Today, the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce its picks for the American and National League's Managers of the Year.
Most fans will mark the occasion with indifference. It's not just because the winners are chosen by reputation instead of quantitative measurement—it's because the sabermetric movement has changed the way we look at the traditional art of managing.
Game frameworks and win probabilities have shown that intentional walks and sacrifice bunts are overused as best, that stolen bases are usually not worth the risk and that the shot in the arm a team gets from shuffling the batting order is just a coincidence. People seem to notice the skipper only when he screws up.
Of course, there’s no way to quantify the off-the-field boost a manager gives his team, right? Right?
When Buck Showalter arrived for his first day on the job as the Baltimore Orioles’ manager on August 3, the Birds stood at 32-73. They had the worst record in the baseball, and it wasn’t particularly close.
Then Showalter showed up and everything changed. Baltimore went 34-23 the rest of the season. That’s right—the O’s won more games in August and September than they did in the first four months of the season combined.
Before Showalter came, Baltimore’s winning percentage was just .305. In the time after he took the helm, it nearly doubled to .597.
Of course, the sabermetric movement has also taught us not to overreact to small sample sizes. Was this really enough of a sample to prove anything conclusive about a change in the team’s talent?
A basic statistical analysis says yes. In order for a team to have a statistically significant chance of losing 73 games out of 105, their true-talent winning percentage cannot be better than 38.6 percent; for a club to win 34 of 57, it can’t be any worse than a 47.9 percent true-talent team.
At the bare minimum, that means the Orioles upped their true-talent winning percentage by 9.3 percent—that’s almost an extra win every 10 games.
I’m not saying that Showalter is responsible for the Orioles’ improvement. I’m just saying it happened the day he showed up.
Even at the bare minimum value for the difference—and given the foolishness of blindly attributing the full improvement to Showalter, this conservative figure is a fair working number for our purposes—that means he was worth 5.3 wins in his 57 games in Baltimore (put that way, this estimator really does seem cynical).
That translates to 15.1 wins over a full season—enough to bring the 2010 Orioles up to a .500 record.
Compare his 15.1 wins added to Josh Hamilton’s MLB-leading 8.0 wins above replacement (WAR), and you’ll get some idea of the immensity of his contribution. Take any two other players in baseball, and none of them will have a combined WAR over 14.7.
What does that tell you about how amazing Buck Showalter is?
But in spite of his incredible accomplishments, Showalter has virtually no chance at being named Manager of the Year because the Orioles didn’t make the playoffs. That’s how the cookie crumbles.
Of course, Manager of the Year is beneath him anyway. Buck Showalter could be the MVP.
For more of Lewie's writing, visit WahooBlues.com.