By In Baseball

Leyland Unplugged

What a fascinating baseball career Jim Leyland has had. He was born and raised in Toledo, less than an hour from Detroit, and he was a no-hit minor-league catcher for the Tigers for seven years. He was one of those ballplayers everyone knew from the start would coach; Leyland was the sort of player who loved the game so much he DESERVED to have more talent. But, as they say, talent isn’t necessarily given to the deserving. Leyland hit .222/.262/.261 in his seven minor league years, though the last two years he mostly hung around to help the real prospects develop.

I once talked to someone who saw Leyland play in Montgomery, Ala., in the late 1960s. His scouting report: Leyland couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield and he couldn’t run worth a damn. He could catch and throw a bit.

In 1969 and 1970, as mentioned, Leyland essentially served as a player-coach, with more emphasis on “coach.” In 1972, he got his first managerial job for the Clinton Pilots of the Midwest League. The team went 49-77. Ah, the joys of managing. After that, Leyland went where the Tigers sent him. He managed in Clinton, in Montgomery, in Lakeland and in Evansville. Some years he had talent — he managed Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson in Lakeland, got Jack Morris and Dan Petry in Evansville — some years he did not. Some years his teams had winning records, some years they did not. In 1982, he became third-base coach for the Chicago White Sox and their young manager Tony La Russa.

It was 1982. La Russa was 37 years old. Leyland was 37 years old. The two men were born in 1944, barely two months apart. Technically, they were both still young enough to be playing baseball in 1982. But neither had played a game in years. That 1982 White Sox team won 87 games and showed promise. The 1983 White Sox won 99 games, the best record in baseball. A lot of people were watching closely. La Russa, of course, would be hired by the Oakland A’s in 1986. Early that year, Leyland was hired to manage the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates were terrible. They were beyond terrible. They were coming off a 104-loss season and had not been worth a damn for a while. But, worse, they seemed to have lost their way as a team. The famously nice Chuck Tanner was the Pirates manager, and he had been pretty lax about, well, everything. The Pirates had fallen apart as an organization, It was a disaster. Leyland seemed young and energetic enough to help turn things around.

He did help turn things around. The team slowly developed. Those Pirates, of course, had the young Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke, Jeff King, Jay Bell, Doug Drabek, John Smiley and so on. They all stayed together and emerged in 1990. Bonds and Bonilla each hit 30 homers, Van Slyke won a Gold Glove, Bell and King both played their first full seasons, Drabek won the Cy Young Award, and the Pirates won 95 games and won the National League East.

They more or less repeated the formula the next two seasons. Bonds, of course, kept getting better and better. Smiley won 20 games in 1991. And so on. Leyland ran a pretty smooth ship. The Pirates won 98 and 96 games the next two seasons. They also had their hearts broken in the postseason, first by Cincinnati, then twice by Atlanta.

And then, like that it was over in Pittsburgh. Bonds left, Drabek left, Smiley was traded, Bonilla already left before the 1992 season. Leyland could perform no miracles. He managed the Pirates for four more seasons, all losing years. Actually, it would be 20 straight losing seasons for Pittsburgh, but Leyland was gone after four.

He was then was hired by Florida Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga who had decided to build a superteam because, well because he was Wayne Huizenga. Superteams rarely work. I mean the band Asia didn’t work. But that Marlins team with Leyland conducting — and with Bonilla, Gary Sheffield, Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, Livan Hernandez, Al Leiter and the rest — squeaked into the playoffs with 92 wins and then won the World Series. Promptly the team was shut down, disbanded, Leyland’s next team went 54-108. He was not happy and left to manage the Colorado Rockies. One 90-loss season there, he stopped managing entirely and did some scouting.

Then, in a Sinatra like comeback, he came to Detroit in 2006 won a pennant his first year back and won his third Manager of the Year Award. His team went up and down the next four years, then won 95 games, then won another pennant, and then this year, well, you know what happened this year. Ninety three wins. An ill-fated playoff series against Boston where the bullpen allowed TWO grand slams. And Jim Leyland walked away for what, you would think, is the final time. He’s 68 years old now.

His career record as a manager: 1769-1728 — 41 games over 500 in a career of 3,499 games. He won his division six times. He finished fifth or worse in his division eight times. There are 15 managers in baseball history who have managed for 10 years and are within one percent of .500 on either side. Two of them are in the Hall of Fame (Wilbert Robinson and Bucky Harris). Others like Bobby Valentine and Buck Rodgers tend not to be remembered fondly.

