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Joe Maddon revisited

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As the discussion regarding Joe Maddon coming to the Cubs intensifies, there are even more ways to evaluate manager in-game decision making.

"What can you tell me about Chicago?"
"What can you tell me about Chicago?"
Scott Iskowitz

I wrote Monday on evaluating managers in terms of how they manage in-game decisions, and later realized there were two more points I wished to convey. One was an omission on my part I had intended to include; the other, something a commenter pointed out that deserves further investigation.

The first is the concept of just how a manager makes in-game decisions. In order to claim managers can make a difference in the number of wins teams have, it must follow that managers are making decisions that no other manager would. In some cases -- such as base running, defensive substitutions, and lineup adjustments -- this can be readily apparent, but it's not always so cut-and-dried.

Consider the use of the Royals bullpen, specifically using Kelvin Herrera in the seventh, Wade Davis in the eighth and Greg Holland to close when ahead. For Ned Yost to be anointed a genius for devising this pattern, it would have to be true that no other manager would have come up with this idea. Leave aside the notion that it was probably a collaborative effort that led the Royals to use their bullpen in this way, and consider -- it is possible any other manager would have used the bullpen in the same way? If the answer is yes, then Ned Yost can't be called a genius, since he's doing what other managers would do. If no, that's a different discussion.

Likewise, moving Lorenzo Cain to third in the batting order toward the end of the season -- probably a good idea that not every manager would have made. Batting Mike Trout third -- just about any manager can make that call. To accurately give credit to a manager for the decisions he makes requires that he alone be capable of reaching that conclusion. Much of the data I showed in my prior post suggests Maddon was making lineup changes other managers wouldn't do. Since he probably wasn't wearing an earpiece with a direct line to Andrew Friedman during games, the in-game changes Maddon made over the years demonstrated his ability to assess his team's strengths and make adjustments that placed the Rays in the best position to win.

The second point was a comment made at the end of my last post that referred to something I wrote earlier this year on what I term my Mistake Index, where I looked at a wide range of measures to see if there is a correlation between the number of mistakes a team makes and their success. I'll admit this had completely slipped my mind, but as soon as I read the comment I realized it was a point worthy of checking.

The types of mistakes I measured, such as wild pitches and other pitching miscues, base running mistakes, and errors, are items a good manager can reduce. He can't prevent an error in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied, but over the course of the year can be expected to coach his players to be able to commit fewer errors. No single statistic ever tells the entire story of a team, but the data in the spreadsheet goes back to 2009, and in that period the Rays generally committed fewer mistakes than their opponents.

Things will happen quickly regarding Maddon. Teams are not allowed to make big announcements while the World Series is in progress, and free agent signings can begin on November 4th, so top tier players probably want to know who their manager will be prior to signing. Jon Heyman broke on Wednesday afternoon that the Cubs had reached an agreement with Maddon, but there was no official statement from either the team or Maddon's agent. I was on the fence, not really being a proponent of firing someone with two years left on his contract when he hasn't been given a true team to manage. But then I stopped and thought about it, and realized that the Cubs would be making their own in-game substitution, replacing Rick Renteria with someone who is a better manager just when the team is poised to capitalize on the moves they've made over the past three years. If it's good enough for me to write about, I should probably be consistent in my thinking and advocate it as well.

*** View this Tableau data viz to see the Mistake Index data referenced in this post graphically represented ***

All data from Baseball-Reference. Any mistakes in gathering or amalgamating the data are the author's.

Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.