Manager of the Year Hokum

Another attempt to enliven an Astros' off-day. 

After Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman discussed Buck Showalter's impact with the Baltimore Orioleshe went on to pick his 10 best Managerial jobs of the year. This is when the red mist descended on me, and I was about this angry, partly because Brad Mills did not appear on it, but mostly because how I believe Heyman came to the choices he did.

It is not as if his picks are wrong, and most of them are probably right. Yet the 10 names he pulls out of his hat are what you would call the 'consensus' picks, and this might not be bad, if you were running a poll on SportsCentre, but this is a writer who should be offering analysis to back up his choices. Instead what you get is a back of the envelope job (I prefer post-it notes), backed up by anecdotal evidence without any effort to scrutinise his own choices .

His ten picks are as follows: first Bud Black, then Ron Gardenhire, Joe Maddon, Dusty Baker, Ron Washington, Terry Francona, Bruce Bochy, Charlie Manuel, Joe Giradi and Bobby Cox.

Now, you might look at that list and say, I agree with this list, but here is the kicker, all ten of these names manage the teams with the ten best records in the majors. And this is why I take objection with the article, not because of the names presented, but because I believe either consciously or not, Heyman has arrived at those 10, not because they are the best managers, but because they manage the best teams. 

Is this really the correct approach to take? If it is then you are basically telling fans managerial ability is measured in team wins, and while it is correct in some aspects, it is a very crude way to analyse the game, and on many other levels this approach actually defies logic. 

This piece represents to me what is wrong at the heart of baseball writing. Focus on the ten teams in pennant races and to hell with the rest. Its as if Heyman was asked what he was doing for Saturday's piece on SI, and thought, "Well, lets see, the Orioles are doing well under Buck Showalter, so I'll write a piece on that, then I'll tack my Manager of the Year list onto that. Well, the Padres and Reds are doing well, so I'll put them in, then I'll put all the East Coast teams in because they always do well." It infuriates me, not just because of this, but also because of some writers' obsessions with lists. It is top 10 this or top 10 that, which in my mind is a lazy way to conduct sports journalism. 

This year's NL voting will probably be a toss up between Bud Black and Dusty Baker, but it is not always that simple, as guys like Joe Giradi have been given the award when the 2006 Marlins were 78-84 (although that was the year with the insane amount of rookies on the roster). The following table has a little look at the manager's picked above, and has a look both at their 2009 records, but also the PECTOA predictions before the season. I have huge issues with BP's projection system, but find that treating it like the weather forecast works well (although it is professed to be an exact science they both get the general picture right, but are prone to the monumental muck up). 


W-L record 2010 1



2009 W%

Change 09-10

PECOTA prediction 2

Manager Rank





- .019


9. Joe Giradi





+ .088


3. Joe Maddon





+ .004


2. Ron Gardenhire





- .003


8. Charlie Manuel





+ .039


10. Bobby Cox





+ .086


4. Dusty Baker





+ .101


1. Bud Black





+ .020


7. Bruce Bochy





+ .016


5. Ron Washington

Red Sox*




- .053


6. Terry Francona

NB 1 I've used the W-L records from September 10th, when the article was posted. 2 PECOTA seems to have had a lot of issues this year, I took the projections from January 29th 2010. * The White Sox actually had an identical record to the Rangers and the Red Sox 78-63 on 9/10.

Some things of note is that obviously the Reds and Padres have improved greatly over their 2009 seasons, as have the Rays. The Red Sox have fallen off quite a bit, but they have suffered a lot of injuries, while the Phillies and Twins are about the same as they were last season. 

Now For the Omissions 

If you look for names not there, I do not see any obvious stand-outs, apart from Jim Tracy, who has the Rockies close on the heels of the Giants and Padres, despite some dead wood and great performances by Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Ubaldo Jimenez. Brad Mills deserves to be in the thick of it, since he's turned what was on June 1st the second worst team in the majors into a near .500 team. Brian McTaggart brought up the subject last week, with Astros290 playing devil's advocate, arguing the case against Mills inclusion in the Manager of the Year discussion.

While you cannot give Mills too much credit for the Astros being 49-40 from June 1st to September 10th, if you do not also apportion some of the blame for their 18-34 start to the manager. Yet if you want a better test (not a perfect one) for managerial ability, check BPs Pythagorean over-unders. Guess who is over by most in the majors? If you guessed the Astros, you would be correct. They are 7.5 games over their Pythagorean W-L record, calculated by looking at the gap between runs for and against. Only two teams are close, these being the Pirates at 4.7 and the Royals at 3.5. However, what this shows is how well the Astros have done to win more than their fair share of close ballgames. 

However I would argue it is a better way of choosing worthy candidates than looking at the standings, and picking a guy who might reach 100 wins, but has a nice $200m payroll to do so. If you take the Astros' start, Mills could not have done much else with most of his lineup in an almighty slump in the first month or two of the season. Pedro Feliz might have been cut sooner, but he had the courage to cut Kaz Matsui. He worked around early injuries to the bullpen, and has found diamonds in Wilton Lopez and a few other bullpen arms. I like how he resisted the temptation to put Chris Johnson up the order, keeping him at seven even though he was tearing the cover off the ball. 

Nor is he perfect, as the 290 piece points out. He does seem to have an obsession with lefty-lefty, righty, righty matchups, or what I call relying too much on his copy of Managing for Dummies. The Brett Wallace, Carlos Lee first base saga has infuriated many, while it seems odd that Lee is still batting fourth. 

I've chosen several other teams and managers (for one reason or another) might be choices out of left field.


W-L record 2010

W% 2010

2009 W%

Change 09-10

PECOTA prediction






- .030


Fredi Gonzalez (34-36), Edwin Rodriguez (37-33)

Blue Jays




+ .048


Cito Gaston





+ .037


Bob Geren

White Sox




+ .065


Ozzie Guillen





- .022


Jim Tracy





+ .018


Brad Mills

The Marlins are there because PECOTA had them at 76-86 and they are currently above .500, Bob Geren has the A's at .500, while the Blue Jays, despite playing in the toughest division in the majors are above .500. Ozzie Guillen's White Sox are not too far behind the Twins, and rebounded from a so-so 2009. 

Even if guys like Mills, Tracy or Guillen are not included and you concur with Heyman on his selection of 10 managers, at least you do so after deliberation of the facts, rather than picking the managers of the 10 best teams. Should writers get away with such sloppy work? No. 

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