August 28, 2012
What the New Skippers Have Done
Every year, the new edition of the Baseball Prospectus annual contains a comment about every major-league manager. These comments typically run 200-250 words, which means that each one makes up a very small part of a chapter that runs close to 10,000. But the manager comments might be the part of the book most dreaded by BP authors, so much so that some authors have been known to turn in their chapters without a manager comment and disavow all knowledge that manager comments exist or that they were supposed to do one.
There’s a pretty simple reason why manager comments inspire such fear: it’s very difficult to say anything conclusive about people in baseball who don’t play in games. When we write comments, we like to sound smart, or failing that, at least snarky. It’s very difficult to sound either smart or snarky when we say “We don’t know.” If we said “we don’t know” as often in the rest of the book as we do in the manager comments, you might not buy it. We do track some manager statistics, but they’re less helpful than the ones we have about players. They tell us what happened, but not necessarily whether what happened was good, or even how much of it was attributable to the manager as opposed to the team. And they don’t help us at all with what happens off the field, which might be more important anyway.
So, sabermetrics has essentially shrugged its shoulders at the idea of evaluating managers, either out of necessity or because we haven’t yet cracked the code. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still have some useful things to say, once we summon the courage. Five managers were hired for the first time or switched teams at the start of this season. We’ve watched them for almost five months now, and there are a few conclusions we can draw about their basic tendencies and what might be their strengths. If you wait until early next year, you can read more about them in Baseball Prospectus 2013. But today is August 28, which means:
A) It’s almost September, when the decisions of managers on contending teams are subjected to additional scrutiny.
B) After September, it will be October, when the attention paid to managerial moves is magnified even more.
C) I’m supposed to file something.