And Leyland? Where is he on the list? People like him. People respect him. But it’s a fair question: Was Jim Leyland a great manager? And, what is a great baseball manager anyway?

* * *

Here we are, 120-plus years into our baseball history, and nobody seems to agree on what makes a good baseball manager. We have countless ways to judge hitters, pitchers, fielders. We have statistic after statistic, some complex and precise, some vague and simplistic, and we used them liberally, and we can tell you to the nineteenth decimal point why Tom Seaver was better than Steve Carlton or why .294-hitting Frank Robinson is one of the greatest players in baseball history while .294-hitting Steve Garvey is not a Hall of Famer.

But managers? No. With managers, basically, we still use three numbers to calculate value. Wins. Losses. Championships.

Maybe that’s just how it has to be. After all a manager is not hired to do SPECIFIC things like hit 30 home runs or pitch 220 effective innings or get batters out in the eighth. A manager is hired to win a lot of games and win championships. If his team fails to do the first of those, he will be fired quickly. If his team fails to the second, he will be fired after an undefined period of time. The specifics — that is to say all the countless things, big and small, that a manager actually needs to DO to get his team to win those games and championships — are not really our concern. Did he win?

But it is those countless things, big and small, that define the manager. Was Joe Torre a great manager? He sure was in New York when he won four World Series and handled George Steinbrenner’s team as well as anyone ever could. And he sure was not in New York, where he led the Mets to three consecutive 95-loss seasons. He also was not in St. Louis, where he could not find a way to spark the Cardinals beyond mediocrity.

Bill James, not surprisingly, has written some of the most interesting thoughts about managers and what they do. “Bill James Book On Managers” might be the best of his excellent books. Bill comes up with thoughts on managers the same way he has come up with thoughts on everything else — by asking lots and lots of questions and trying to find dispassionate answers.

For instance, 25 or so years ago, he asked: What are the manager’s actual responsibilities?

He came up with three levels.

1. Game-level decision making. These are the strategic game decisions a manager makes, everything from picking a starting pitcher to deciding whether or not to bunt in the ninth inning. Bill estimated a manager legitimately makes about 70 decisions every game.

2. Team-level decision making. These would be decisions about the team itself such as whether to go with young players, whether to get an established closer or go with a live arm, whether to build the team around speed or power or something in between.

3. Personnel management and instruction. That would be everything else — such as how a manager treats players, how he sets the rules, how strictly he enforces the rules, how he deals with the media, how much teaching he does …

I think in the last 25 years, these have changed slightly. I think it’s more like this now.

Level 1: Game decisions.

Level 2; How you work with the GM and the rest of the organization.

Level 3: Managing people.

The main change is at Level 2 — it seems to me that GMs now play the big role in defining a team’s personality. My impression is that managers used to have a lot more power; this was the thing that Moneyball mocked. The GM always some autonomy, of course, including the power to fire the manager. But it feels like now the GM is much more involved in decide what KIND OF TEAM the manager will get. The manager has some input, of course, but again I think it’s more a manager’s job these days to work with the GM (and owner’s) vision of the team than it is to come up with the vision himself.

* * *

So … Leyland. Level 1 means game decisions, and from what I see Leyland has always seemed more of a pragmatist than an innovator, more of a motivator than a strategist. He had his own rhythms that, after a while, became predictable. He liked to stay with his starters deep into games — often steering clear of the pitch count trends of the day — but he would pull relievers like they were weeds. One way he definitively stood out in his time was his mistrust of closers. In his 22 seasons as a manager, he had 14 different primary closers and he never had one for more than three years in a row.

In later years, he liked making a lot of defensive replacements — this probably had to do with the construction of the Tigers. He was not opposed to a good sacrifice now and again, though he wasn’t married to small ball like many others. He had an on-again, off-again affair with the intentional walk. Mostly, he stayed pretty basic with tactics. If you were a Jim Leyland fan, you probably knew what he would do about the same time Leyland knew. He did not surprise much (though moving Miguel Cabrera to the No. 2 spot in the postseason was unexpected and showed some moxie).

How much do game decisions matter in the grand scheme of things? People argue about this all the time. On the one hand, people CONSTANTLY argue about managerial moves, which seems to suggest they are hugely important. On the other hand, many think that strategic moves are widely overrated and that, over time, they tend to even out. One little hobby I have is asking big league managers how much of a difference a manager can make over a season with strategic moves. The answer is pretty constant: Three to five games a year. I don’t know if that’s true and wouldn’t know how to figure it, but that’s what managers seem to think.

