Manager Wins Above Expectancy

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Enough people have asked me if a "WAR for managers" exists that it's time to share some ideas I've been kicking around. I'll say up front—in this article I'm going to present more questions than answers. My main goal is to see if something like WAR for managers is even possible.

How do we evaluate a manager's career today? Honestly, it sounds a lot like how we used to evaluate pitchers—wins, winning percentage, championships. We found better ways to evaluate a pitcher's value. Can we do the same for managers?

Let me throw an idea at you—Wins Above Expectancy.

Wins and championships simply tell us that a manager had a lot of talent on his team. If he has a lot of talent, he is supposed to win. But how about when a talented team doesn't win? What about when a team wins more than it should, based on its runs scored and runs allowed? How much is actually luck? If it is all luck, wouldn't it even out over thousands of games? Is there more than luck involved? Is the manager responsible for some of this over- or under-performance?

Pythagorean Record

You're probably familiar with pythagorean record—the record a team is expected to finish with, based on its runs scored and allowed. If a manager's team over-performs its pythagorean record, is it all luck? Did the manager manage his bullpen well? Did the manager pinch hit and substitute well? What if that manager routinely out-performs his expected record? Is he just that good?

Here are the top 25 managers of all time, by Wins Above Expectancy (based on pythagorean record):

  1. 29.4 Joe Torre
  2. 28.6 Ralph Houk
  3. 25.5 Mike Scioscia
  4. 24.0 Bobby Valentine
  5. 23.3 Walter Alston
  6. 22.5 Dick Howser
  7. 21.6 George Gibson
  8. 21.3 Tony LaRussa
  9. 20.9 Felipe Alou
  10. 20.5 Ron Gardenhire
  11. 20.3 Earl Weaver
  12. 19.8 Bill McKechnie
  13. 19.5 Sparky Anderson
  14. 17.7 Frank Robinson
  15. 17.0 Wilbert Robinson
  16. 17.0 Chuck Dressen
  17. 16.9 Whitey Herzog
  18. 16.6 Don Zimmer
  19. 16.5 Bruce Bochy
  20. 15.7 Lum Harris
  21. 14.7 Ozzie Guillen
  22. 14.6 Bobby Cox
  23. 14.5 Jimmy Dykes
  24. 13.7 Jim Marshall
  25. 13.7 Ossie Bluege

Joe Torre finishes first. We also have several managers with excellent reputations like Mike Scioscia, Tony LaRussa, my beloved Earl Weaver, Sparky Anderson, and Bobby Cox on the list.

At the bottom, we have:

  1. -48.0 Bucky Harris
  2. -47.9 John McGraw
  3. -36.0 Jimmie Wilson
  4. -35.9 Fred Clarke
  5. -30.5 Hugh Duffy
  6. -27.3 Eric Wedge
  7. -25.9 Connie Mack
  8. -25.5 Jimmy McAleer
  9. -25.0 Jim Riggleman
  10. -24.5 Buddy Bell
  11. -23.6 Tom Lasordaa
  12. -21.9 Jimy Williams

I'm a little surprised to see Tom Lasorda and John McGraw here. Connie Mack, of course, managed some really lousy teams after selling off his stars.

Is there another way we can look at managers to see if their teams are consistently doing better than they should?

Wins Above Replacement

I love WAR, so why not a WAR-based approach? By Baseball-Reference's WAR, a replacement level team has a winning percentage of .320 (52–110). If all players on the team totaled 40 WAR, then that team should be expected to win 92 games. But what if they win 96? Let's give those wins to the manager. If they win 88? Take those wins away from the manager.

Here are the top 25 managers of all time, by Wins Above Expectancy (based on WAR):

  1. 84.1 Wilbert Robinson
  2. 80.7 Mike Scioscia
  3. 67.9 Connie Mack
  4. 67.4 Bruce Bochy
  5. 62.4 Bobby Cox
  6. 53.4 John McGraw
  7. 53.0 Sparky Anderson
  8. 52.8 Felipe Alou
  9. 51.5 Al Lopez
  10. 50.0 Frank Chance
  11. 44.6 Ossie Bluege
  12. 43.4 Bill McKechnie
  13. 41.7 Ralph Houk
  14. 40.7 Fred Clarke
  15. 37.5 Jimmy Dykes
  16. 37.4 Lou Boudreau
  17. 35.2 George Gibson
  18. 33.6 Pat Moran
  19. 32.3 Joe Cronin
  20. 31.0 Dick Howser
  21. 30.9 Tony LaRussa
  22. 29.3 George Stallings
  23. 29.1 Jim Tracy
  24. 29.0 Miller Huggins
  25. 28.1 Earl Weaver

And the bottom 12:

  1. -63.1 Gene Mauch
  2. -52.2 Eric Wedge
  3. -47.0 Mike Hargrove
  4. -45.0 Lou Piniella
  5. -39.9 Buddy Bell
  6. -38.6 Chuck Tanner
  7. -36.7 Cito Gaston
  8. -32.5 Stan Hack
  9. -31.6 Tom Kelly
  10. -28.8 Billy Meyer
  11. -27.2 Phil Garner
  12. -26.4 Walter Alston

There are some huge differences between the lists. Most noticably, Connie Mack and John McGraw jump from the bottom of the list to the top. Walter Alston makes the opposite leap. Also, our #1 manager by pythagorean record, Joe Torre, finishes 284th by WAR (–6.1 wins).

There is, however, quite a bit of consistency. Mike Scioscia, for example, ranks third by pythagorean record and second by WAR. In fact, he is one of nine managers to rank in the Top 20 in both lists. That list includes Hall of Famers Wilbert Robinson, Sparky Anderson, and Bill McKechnie. It also includes current or recent managers Bruce Bochy and Felipe Alou. Ralph Houk is another on the list (and he has some of the best Hall of Fame credentials of any manager on the outside of the Hall). Rounding out the list are who managers who didn't even reach 1000 games—Charles Gibson (who managed in the 1920s and 1930s) and Dick Howser (who tragically passed away at 51 less than two years after winning the 1985 World Series with the Royals).

You can see the numbers for all managers by visiting my Wins Above Expectancy page on the Hall of wWAR site. As I dig more into this, I'm sure this page will evolve. For now, it is a data dump.

Some caveats about the data:

  • I mostly ignored seasons with managerial changes mid-season. The exception is if one of the managers managed all but 10 games or less. In those cases, I just gave the entire season to the primary manager.
  • For all seasons through 2009, I pulled data from Sean Smith's historical WAR spreadsheets. There may be some minor inconsistencies with Baseball-Reference as the data is older.

Now is the part where you tell me what you think of this. It isn't really "WAR for managers". It's more like "These are the managers who often won more than expected and at least part of that is probably because they were good." Thoughts?

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