After the conclusion of yet another great regular season of baseball, we can now start in on the exciting year in review retrospectives. The stats are in, the playoffs are scheduled, and we can look back on the totality of 2015’s regular season with a full sample of what worked and what didn’t for players and teams. The first day after the end of the season can be disappointing for fans who don’t get to root for their favorite club during October, but it’s also our first chance to draw that all-important end line that frames this year along with all the others that have come before it.
The same goes for evaluating managers. We have an idea of the managers who have done a good job; many of them still have games to play. We also have an idea of those who haven’t done a good job — even up to the point of knowing who has a chance of being fired. The drawback, unfortunately, is that we still don’t have a great way of truly evaluating managers, and so we look to the small amount of data that we do have when we try to gauge their performance. Dave Cameron talked about this in the context of filling out his NL Manager of the Year ballot last year — here’s a paragraph from that piece relevant to what we’re discussing today:
“Evaluating player performance is tricky enough even with all the amount of information we have about their performance; with managers, we’re basically just guessing. We can speculate about things that we think matter, but we don’t really have much objective data to support these thoughts.”
Dave’s right — we have very little data, and the data that we do have isn’t terribly useful for evaluation. That being said, there is one newer area of data with respect to managers that I find interesting, and it lends itself to not only understanding an aspect of performance, but also — in this year’s case — serves as a window into the operating style of particular managers.
That data is the result of the fairly new system of manager replay review, and this season of baseball has produced some very interesting results. We already had a post earlier in the season on manager challenges, looking specifically at Kevin Cash, and his rather “unique” style of challenging (not waiting for any sort of video consultation from his coaches/advisors before popping out of the dugout to signal for an official review). That post theorized on a way to rank managers on their challenge ability; this post will go a step further in refining an attempt to do that.
We’ll do this a few ways. First, we’ll start by looking at successful challenges. This data comes from Baseball Reference, with the site originally ranking managers by challenge success rate, or the percentage of the time managers were correct out of the total number of times they challenged. That actually isn’t the best way of looking at this data, however, as an absolute value of how many successes during the season is probably more valuable: since there is no penalty for losing a challenge (other than the loss of a potential opportunity to use the challenge in the future), there shouldn’t be any penalty in our ranks for not succeeding with a review.
Think about it another way: challenging unsuccessfully at some point during a game is always better than ending a game without having challenged, as a manager has given their team at least a chance to improve upon their possibility of winning the game (however small that chance might be).
With that said, let’s take a look at the number of successes by manager, along with the total number of challenges that they’ve initiated (represented by the dot). Teams that have had multiple managers in 2015 have been grouped together:
Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.