I suspect that Leyland has probably held his own as a strategist, no more, no less. Chris Jaffe wrote a fine book on managers and one of the surprising conclusions was the Leyland did not score well at all. This did not include the most recent Tigers teams but still, other managers simply scored a lot better than Leyland. It’s an interesting theory. I never got the impression that Leyland was breaking new ground or that he was prone to the sort of preconceived prejudices that can really hurt a manager. Like I say, I think he held his own.

* * *

Level 2 is working within the team framework, and in this I would rate Leyland very high. Think of the different challenges he has faced. In Pittsburgh, he was brought in to reshape a team that had sunk to rock bottom. The Pirates were terrible, they had a drug problem, a lot of the players were overweight and seemingly bored. Under Leyland, they became a consistent winner. Leyland stayed for several years when they were drifting in the abyss, and were constant losers. He didn’t like it but he stayed.

Then, he went to Florida where the demand was: WIN RIGHT NOW. That’s a tough one. But the Marlins won the World Series that first year. It took some good fortune but they won. When the team was torn apart the next year, Leyland found a different mission: Just don’t embarrass yourself. In this, I think, he failed. The Marlins lost 108 games. I’m not sure if a different kind of manager could have cut that loss total a bit, but what difference would that have made? It’s clear that Leyland was frustrated with what he perceived (rightly) was a pretty disgraceful way to run a baseball team. He got out.

He went to Colorado for one year and that just wasn’t a fit.

Then he came to Detroit where he seems to work in lockstep with GM Dave Dombrowski. That might be an illusion — I’m sure they have disagreements behind closed doors — but in general the team seems pointed in the same direction. The team has collected a lot of specialized talent and Leyland has taken them to two World Series. Defense has obviously never been a priority in Detroit; Leyland has worked around it. The pitching staff has been built around starting pitching and the bullpen has been something of a revolving door; Leyland has worked with it. The Tigers are a spectacularly gifted and spectacularly flawed team; Leyland has worked with it for eight years.

This ability to work within an organization is an underrated skill. Davey Johnson, I think, is a fantastic manager. But if you look at his career you find that he always wears out his welcome. Now, part of this is that Johnson has had a knack for getting hired in dysfunctional places. I mean NOBODY could work for Marge Schott for very long. The Mets and Baltimore were crazy places for different reasons. But since the Mets, Davey has never been in a place for longer than three years, and you would think part of that has to be Davey himself. Leyland has a unique talent for speaking his mind without creating animosity, for embracing plans that he might not entirely buy into, for keeping everything going forward.

* * *

Then there’s Level 3, the actual management of people. This is probably both the most underrated part of the job and the toughest part to quantify. Even so, I think it’s fair to say this: Leyland is spectacularly good at managing people.

What does this mean for a baseball manager? Again, I have collected some thoughts from big league managers. They say that their jobs include (in no particular order):

— Dealing with he media.

— Build confidence and puncturing arrogance.

— Helping team avoid distractions.

— Deflecting praise while diving in front of blame.

— Developing an atmosphere of unselfishness.

— Protecting players’ vulnerabilities.

— Highlighting players strengths.

— Maintaining discipline.

— Being consistent.

— Fostering an even keel mood where nobody looks too far forward or too far back.

There are countless other tasks, of course, but that’s not a bad start. Here I’ll include an opinion: I think in 2013 the single most important job for any manager is handling the media. That does not simply mean saying unobtrusive things to the reporters. Media swirl all around the game. Social media. Television. Radio. Newspapers. Magazines. Blogs. Comments. More people are saying more things about baseball teams than at any point ever. And it’s all potentially: a) A distraction; b) an opportunity; c) a fissure; d; a way to get people closer together.

Managers often will say, “I just ignore that stuff.” And, sure, much of it can and should be ignored. I’ve written before about Ray Knight, a good guy, who when he was manager of the Cincinnati Reds would often allow himself to be swayed by what was being said on television, on the radio, in the newspaper, in the stands. He couldn’t help it. He did not have the ability to shut out any of the outside world. And, remember, this was BEFORE the internet exploded. I wrote a column saying that he needed to stop listening to everyone else, that he was the manager and should do what he believed.

He called me into his office the next day. I expected a lashing. Instead, he said: “Joe Joe, you’re right,” and showed me that he had put my column on his bulletin board.

