This may shock some people, but according to some of our advanced metrics here at Baseball Prospectus, Ted Williams was actually one of the greatest hitters ever to live. Really. Williams, of course, was the last human being to hit .400 in a season and was said to have 20/15 vision. After he retired from playing, Williams eventually accepted the position of manager with the then-Washington Senators, but famously was frustrated by the position. As the manager, one of his jobs was to help his players to get better, and who better to teach them to hit than one of the greatest hitters ever to live? It’s just that Williams, while he was gifted in the art of hitting himself, lacked the ability to understand that not everyone is Ted Williams when it comes to hitting.
We get to ask the question "What was wrong with Ted Williams?" about as often as my mother-in-law… oh, hi Mamochek! Didn’t see you over there. Not only that, but eventually I’m going to show that Ozzie Guillen was better than Ted Williams. Keep reading. (Except you, Mamocheck.)
The manager of a team has three (main) jobs. He is responsible for in-game strategy; he’s the official spokesman for the team both outside the clubhouse (with the media) and inside the clubhouse (keeping the players in line); and he’s the head coach. The first issue has been tackled by several people and the second isn’t really quantifiable. But what of the manager’s third job: teaching his players to be better. Are there some managers who excel in this area and some who, like Teddy Ballgame, just can’t seem to preach what they practiced?
It’s common to rate how good managers are at this sort of thing by looking at the results that his players produce for him. Of course, this isn’t fair to managers who have been given a collection of retreads, has-beens, and never-will-bes to coach, and overstates the abilities of managers who have the luxury of working with a lineup filled with All-Stars. How to start to disentangle this kudzu?
Some time ago, I looked at this very issue concerning a manager’s ability to influence his pitchers’ performances (at another website, which sadly has closed down…). Indeed, I did find differences between managers. Some were very good; Bobby Cox rated particularly high, as you might imagine. Some left a bit to be desired. What about the batters? For those of you who don’t like the methodological guts, please say to yourself "and then he hit a couple buttons and a miracle happened," and skip to the results.
Warning: Gory Methodological Details
Like my article on catcher/mentors a few weeks ago, I used an HLM-based analysis to look for "teaching effects." This sort of model is often used in "real" educational evaluations. I located all batters who fit the following criteria.
- He had more than 200 PA in the season in question (1990-2009);
- He played for the same team the whole season;
- That team had the same manager for the whole season;
- He played for more than one manager over the course of his career;
- His manager for the year had at least 25 qualifying player-seasons since 1990 that he had also shepherded.
This controls for a few nasty confounds, including small sample sizes (for both manager and player), cross-contamination of manager influence, and making sure that one manager isn’t overly blamed as being the cause for a bunch of guys who were awful and thus, never played with anyone else ever again.
I used the three "true" outcomes (strikeout rate, walk rate, HR rate, all per PA less intentional walks) to see if there were consistent effects to be found. (Any stat can be used, if one so desires.) I used these three because they are they are generally the most reliable stats in the batter’s toolbox. I controlled for league-year, home stadium, and age in the model (all as fixed effects), and then input the manager identity as a fixed effect as well. I used an AR(1) covariance matrix to control for within-subjects effects (i.e., player talent level). I set the comparison age to 27. So, these are numbers for what we would expect of the average 27 year old (adjusted for the 2009 National League), if he were assigned to each manager.
I’ve been asked in the past to post the entire list when I do these types of articles, although the sheer size of that list makes it impractical here. If someone really wants to see the list, contact me backchannel; I will be happy to share.
Top Five at Teaching Walks Manager % Ozzie Guillen 12.5 Clint Hurdle 12.1 Frank Robinson 11.8 Gene Lamont 11.6 Phil Garner 11.6
Bottom Five at Teaching Walks Manager % Tom Kelly 7.1 Ron Gardenhire 7.1 Bobby Cox 7.4 Tommy Lasorda 8.6 Ned Yost 8.7
It's interesting that the two Twins managers were the most walk-phobic of the group (and Gardenhire was Kelly’s disciple). Guillen, for all his bluster, is apparently telling his team behind the scenes to work the count a bit and try for a walk. Let’s move on to strikeouts.
Top Five at Teaching Strikeout Avoidance Manager % Felipe Alou 14.9 Ken Macha 15.0 Frank Robinson 15.1 Ned Yost 15.3 Mike Hargrove 15.7
Bottom Five at Teaching Strikeout Avoidance Manager % John Gibbons 20.5 Cito Gaston 19.4 Fredi Gonzalez 19.2 Jim Fregosi 19.0 Terry Francona 18.7
Yost apparently doesn’t like his hitters to strike out or walk; instead, his philosophy seems to be "put the bat on the ball!" I checked to see if there was a correlation between each manager’s effect on walk rate and on strikeout rate. The result was a correlation of .001, or almost nothing… not even some random noise to push it up to .05 or thereabouts. So, being good at teaching walks does not mean being good at teaching to stay away from strikeouts.
Alou gets the high mark here in strikeout avoidance, which seems to match his reputation. Francona’s players are particularly bad with the strikeouts. I’ll have to tell him that when I look at his two World Series rings.
What About Power Numbers?
Top Five at Teaching Home Runs Manager % Lloyd McClendon 5.5 Jim Tracy 5.0 Fredi Gonzalez 4.9 Ozzie Guillen 4.9 Joe Maddon 4.7
Bottom Five at Teaching Home Runs Manager % Tom Kelly 2.4 Ron Gardenhire 2.5 Bobby Cox 2.8 Eric Wedge 2.9 John Gibbons 2.9
Kelly and Gardenhire are present again, paired together and both on the wrong side of a list: their presence coincides with depressed home run and walk rates. Now, that may mean that they are encouraging their players to have at-bats that end in singles or doubles or harmless fly balls to center, but clearly, the Twins’ philosophy has steered away from the longball but also away from the walk.
On the other hand, Guillen shows up on the list for increasing homer and walk rates; he’s also 10th out of 61 qualifying managers on increasing strikeout rate; if anything, his philosophy seems to push players toward a Three True Outcomes type of offense.
What is the Deal with Ozzie?
I lived in Chicago for six years (on the North Side … sorry Sox fans) and got to hear from the Blizzard of Ozz on a daily basis for most of that time. He’s never been known for keeping quiet when he has an opinion, which makes him at once entertaining (and how!) and unpredictable. (Others have been less kind in their adjectives.) But these numbers show something else about him. His players are very affected by his mere presence in the dugout. His coaching (or coaches) apparently makes his players better at hitting home runs and taking walks, although that also seems to lead to a higher strikeout rates. Some managers have very little impact on their players overall results, but like him or hate him, you know that you play for Ozzie Guillen.
What’s odd is that Ozzie Guillen was not a great hitter in his day. In fact, he holds the record for the most number of career games started in the ninth position in the batting order, and posted a career line of .264/.287/.338; Ted Williams he was not. Guillen rarely struck out (only 511 times in 7,133 career plate appearances), walked (239), or homered (28). Yet, his players now seem to be much more in line with everything that he was not when he was a player.
I didn’t run the numbers for Ted Williams in his managerial stint. However, I would bet that his numbers would reveal a man who had little effect on his players’ outcomes. Despite being one of the best hitters in the game’s history, Williams felt that he couldn’t impart much in the way of instruction to his hitters. Guillen, on the other hand, appears to have figured out a way to do exactly that and the proof is in the numbers. Guillen will never make the Hall of Fame as a hitter, but if the point of a manager is to have an effect on his players, then Ozzie is probably a much better manager than Ted Williams was.