Wins and Losses Don’t Tell the Whole Story

Jon Anderson returns for his latest musings from The Dish

It was announced today that the Yankees have fired their manager Joe Girardi. This is the third manager of a team that made the playoffs this year to be fired. The Nationals fired Dusty Baker and the Red Sox let John Farrell go after their exits from the divisional playoff rounds. This has confused a lot of people, because these three manager were seemingly very successful. Here are their accolades with the teams that just fired them:

Girardi: 10 seasons, .562 winning percentage, 6 playoff appearances, 1 World Series title (2009)
Baker: 2 seasons, 192 wins, 2 playoff appearances
Farrell: 5 seasons, .533 winning percentage, 3 playoff appearances, 1 World Series title (2013)

I think very few people would say that any of these three managers were unsuccessful in their time with their clubs, and they all had very good 2017 seasons, so their firing seems a bit unfair. Anybody who would argue that these three managers were unsuccessful would almost surely point to their inability to win a World Series super recently. That would be a ridiculous argument, but people make it all the time. Some people have completely unfair expectations of their sports team and expect them to never go more than a couple years without winning a championship, despite there being 29 or more teams in the league challenging them for it.

One of the arguments I have made about baseball my entire adult life is that the playoffs are largely uncontrollable. Baseball is an incredibly random game; a much worse team can and will beat a much better team on any given day. It takes dozens and dozens of games for the good teams to separate themselves from the bad. That’s why they play 162 games. You can’t play ten baseball games and then feel confident in saying the team with the most wins in those ten is the best. These teams make the playoffs and then have a seven game series (or five, or even one) determine how their season will end. Even a seven game series is incredibly random and will not show you who the better team is every time. Therefore, to judge a member of a team’s management by how their team does in the playoffs is just a terrible way to evaluate success, or lack thereof.

I live in Pittsburgh, where we seem to have a real shortage of intelligent, reasonable sports fans. The Pirates recently went on a three year run of making the playoffs after not even having a winning record for twenty straight seasons. The Pirates had to play in that one-game series all three times and lost two of them. The one year they won, they lost 3-2 in the following best-of-five game series. A one game series is completely random, and a five game series is only slightly less random. However, your average Pittsburgh sports fan would tell you that the Pirates were not successful in those years because they didn’t get past the second round of the playoffs, completely ignoring the fact that the team won more games than all but one MLB team in that three year span despite playing with the crippling disadvantage that is being a small-market team in a league with no salary cap. Nonsense.

Another fallacy about baseball is the idea that the manager even makes a difference. While I can’t prove it at this time (I was going to try but don’t feel like spending an hour or more collecting data), my contention is that the manager of a team makes less than a three win difference on their record. Anybody who knows anything about Major League Baseball could have managed the Los Angeles Dodgers this year and they’d still be in the World Series right now.

To get back to the point of this post, I believe that these teams firing their managers had nothing to do with their win-loss record, and I think that is perfectly fine. The manager’s biggest impact on a team is probably his relationship with the players. I don’t care if a manager is undefeated in his career, if he’s a guy your players don’t like playing for, you fire him. I don’t know if that was the case in these situations, but my point is that stuff you don’t see on the stat sheet is much more important in the case of management. If I ran a team, I’d probably hire the cheapest somewhat-experienced Major League manager I could find that wasn’t a total buttwad and use the savings on better players. I do not think the Yankees, Red Sox, and Nationals front offices deserve all the heat they’ve been taking for firing “successful” managers – but I’m sure they don’t really need my condolences – they’ll sleep just fine this offseason.

Jon Anderson, aka “McEffect”, can be found at The Dish and on Twitter at @JonPGH. 

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