And I thought: “Ray, I think you might have missed the point.”

But ignoring the media entirely is not a viable solution. It was probably NEVER a viable option, but it’s certainly not now when it penetrates every aspect of life, not with players on Twitter, not with easy access to everything that everybody in the whole country is saying. If I was hiring a manager, I think this would be on top of my list. I would want to hear the manager’s strategy for dealing with the media. How would he make sure that his message got through? How would he deal with the inevitable negativity and misunderstandings. How well would he be able to stay on point after frustrating losses? How well would he be able to stay grounded during long winning streaks? How would he respond to a player who got swept into a media swirl?

And by all this, I don’t mean I would want a manager who sounds like Jay Carney. A manager has to be himself. I would just want to know that a manager THINKS about this kind of stuff. Too often, I think, managers rely on their wits and go improv with the media. I don’t think that works now. You need a plan. You need a clue.

Leyland was hardly a modern media strategist — but I don’t know that there was anybody in his time who handled the media better. He really was a natural. He was funny, a story-teller, a straight-shooter. Even when he was grumpy, he had the ability to come across as likable in a gruff sort of way. He seemed to have a deeper reason for just about everything he said — he would defend a player or (rarely) call out a player or talk confidently or sound negative, and he could imagine exactly how players would read it the next day. He may not have had the ability to play Major League Baseball but dealing with the media he was Henry Aaron.

You might say: Well, he was just a likable guy, it was no big deal. But I don’t think that’s quite right. I think of Trey Hillman, who is a very good guy and good baseball man. I spent a lot of time with him in Japan during the Japan Series in 2007 and found him to be thoughtful, funny, passionate about baseball, all those good things. I expected him to come back to the U.S. and be a managerial star. Instead he came back to manage the Kansas City Royals and, almost immediately, alienated everyone. He came across as defensive and dismissive and pompous — I don’t think he IS those things but he simply could not bring his personality to life. It was too bad, and I feel certain he’s learned from it and will do it differently if he gets another chance.*

*I wrote these words before Hillman was fired as Dodgers bench coach on Tuesday. Hillman was probably Don Mattingly’s best friend, so it seems probable that the firing was more to send Mattingly a message than anything else.

But it reminded me, yet again, that what Leyland did so naturally is actually MUCH harder than it looked.

Beyond that, Leyland had to manage all sorts of cranky and unpredictable and misunderstood and complicated characters through the years — Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Bonilla, Delmon Young on and on — and he has done a pretty magnificent job of it. I think he has done it in part by being so straightforward, by staying the same day after day, by giving people the benefit of the doubt but never looking the other way when he sees something wrong.

It’s a tough thing to be that constant. That, I think, was Bobby Cox’s genius as a manager. He was the same yesterday, today, tomorrow. He was intensely loyal at all times. Leyland had that too.

* * *

So was Leyland a great manager? It depends what you mean by the question. I think people generally refer to a manager’s strategic skills when asking the question. I do not believe Leyland was a great strategic manager. I don’t think he was a bad one either. He was somewhere in the middle.

But a great manager — yeah, I think Leyland was great. I think his ability for working toward a plan, his ability to guide his teams through the distractions, his talent to manage people and get the best out of them, these things made him great.

I asked Bill James if he thinks Leyland was a great manager. His answer, I think, gets at the heart of what i’m trying to say in many, many fewer words.

Was Leyland a great manager, Bill?

“Yes,” he said. “I don’t know that I could give you chapter and verse as to why, but … he seemed to have the ability to make things work.”

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41 Responses to Leyland Unplugged

  1. sancho says:

    The manager is the face of the franchise, and who could ask for more than Leyland in that department?

  2. I’m no baseball expert like you, but from following the game during his managerial career, I would say yes, he was a great manager.

  3. Steve says:

    For whatever it’s worth, organizations don’t pay managers like they’re worth much in the way of wins. Free agents are paid something like $4-5 million/year per expected win above replacement. Joe Girardi just signed with the Yankees for $4 million/year.

    It’s sort of hard to believe that the best manager isn’t more than a game or two better than the worst, but that’s how they get paid.

    • AMR says:

      Surely you should be looking at what Buck Showalter is making, then, Not Girardi.

      Buck: ~$3M/yr.

      (Not saying there aren’t particular challenges being Yankees manager that may make the position more difficult to fill and thus worth a higher salary.)

