Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book Review: Evaluating Baseball's Managers

Evaluating Baseball's Managers: A History and Analysis of Performance in the Major Leagues, 1876-2008
by Chris Jaffe
c. 2009

If you read The Hardball Times as often as I do, you are very familiar with Chris Jaffe. Now, Jaffe has a book out called Evaluating Baseball's Managers. (which can be purchased here...). As a baseball history buff and an amateur stat nerd, this book is right up my alley.

Now, I only received excerpts of the book that related to Baltimore franchises but the taste I got was more than enough to peak my interest.

For instance, having just read Weaver on Strategy this fall and The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers in the past year, I didn't think there was anything new that I could learn about the managerial habits of Earl Weaver. I was wrong.

Sure, I knew that Weaver's teams tended to improve as the year went on and that they had never had a losing September but only Jaffe delves in to determine why. Was it luck? After exploring that idea for awhile, Jaffe gives us this great insight:

As was the case with his pitchers, it does not appear that Weaver benefited from having a large collection of men who just happened to improve as the season wore on.His hitters improved on the whole, but not enough to explain Baltimore’s annual surge.

That leaves one obvious variable: Weaver himself. One of Weaver’s hallmarks as manager was compiling as much information so he could put his players in the game at the most opportune circumstances....That was exceptionally difficult because it required gathering and mastering those details, and then also staying on top of how they change from year to year and week to week...He learned and as the season went on had an ever-improving sense of exactly where to put all his players.

The Weaver excerpt is fascinating as you can imagine and offers several original insights about his career.

There's a ton of interesting facts in there.

Ned Hanlon, hailed as a pioneer during his days managing the old National League Orioles, had the game pass him by at the relatively young age of 46. Except that 46 was actually exceptionally old for a manager at the turn of the century with only two other NL managers over 36 when he lost his touch.

Frank Robinson, win-loss record aside, was actually a really good manager but no manager managed so long with so little talent.

How was Johnny Oates so effective as a manager? He was exceptionally good at building bullpens, especially middle relievers (see Todd Frohwirth and Alan Mills).

How does Jaffe determine all this? Using devices like the Birnbaum Database, the Tendencies Database and Average Opponent Winning Percentage (AOWP), among others. There's no sense in me trying to explain all this here but you can get a good overview from this FAQ.

There's just a ton of information even in the small excerpts I was given. I haven't even talked about the examination of the career of Paul Richards.

I'm no expert but I would consider this book an essential reference for the amateur (or professional) baseball historian. And I say that even though Jaffe is completely wrong about the Hall of Fame worthiness of Willie Keeler.

As soon as Christmas is over, I'm going to get me a copy.

To order a copy of Evaluating Baseball's Managers, go here.

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