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A Preview of "Evaluating Baseball Managers"

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Hardball Times columnist Chris Jaffe has graciously sent me some draft excerpts from his forthcoming book on baseball managers titled, appropriately enough, Evaluating Baseball Managers: A Comprehensive History and Performance Analysis, 1876-2008. The book will evaluate managers on both their in-game moves (using sabermetrical approaches), and also their interpersonal skills, whether with players, the front office, the media, or the fanbase.

I was given a selection of Cleveland managers, ranging from Patsy Tebeau (who managed the Spiders) to Mike Hargrove. Jaffe starts each manager's profile with basic data (win-loss record, years managed, etc), then provides several sabermetric statistics, and a brief summary of the characteristics of the teams he managed. For example, one manager tended to have good pitching staffs, but little offensive power. After that comes the heart of the profile: the analysis. In it Jaffe makes use of public opinion, player controversies, and the abilities of the team to illuminate the statistics and tendencies given in the summary. For example, he talked about how Lee Fohl (Cleveland manager from 1915-1919) let captain Tris Speaker make the baseball decisions, unaware that the public now held managers accountable for those decisions. Fohl was fired midway through the 1919 season, with Speaker now as manager officially given the duties Fohl had delegated to him unoffcially.

Another interesting factoid dealt with a more contemporary Cleveland manager. I'm sure most of you remember Mike Hargrove's late-inning efforts to gain the platoon advantage (having a left-handed reliever face a left-handed hitter, and vice versa). According to Jaffe, Hargrove ranks second in post-1956 managers in accomplishing exactly this, even ahead of the matchup guru himself, Tony LaRussa.

I think judging a manager's effectiveness is a difficult task because his visible in-game moves are really a small portion of his work. You can indirectly gauge his ability to balance long-term success with short-term results, but often you don't know how and why the decision was made. And almost unseen by the public are his personal relationships with his players and the front office. The subject has both interested and frustrated me since I've been blogging, and I look forward to poring through Jaffe's entire book to find some insight and better angles with which to view a manager from.