  4. AlbaNate says:

    In something I read years ago by Bill James, he came up with a teams “expected wins” based mostly (as I recall) last year’s record with some regression to the mean. Then he compared this to the team’s actual record and looked at which managers came off the best. This may have been before Leyland started managing. In this particular James study, he found that the baseball manager whose teams exceeded their expected wins by the most was…Billy Martin.

  5. He was the ONLY manager who could tough talk Barry Bonds. Maybe when Bonds was ‘roided he was too angry and threatening to encounter. I remember one time Leyland publicly corrected Bonds right on the field, BP I think it was.

  6. Jake Bucsko says:

    I would say that Jim Leyland was a great manager, but its tough. You could point to the Bonds/Miggy years in Pitt/Detroit and say, “Well, when he had good players, his teams won”, but if the team is good, shouldn’t they win?

    Also, I always laugh a little when I see someone has been fired/hired as a “bench coach”. What does that person do? I feel as though if I were hired as the Atlanta Braves bench coach next year, they would have the exact same record as if the bench coach was whoever it was going to be otherwise. Every bench coach has a WAR of 0.0.

    • Brett Alan says:

      I think a bench coach is the sports equivalent of a vice president. His job is mostly to talk to the manager and give him advice, and to be able to take over when the manager is ejected or otherwise unavailable. Whether that has much impact on the team’s performance is hard to say, but mostly it comes down to whether he helps the manager do his job well.

    • I couple of columns ago, I commented on Mattinglys bench coach…. Not knowing that it was Trey Hillman, and that he would end up being fired…..Who’s job it is as bench coach,btw, to assist the Manager in making in game decisions. I suggested, given the number of high profile gaffes made by Mattingly that either the bench coach was incompetent and should be fired immediately…. Or that Mattingly just refused to listen to him….. In which case, either Mattingly should be fired or, since Mattingly didn’t have enough confidence in the bench coach, the bench coach needed to be fired. Either way, incompetent or not respected enough to be listened to, Hillman was history. Still, I’d like to know if Hillman was responsible for many of Mattinglys disastrous in game decisions or whether he’s just the scapegoat for said decisions. I think those are the more likely reasons for his ouster…. And not to “send a message” to Mattingly.

  7. Marco says:

    And he looks the part. As silly as it sounds, I think this matters. (as far as commanding respect from the players, media, etc)

  8. Adam says:

    Leyland is the best manager of my lifetime because he made no excuses for himself and always defended his players. We need more no-nonsense, authentic leaders in this world, and Leyland was one.

  9. Paul H. says:

    Heat of the Moment. Only Time Will Tell. How can you say that Asia didn’t work!

  10. Mark Daniel says:

    Managers don’t get credit for when the players do well, but they often get blamed for when players peform badly. I think Leyland was able to get the most out of some of his players, as evidenced by the awesome seasons some of them had – Kenny Rogers in 2006, Magglio and Polanco in 2007, Verlander’s Cy/MVP, Miggy’s sustained awesomeness leading up to a triple crown last year, Scherzer’s possible Cy this year…

    Leyland, at least here in Michigan, gets blasted by some because “anyone can win with a team like that.”
    But at some level the manager creates a clubhouse culture that allows players to thrive. When you see it over and over, it doesn’t seem to be random.

    I always thought Tony LaRussa was like that with players. Some guys thrived under him. Not sure why, but it seemed to be the case. Maybe some of that LaRussa magic rubbed off on Leyland.

  11. Jeff says:

    One way to look at it: I’m a Royals fan, and today me and many other Royals fans are thinking “This will probably hurt the Tigers next year”.

    If opposing teams are glad you’re gone, you were probably pretty good. Even despite that, I’m sad to see him go. I always liked him.

  12. Jim Walewander says:

    Great article, Joe. It’ll be hard to follow Leyland here in Detroit, and I’ll always remember the good times and good feelings of finally having our team (and, to some degree, our town) returned to relevance.

    I do have a quibble: this is the second article that’s pointed out that Leyland mistrusted his closers (the other article was at Fangraphs.)

    Speaking only of his time in Detroit, that’s far too simplistic an assessment; what’s more, it’s wrong. On the contrary, he employed his closers faithfully, even giving the ineffective Jose Valverde yet another chance this spring and early summer. Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney, Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit all wore the closer mantle while in Detroit, and piled up saves (as closers do.) I might add he stuck with his closers through thick and thin; any Tiger fan who watched (or closed their eyes) while Messrs. Jones, Rodney, and Valverde did their high wire acts over the years will know exactly what I mean.

