they be paid more than utility infielders?
And this: If Ned Yost was a horrible, bumbling idiot, the Royals probably wouldn't be 82-67.
What do you think? How many wins is a good manager worth?