Hang Joe Torre?: The Sabermetrician's Argument
Let me first say that sabermetricians are only now beginning to understand exactly what a manager brings to his ball club.
There are numerous ways to measure the impact of a manager, each with its own set problems.
But that doesn't mean we can't give it our best shot.
A survey of the different methods shows Joe Torre to be a decidedly above-average manager. Yes, the Yankees skipper is typically burdened with high expectations, but he usually exceeds them.
Put simply, Torre's teams perform better than what would be predicted.
How much better?
Not very much. Torre's presence at the helm of a team might produce an extra win or two per year.
Is Torre the best manager in baseball?
That’s a lot harder to measure—and there’s no definitive answer other than “probably not.”
In the grand scheme of things, Joe Torre is an experienced journeyman who provided reliable leadership for the high-priced, big-ego veterans who plied their trade in pinstripes.
And you can’t ask for anything more than that.
There are probably only two or three people on the planet who could do a better job managing the Yankees than Joe Torre—and those individuals have jobs or are retired, with the exception of Tony La Russa.
Sure, there could be some unknown manager out there who could be great in the Bronx—but I don’t think George Steinbrenner does "unknown" managers.
As far as I'm concerned, it's obvious that Steinbrenner should bring back Torre. And yes, I can hear the dissent from the peanut gallery:
“But what about the lack of a World Series ring since 2000?”
Many sabermetricians believe the playoffs to be a crapshoot. I don’t entirely agree with that assessment. The data shows that the best team in the playoffs has the best chance of going all the way—but being the best team in the postseason doesn’t automatically get you a ring.
Torre went to the postseason 12 times and won four World Series titles—a pretty impressive 33 percent conversion rate.
Considering that the “true” odds on winning the World Series in an eight-team bracket are 1/8, I'd call Torre’s postseason record a very good one.
As for the Yankees' struggles in the 2007 playoffs—the problem was pitching.
In the earliest days of the statistical analysis of baseball, Earnshaw Cook did basic regressions of various stats to determine which ones were most correlated to winning. ERA was one of the most prominent, with a correlation of .75.
Whenever you hear someone say “75 percent of baseball is pitching,” they’re talking about Cook’s findings.
The Yankees' weakness isn't their manager—it's their dependency on run-production over run-prevention. The club's focus in the next few years should be on recruiting, developing, and buying great pitching to complement their great offense.
Scapegoating Joe Torre won’t fix the problem, and gambling on a different manager avoids the real issue.
The calculators have spoken: Pitching is king.
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