    The revolving door that led to four closers in Leyland’s eight years in Detroit had much more to do with expiring contracts than mistrust. Jones came back in in ’06 and retired in the middle of ’08. Rodney inherited (or was promoted to) the role until he left as a free agent. The team signed Valverde instead of Rodney, and that worked well until his spectacular flameout in last year’s playoffs, which did coincide with the expiration of his contract. This year, it appeared Dombrowski and Leyland were at odds over the closer; Dombrowski was happy to turn the reins over to Bruce Rondon while Leyland rumbled about wanting an established guy. Rondon’s inexperience and control problems begat the return and, eventually, the final flameout of Valverde. All along, setup man Joaquin Benoit toiled effectively in his role, and was anointed closer by default. He quickly proved he could handle the job (despite Leyland’s earlier hesitation to deploy him there) and solidified the back end of the pen.

  13. oira61 says:

    I think you’re tossing around “great” too loosely here. To quote Bill James, Leyland made things work. That’s good. I don’t know if that’s great.

    Leyland won regular-season games with good teams and got lucky with the highly paid Marlins in ’97. He lost with bad teams. He was correct in saying that talent determines the victor, not the manager.

    But greatness would seem to require transcending the talent occasionally, or succeeding in exceptional circumstances. I don’t see Leyland as having done that.

  14. tigerfan22 says:

    Great article. Watching Jim Leyland manage a clubhouse full of big egos and get them to play as a team is what most impressed me. You never heard so much as an idle rumor about dissent among his players, and that included some who had complained in most cities where they played. This Tigers fan appreciated the silence. Thanks, Jim.

  15. DjangoZ says:

    Diving in the “froth of blame” really is an underrated managerial task. I’m glad someone finally mentioned it.

  16. Rick R says:

    Great article Joe. I think you’re right that handling the media has become a huge part of the manager’s role—it was what made Joe Torre such a great fit in New York, and Bobby Valentine such a bad fit in Boston—though it isn’t exactly a new role, as Casey Stengel used to cultivate “my writers” with the knowledge that they would respond with favorable coverage of the team and of Casey (Casey was generally more popular with the media than with his players). Leyland was good with the media, but I’m not sure about masterful—he always seemed to be worried to me, which is not the greatest attitude you want to be projecting.

    Sparky Anderson used to say that the biggest part of managing happened before the game, on the practice field, in the clubhouse, and that is probably the hardest part of the managers job to judge. That seemed to be Jim Leyland’s forte. Players seemed to perform well for him. But it’s hard to tell from the outside.

    As for in game strategy, I judge managers based on one criteria—are they watching the game that’s being played in front of them, or are they managing by the “book”? Sparky Anderson was nicknamed Captain Hook, because he could tell right away when a pitcher had lost it, while Ozzie Guillen won a World Series by riding his starters for as long as he could. Neither man cared for convention. When Leyland pulled his ace Scherzer for a reliever, even though Scherzer was cruising, that was a “by the book” move that may well have lost the Tigers the series. You can’t pull a rock like that in a playoff game and be called a great manager, in my opinion.

  17. A few typos. 20016 should be 2006. “contraction of the Tigers” should be construction.
    “came to back to manager the Kansas City City Royals” is that rare triple play of errors: should be “came back to manage the Kansas City Royals”

    Otherwise I liked the columns, as always. It raises in my mind the question of whither Mattingly. He kept a positive clubhouse through all the injuries so when people got healthy (or came up from the minors, like Puig) they could play great. But his game decisions were bad. I’ve been following the Dodgers since Alston and nobody bothered me with their in game moves like Mattingly; too many sacrifices, no squeezes, failing to make the obvious pinch hit, making the non-obvious pinch run, not resting his catcher enough (although he was much better this year at resting everyone else), and believing unhealthy players who say they are ready to play. I mean, game 1 versus the Cardinals ends 2-0 Dodgers if Ethier (or Kemp) is healthy, or if Schumaker is in center field. Game two, could still be 0-0 if he let Federowicz catch in an afternoon game following 13 innings at night; a tired Ellis made the passed ball that let in the only run.

    Mattingly’s flaws as a manager seem to match his style as a player. He could get the runner in from third without having to squeeze, so he things all his players can as well. He didn’t value walks much, and his lineup tends to not adequately value OBP. I think he was better this year, and I think his pitcher handling also improved. But it’s a shame that he was so badly outmanaged by Metheny in the NLCS.

