20 May 2014

The Value of a Buck

Last Saturday, Buck Showalter left the Orioles to see his daughter graduate from law school. While Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy was hammered in the sports world for missing games for the birth of his daughter, there has been little negative about Showalter taking time off for arguably a lesser family affair. One reason may be that after the reaction Murphy received, members of the sports media realized that perhaps they went to a little off the deep end. Another reason could be that the gulf between Murphy and his backup, Eric Young Jr., is much greater than the difference between Showalter and bench coach John Russell. Russell was at the helm for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2008 through 2010 for a grand total of 486 games - or 82 more than the number under Young’s belt.

However, to be assured of a competent level of performance in the dugout by the experience of a person as a manager is a mighty large assumption. Over the years, we have witnessed many a manager racking up a few seasons of scribbling lineup cards who appeared to not help out the club all that much. One of the difficulties in figuring out the value of a manager is that his actions are difficult to separate from those of the players.

For instance, Joe Torre was considered a good tactician when it came to managing a bullpen, but much of that was due to having a guy like Mariano Rivera sitting out there. At Camden Depot, we tried to tackle this question by looking at projections. We compiled them from 2003 through 2013. Projected wins were compared with actual wins and those differences were attributed to the managers.

First, we decided to check and see how many seasons of data it took to make as accurate as possible. What we found was pretty remarkable. One season’s worth of data explained roughly 40 percent of year-to-year differences from the projected win total. If we compare two years of managerial data to two years, we wind up with a little above 70 percent, and the metric does not appear to improve from there. In other words, two years of data appears sufficient to describe a manager’s ability to perform against what is expected of his team by projection models.

Second, we wondered if these numbers were actually a function of the general manager. Within our data set, we had 24 managers who spent two seasons with one general manager and then two with another general manager. We compared those records and found that almost 80 percent of the difference could be attributed directly to what the manager brought to the club. This way to measure a manager’s ability seems strangely legitimate.

Now I am not ready to declare a victory here, but it certainly gives us a tool that shows some semblance of being useful in describing the value of a manager. So, going back to the original thought, should we expect the team to perform any differently under John Russell? Well, Russell and Showalter are both in our data set and both have more than two years of experience in that data set. Based on our study, Showalter was the eighth-best manager and was worth 4.1 wins above projected per season. Russell was the second-worst manager on our list and was worth minus-7.7 wins above projected per season. The puts Showalter as being worth 11.8 wins more than Russell over a whole season.

For a single game, well, we will have to use some math that I won’t share here for brevity’s sake, but try to trust me that a win is worth about 9.6 runs this year. That would suggest that a team under Showalter would perform 113 runs better than one led by Russell (those runs can come from increased offensive, defensive, or pitching performances). If accurate, the difference between the two is astronomical. That means with Russell in charge, the Orioles might be in the hole 0.7 runs per game. Last year, that was the difference between nine innings of Scott Feldman and nine innings of Jason Hammel.

I would not say that Showalter would have been able to lead the club to a win in the game where Russell was in charge, but I will say that I feel more comfortable now that Buck is back in the dugout.

No comments: