Do Former Catchers Really Make Great MLB Managers?
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With the Los Angeles Angels coming off a disappointing 2012 season and in the thick of another slow start to begin 2013, it's odd to think that not all that long ago Mike Scioscia was widely considered perhaps the premier manager in baseball.
We're talking about a manager who has a winning percentage near .550 in more than 2,100 games, a pair of AL Manager of the Year Awards, five AL West titles and a World Series ring. And he is inked to a 10-year extension that could keep him in town through 2018.
And yet recently, because of the Angels' struggles, there's been lots of speculation about whether Scioscia is no longer the man for the job, as FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote—a job he's had since the turn of the century.
The Scioscia sitch is one to watch in the coming weeks, but since we're already on the topic of a great manager who was once a big league backstop, let's explore that on a larger scale to find out how former catchers fare as MLB managers.
Conventional wisdom says that catchers make good skippers, whether for their handling of a pitching staff, or their captain-on-the-field duties, or their ability to see the entire baseball diamond from their position, or their knowing the intricacies and strategies of the game.
But let's dig a little deeper when it comes to the guys behind the plate.
To set things up, we'll look back at the past 20 seasons. From there, we want a list of former major leaguers whose primary position in the field was catcher and who began their managerial careers in the majors starting with 1993 and up through 2012.
In other words, among others, you won't see Joe Torre, who first started managing back in 1977, or Johnny Oates, who joined the scene in 1991. Both are former catchers who spent much of their time managing after 1993; they just got started a little too early for inclusion.
At the right is a chart of said group, along with the career win-loss record of each member. This is our working list of "catcher-managers," in chronological order.
Keep in mind:
1) Several of these managers were with multiple teams. For instance, Bob Melvin, the most nomadic of the bunch, started managing the Mariners in 2003, the Diamondbacks in 2005 and the Athletics in 2011. The stats shown are for their tenure with that specific club.
2) We're not counting interim managers here, so you won't find the likes of Sandy Alomar, Bruce Kimm and Joel Skinner, among others, since each received much less than a full season and thus didn't get a fair shake.
You'll notice a few things off the bat. First, there are 17 different names, meaning over this 20-year period, another former MLB catcher-turned-manager popped up almost each season, which is pretty significant.
To that same point, you should be sure to look at the "Year" column all the way on the left. This shows that while things were a little slow on the catcher-manager front in the early portion of our timeframe—only two newbies in the first seven years—the trend really kicked into high gear from 2000 on, as 15 came into the picture in the past 13 years.
Although it's still a little early to evaluate him, Mike Redmond joined the club this year after being hired by the Marlins in the offseason.
In fact, since 2000, at least one new converted catcher has been brought into the manager mix every season except for three: 2005, 2010 and 2011. The peak period? Somewhere in the 2001-2003 range, as both '01 and '03 saw three new entries, and there were seven new ones in total in that three-year span.
So we've established our catcher-manager group and pointed out that there was an influx in the early aughts. But how has the group as a whole fared?
If you do the math by adding up all the "Ws" and "Ls" (through May 6), you'll find that the 17 men above have "managed" an aggregate winning percentage of .495.
All told, that's 7,680 wins and 7,840 losses.
Not exactly Manager of the Year material, is it?
Except that's better than you might think, considering that only 137 men who spent the majority of their managerial careers in the modern era of the sport (1900 on) own a better career win-loss mark than that .495.
But you want more evidence that catcher-managers tend to be fairly successful.
The 17 members above combined for a .473 winning percentage in their first seasons with their new clubs (including those who managed more than one team). In their second season? It gets a little better: .479.
But in Year 3, the winning percentage jumps dramatically to .494—or right about the aggregate figure.
While that could mean that our catcher-managers have gotten better along the way, it could also simply be somewhat of a weed-out-the-bad ones situation. In other words, the win-loss record improves, at least in part, because the managers who were not so good in their first year or two didn't often get to stick around for Year 3 and drag that figure down.
For instance, after A.J. Hinch posted a 58-75 mark following a midseason takeover in 2009—from Bob Melvin, no less—and then a 31-48 record to open 2010, well, the Diamondbacks had seen enough, and Hinch never finished his second season.
So no, not every former catcher makes for a successful manager.
Still, it's worth pointing out that of the 25 catcher-manager instances in the chart above, only six times did the test subject fail to make it to the third year, including Hinch:
Speaking of Girardi, that was the only time a second-season call-back was denied, and it was one of the more bizarre situations in recent memory. The Marlins fired Girardi immediately after the end of the 2006 season because he and owner Jeffrey Loria couldn't see eye to eye. Six weeks later, Girardi was named NL Manager of the Year—in his first go-round as a skipper.
While we're on the topic of Manager of the Year Awards, here's the list of winners from our group, in chronological order:
Now for the part where we bring it all together.
Remember above when we talked about the influx of catcher-managers just after the century flipped over?
Well, if you stop to think about it for a second, that's not just random—there's a legitimate reason for such a trend. Just look at the 2001 and 2002 World Series winners: the Diamondbacks were managed by Bob Brenly, and the Angels were guided by the aforementioned Scioscia.
Back-to-back titles by backstops-turned-bench bosses.
Better yet, the same repeat feat occurred more recently, as Joe Girardi led the Yankees to the championship in 2009, and Bruce Bochy did the same a year later with the Giants. Bochy, of course, won ring No. 2 with the Giants last season.
That means five of the past 11 World Series-winners have been led by guys who once donned what are known as the tools of ignorance.
What's that they say about ignorance and bliss again?
So while not every former big league catcher who's gone on to become an MLB manager has been successful—let alone, World Series-winning successful—it seems likely that teams will continue to hand the reins to ex-backstops.
And judging by recent history, that's not a bad idea.
All statistics come from Baseball Reference.
Who do you think is the best and worst catcher-turned-manager? Let me know on Twitter: @JayCat11
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