    • Hate to say it, but you fixed only one of the three typos on Trey Hillman. “Came to back to” s/b “Came back to”.

      “Kansas City City” is one city too many.

      Really, I’m just trying to help my favorite sportswriter….

      • Michael Green says:

        Richard, interesting stuff, and I have to say, the greatest job of managing I’ve ever seen was Tommy Lasorda in the 1988 post-season. The worst job of managing I’ve ever seen was Lasorda at all other times. The point being, he was great at getting the teams ready to play but, as a game strategist, no. I honestly believe if you asked him, he would tell you that no left-handed hitter ever got a hit off of a left-handed pitcher.

        That said, I’m also trying to make the point that game strategy is not the most important thing unless you are a great game strategist and really do make a difference. Otherwise, Casey Stengel once said something like this. On every team, five guys love the manager, five guys are fine with him, five guys don’t care either way, five guys hate the manager, and five guys are trying to make up their minds. The manager’s job is to keep the five players who hate him away from the five players who are trying to make a decision. Yet there are Yankee players from the 1950s who would say that Stengel knew who to make nice with and who to kick around, and that means he knew something about human relations–level 3.

  18. […] read, thank you. I see that his views on how to review his manager are pretty similar to what Joe Posnanski wrote the other day. Glad he's our […]

  19. Mark Daniel says:

    Regarding the bullpen, Leyland actually did something in 2006 that many sabermetricians think every team should do. He did not put their best reliever in the closer role. The Tigers closer in ’06 was Todd Jones. For the most part, Jones started the 9th inning with no men on base. A handful of times he came in with nobody on in extra innings in a tie game. Only three times did he come in before the 9th.
    As such, in the 62 appearances Jones made in ’06, only 3 times were men on base.
    In contrast, Zumaya also had 62 appearances, but he came into the game 25 times with men on base. Thus, even if it was accidental, it was proof of principle. Zumaya, the superior pitcher (ERA+ 232, WHIP 1.176, K/9 10.5), had a much bigger impact on Tigers games than Jones (ERA+ 115, WHIP 1.266, K/9 3.9). Jones got all the saves, but Zumaya had the higher WPA (3.7 vs. 1.0 for Jones).

    As I said, I don’t know if Leyland did this on purpose, or because he didn’t trust Zumaya (a rookie) as a closer, but it did seem to work.

  20. Bob Lince says:

    An A+ for the Ray Knight story.

    A D- for not explaining Leyland,s transition from the Detroit organization to the White Sox, and how he was originally connected with La Russa.

    A manager is the captain of the boat. Good captains can always get a job in the big leagues of shipping. Not-so-good captains get dropped along the way. By this definition, Leyland was a good captain.

  21. Chris Smith says:

    Coaching/managerial greatness cannot be measured in any sport, but the skills you’ve mentioned are valid in all of them. Larry Brown has won at all levels, but he clearly can’t figure out how to deal with players who have any kind of ego. John Calipari is known not to be that great on the bench, but boy can he recruit and run a big show. Belichick comes across as a total jerk, but he can build a game plan better than anyone.

    I don’t know that there should be any kind of rankings for coaches/managers. Some are obviously good and some obviously aren’t. The best managers figure out how to bring in others to handle their own weaknesses, while they can shine with their strengths.

    • invitro says:

      I think Brown clearly dealt with Iverson, one of the biggest egos in sports history, about as well as anyone could’ve done. I can easily see Iverson as an early flame-out without a good boss.

  22. Don says:

    Joe Torre WAS a good manager in St. Louis, failing to win only because he was given dreadfully inferior talent. The first baseman, the closest thing the team had to a star, was about 5’6″ (short stretches!) with no power. Omar Oliveras (sp?) was the “ace”. And the bullpen was basically completely without any ability to get outs (starter out after 5 or 6 innings … game over!)

  23. invitro says:

    Have any sabermetricians assigned a WPA to managers’ in-game decisions? It seems like it’d be very possible to do that, and thus have a better idea who the best and worst ones are.

  24. Michael Green says:

    I replied to a comment above, but I wanted to add something. Casey Stengel had a losing record with three of the four major league teams he managed. I would defy anyone to have won with the rosters he had. With the Yankees, he won. Was it all the players? Casey had Yogi the whole time, Whitey and Mickey almost the whole time, DiMaggio briefly, Rizzuto part of the time and Enos Slaughter part of the time. I may be wrong, but I think that’s it for the Hall of Famers on those Yankees teams. Maybe his strategy helped.

