What began as a series of quiet, scattered rumours has grown into a loud drum beat: John Gibbons might be on his way out as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.
As you might expect, reactions to this potential move vary wildly. On one side, you have the #gibbythebest crowd, Gibbons fans who appreciate his amiable demeanor and also the fact that he is most definitely not John Farrell.
Beyond those initial feelings, broader questions emerge. Is John Gibbons a good manager? If he isn’t, who is? And in an era in which we can seemingly quantify everything, do we even know what makes a good manager? Is there any reliable way to measure it?
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The most obvious way to gauge the value of a manager would seem to be wins. We speak in reverent tones about legends like Connie Mack and John McGraw because they presided over a mind-boggling number of wins as the skippers of their respective teams — nearly 6,500 between the two of them.
The obvious problem is that Mack and McGraw, like all other managers, required talent to put up all those Ws. We’ve come around on the idea that wins are a lousy way to evaluate pitchers for Cy Young awards, because pitchers can’t win without ample support from the hitters around him. Then again, pitchers can at least vie for wins by limiting their opponents. In a manager’s case, you’re depending on the greatness of your hitters and your pitchers to lead the way to victory. “COUNT THE RINGSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!” is another flawed argument, for similar reasons.
A more sophisticated argument revolves around what statistical analysis pioneer Bill James called the Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball. The theorem tallies a team’s runs scored and runs allowed, then generates an expected winning percentage based on those numbers. James’s thesis was that evaluating teams that way was a better indicator of a team’s strength than raw win-loss records, because teams can sometimes get lucky (or unlucky) in close games, thus skewing their place in the standings.
Taking this thought a little further, if a team could somehow find a way to outperform its expected winning percentage year after year, that could indicate some noteworthy leadership by that squad’s manager. One manager who earned a reputation for pushing his team to overachieve is Angels head man Mike Scioscia. The Halos’ run last decade included not only a World Series title, but also repeated instances of winning more games than their runs scored and runs allowed totals would suggest.
That includes a 2008 season in which the Angels outperformed their expected winning percentage by a wider margin than all …read more