The Blame Game: Evaluating The Manager

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When things do not go as expected, either positively or negatively, one thing is true across every sport: the head coach (or in baseball, the manager) is more publicly evaluated (usually criticized after a poor year).
Evaluating players in baseball, at least on the surface, is generally pretty easy. We have these handy statistics that tell us exactly how they performed in comparison to their peers, and we even have advanced statistics that attempt to measure how much of a contribution each player made to his team.

For managers, there is no way to measure the value they bring to their respective teams. Sure, I suppose that a complicated system designed to evaluate each substitution or pitching change and its effect on the team’s expected runs scored, or win expectancy could be created – but would that truly measure the job performance of a manager? Is the manager only the manager during the game?

Of course not.

There are many aspects to managing at this level, and whether or not to hit AJ Pierzynski instead of Geovany Soto against a lefty in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs and a runner on is actually a very small part of Manager Ron Washington’s job.

During a slide like the one the Rangers are currently experiencing, it can be difficult to fight the urge to point the finger. Who should be responsible for this? Let’s look at the big picture.

When the season started, the club expected to get roughly 40 starts from Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison. They got two. Jon Daniels traded for the hottest starting pitcher on the market at the deadline to attempt to replace the production.

Lance Berkman was expected to see at least 400 plate appearances. He currently sits at 293.

Expectations for Jurickson Profar were probably higher than a .237/.310/.330 slash.

Did we expect this type of abysmal year from David Murphy?

How much of this can you actually tie to the manager? Would David Murphy, Jurickson Profar or Lance Berkman be performing differently for another manager? Is Ron Washington to blame for Nelson Cruz’s suspension, or for Matt Harrison’s injury? Was Dale Sveum simply better at handling Matt Garza?

In 2012, Ron Washington was criticized for leaning too much on his regulars and not resting them enough for the stretch run. In 2013, the starters have had plenty of rest. So why are the Rangers falling apart in September?

Despite admitting that I don’t believe that a manager’s influence can be quantified, I’ve tried to find a way to quantify it.  If we use WAR to come up with a number of wins we would expect a team to have accumulated at this point in the season and compare that to the number of wins actually accumulated, could that gives us any idea of a manager’s influence on his team? Or is this, as I have previously written, simply the standard error in the WAR statistic?

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I’m not sure if this measure is any more fair to the manager than holding him responsible for a win-loss record regardless of circumstance is, but does it match what you think you’ve seen with your own eyes?

What has happened to the Rangers in 2013 might simply be a product of the incredibly tough hand the organization has been dealt with injuries, suspensions, really bad timing at the plate and expectation levels higher than they have ever been.

I understand the temptation to hold someone responsible when things don’t turn out how you expected them to, but what exactly would you have done differently if put in Ron Washington’s shoes?

Robert Pike

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