    We are seeing this kind of debate unfold about, yes, Don Mattingly. I’m no fan of his game strategy, but the players seem to love him. Would they play as well for someone who didn’t get along as well? I don’t know. Now, was there an Oriole player who loved or even liked Earl Weaver? I’m doubtful, but it looks like none of them questioned that he was a brilliant manager. And in 14 years, the Orioles won how many World Series? One. They won the year after he retired, playing for Joe Altobelli, who was far more relaxed and less strategic. The Dodgers won two straight pennants under Lasorda when he succeeded Alston, who was less entertaining and probably a bit out of it by then in terms of dealing with much younger players. The personality seems to count. In Lasorda’s case, it had to, because the Dodgers sure didn’t win because he had Earl Weaver’s brain.

  25. Jesse says:

    I do think Joe Torre played a crucial role in turning those late 90s-early 2000s Yankees from good to great. Think back to that time period, and what players you might want from that era to construct a good team–you might mention Jeter and Mariano Rivera, but would names like Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez be the first to come to mind? Were those Yankees, on paper, really any better than the Mariners or Braves or Indians of the era? I’m a lifelong Yankee fan, and I’m not so sure…when I think of Joe Torre, I am reminded of Roger Daltry describing the dynamic of The Who (who were always a musician’s band, just as Joe Torre was always a player’s manager). In The Who, it was all about Townshend, Moon and Entwistle, and the dynamic they formed. The vocals, to paraphrase Daltry, were the final piece you put on the work to make it a finished product. I see Torre with his Yankees dynasty as being the difference that made a good team great. Was Bobby Cox that great of a manager to have only won one World Series with the Braves? Were the Yankees that much better than the Indians or Mariners? If anything, when I think back, Torre had an amazing ability to inspire his players to beat teams when they appeared to be overmatched–the 96 Braves, the 2001 Mariners, and the team in 2000 that stumbled into the playoffs to beat the Mets. Couldn’t Torre maybe have coaxed one single WS victory with Leyland’s Tigers?

  26. John Leavy says:

    The band Asia “didn’t work”? Really? They had the best selling album in the world in 1982. How many more records do you think they’d have sold if they had “worked”?

    That same year, Bruce Springsteen recorded the critically-praised but unlistenable album “Nebraska.” Now, THAT’S a record that didn’t work.

    • invitro says:

      Commercial success has zero correlation with artistic quality.

      I’ve listened to Nebraska an awful lot of times for an “unlistenable” album. When Asia comes on the radio I change the station.

  27. Eric C says:

    Maybe a way to get more detail about what type of manager is to combine statistics with observed data. Perhaps instead of saying “this team exceeded expectations by 2.0 WAR” – you could see what players exceeded expectations, and see if there is some common thread. Do Leyland’s bench players exceed expectations? Guys with extreme platoon splits? LOOGYs? Speed players? Defensive wizards? Low average sluggers? It seems like if someone is good at putting certain players in situations to succeed it might be something the data shows.

    Then again, there are other measurables that have less to do with position and more to do with character. Do veterans exceed expectations with him (meaning he manages older players well)? Impending free agents? Players of certain ethnic groups? Classic underachievers?

    Seems like an interesting thought at least. It might help us better understand what a manager is good at and bad at.

    Of course, there is a ton we can’t measure here. Who knows if a second baseman had a crappy year because he was hiding a thumb injury or something, but it might help give us more information from the data.

  28. DSeat says:

    Re Leyland’s in game strategy…1990 NLCS…Pirates face lefty-mashing Reds team with 3 of 4 best pittsburgh starters being lefties. Game 6 – reds lead series 3-2 and a lefty is up in rotation. Instead, Leyland gives reliever Ted Power (iirc) his first career start, forcing Piniella to go to his vs. R lineup and flipping after two innings when Leyland brought lefty “starter”, burning his bench in the process.

    This was a move right out of Strat-o-matic. I have never seen it done before or since. Alas the Pirates lost 2-1 and Power got the loss for giving up a run on a dp that should have been turned. As a Buc fan I always felt it would have been 7-1 if it weren’t for Leyland’s gambit.

    Those Pirate teams also made exemplary use of platoons such as Merced/Redus and Lavallierre/Slaught, the combo of which bill james called the #1 catcher in baseball 1 year.

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