Where the Underrated Bruce Bochy Ranks Among Elite MLB Managers

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 22, 2014

AP Images

Currently managing in the 2014 World Series is a guy who just doesn't get enough credit.

No, not Ned Yost. Though you can argue the Kansas City Royals manager is underrated in his own right, I'm referring to the guy who's gunning for his third ring in five years: San Francisco Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, whose team took Game 1 7-1.

Granted, the praise for Bochy is out there. Punch his name into Google, and you'll find numerous articles about his managerial genius and others about his lofty place in baseball history. Included among the latter are Jay Jaffe's piece on Bochy's Hall of Fame chances and Jonah Keri's article stating Bochy's case as an all-time great manager.

And yet, even talking up Bochy as a Cooperstown-bound great doesn't quite say it all. Within reason, we can look at him and conclude we're watching one of the five greatest managers of modern times.

Heck, at least one of the five greatest.

Now, when I say "modern," I'm not referring to here and now. Because, shoot, making Bochy look like a titan of the game in the company of active managers is just too easy.

Of the 32 managers who were active in 2014, Bochy ranks first with:

  • 20 seasons
  • 3,222 games
  • 1,618 wins
  • 39 postseason wins

As of now, there's only one other active manager with as many as two World Series rings: Cleveland Indians skipper Terry Francona. And with four National League pennants, Bochy has won twice as many league championships as Francona and (now technically former) Texas Rangers skipper Ron Washington.

From a subjective standpoint, whether Bochy has the brightest managerial mind in the game today is up for debate. As long as Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon—who might be the best there is at in-game strategy and at running a clubhouse—is still working, even I'm not sure I'd pick Bochy as the best.

Subjective quibbles aside, however, greatness in the realm of baseball history is measured in accomplishments. And to that end, no active manager is as decorated as Bochy.

For that matter, he looks pretty good when compared with everyone else too.

Oct 28, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (middle) holds the commissioner's trophy after game four of the 2012 World Series against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.  The Giants won 4-3 to sweep the series. Mandatory Cred
H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

Bochy's 1,618 career wins are already good enough for 18th most in history. He should pass Ralph Houk and Dusty Baker next year, and Jim Leyland and his 1,769 career wins will be in his sights.

That Bochy only has a .502 career winning percentage is something to hold against him. More than making up for that, though, is what he's done in October.

While Bochy being fifth all time with his 39 postseason wins only means so much in light of how he's only managed in an age of ever-expanding playoffs, that his .591 postseason winning percentage is currently 10th all time among managers with more than 10 career postseason games means a little more.

Then there's how only 22 other managers have won as many as four pennants, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame. And of the 23 skippers who own at least four pennants, Bochy is one of only 15 to win multiple World Series.

However, that last tidbit is just about perfect for shining light on the messy task that is trying to pin down Bochy's place among all-time managers.

Four of the managers in the four-pennant club were working before there was such a thing as the World Series. Quite a few others managed when Major League Baseball had about half the teams it has now. Many of them also managed before the Seitz decision ushered in free agency in 1975 and changed everything.

On that note, the Seitz decision is actually a dandy of a cutoff point for defining our "modern" era. And not just because of the arrival of free agency either, as by then baseball had expanded to 24 teams from just 16 as recently as 1960.

Mike Groll/Associated Press

As for the company Bochy is keeping among modern managers, along comes Los Angeles Angels skipper Mike Scioscia with a helpful hint.

"He's very quietly putting together a Hall of Fame career," Scioscia told Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times over the summer. "When you talk about Joe Torre, about Tony La Russa, about Bobby Cox, about guys that have made it, Boch is going to be right there when it's all said and done."

This is truer than you might think. In fact, to a certain extent, Bochy is already right there with the latest trio of Hall of Fame managers.

In the roughly 40 seasons that have passed since the arrival of free agency in the winter of '75, only four managers have won as many as 1,600 games and four pennants. And here they are:

Modern Managers with 4 Pennants and 1,600 Wins
ManagerActiveWW-L%Post WPost W-L%PennantsRings
Tony La Russa1979-20112,728.53670.54763
Bobby Cox1978-20102,504.55667.49351
Joe Torre1977-20102,326.53884.59264
Bruce Bochy1995-20141,618.50238.59142
Baseball-Reference.com

Yup, three current Hall of Famers, and then Bochy.

Granted, Bochy is well short of matching La Russa's, Cox's and Torre's regular-season win totals and percentages, and they all own more pennants than he does. Not pictured is how they each made at least 14 trips to the postseason. Bochy's only made seven.

However, Bochy's postseason winning percentage—arguably the best reflection of his October managing geniustops La Russa's while also easily trumping Cox's. He also has one more World Series than Cox, with a chance to soon match La Russa.

We can also take a cue from Jonah Keri and play the following game: "Another way to measure a manager’s effectiveness is to compare his team’s win-loss record with its expected win-loss record. In Bochy’s case, we can see a clear pattern of his teams outperforming what you’d expect..."

Keri found that the 20 teams Bochy has managed have combined to win 26 more games than they should have based on the number of runs they scored and how many runs they allowed. 

If we repeat the experiment with La Russa, Cox and Torre, we find:

Actual W-L vs. Expected W-L of La Russa, Cox, Torre and Bochy
ManagerActual W-LExpected W-LExtra WinsExtra Wins/Game
Bruce Bochy1,618-1,6041,592-1,63026.008
Joe Torre2,326-1,9972,297-2,03629.007
Tony La Russa2,728-2,3652,705-2,38823.005
Bobby Cox2,504-2,0012,492-2,01312.003
Baseball-Reference.com

Of the four modern greats on our radar, only Torre led his clubs to more extra wins than Bochy. On a rate basis, Bochy triumphs.

For me, this isn't enough to elevate Bochy over La Russa and Torre, whose regular and postseason track records are just too strong. But alongside his extra World Series championship and his vastly superior postseason winning percentage, it is another thing Bochy has on Cox.

It's also something Bochy has on three other notable modern managers.

Sparky Anderson won 1,613 games, two pennants and two World Series between 1976 and 1995, but his teams won only three more games than expected. Leyland won 1,769 games, three pennants and one World Series between 1986 and 2013 but added zero extra winsTommy Lasorda won 1,599 games, four pennants and two World Series between 1976 and 1996 but actually cost his teams 21 wins.

In light of all this, it is surprisingly within reason to rank the top five modern managers like so:

  1. Tony La Russa
  2. Joe Torre
  3. Bruce Bochy
  4. Bobby Cox
  5. Sparky Anderson

And this is right now. If Bochy leads his Giants to yet another World Series victory over the next few days, a third ring will make his standing among his peers even stronger.

Of course, you're perfectly welcome to disagree that Bochy's standing is as strong as I've made it out to be. That's what this series of tubes we call the Internet is for, so have at it.

There is no question, however, that Bochy's managerial career is not one to be taken lightly. He's more decorated than any other skipper still working today, and he compares favorably to the most accomplished managers in history and very favorably to the most accomplished managers in recent history.

Keep all this in mind as you watch Bochy at work in the World Series. He's not often portrayed as such, but what you're seeing is one of the greatest managers there ever was.

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.  

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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