Although teams are in the midst of battling for their playoff lives in 2014, a majority of teams are already looking toward 2015. There are currently three teams without a permanent manager, others with managers on the hot seat/wobbly chair, and the skipper musical chairs have already begun, with the Astros replacing Bo Porter with A.J. Hinch. The Twins, Rangers and Diamondbacks are currently conducting managerial searches, and the Reds and Brewers may be joining them soon. Diving into the numbers, we will take a look at team ownership investment via opening day payroll, 2014 first, second and third order wins and break down what went wrong this season, with the goal of identifying the most desirable landing spot for managerial candidates.
As a reminder, First Order Wins are based on Pythagorean record, which is what a team's record ‘should have' been based on run differential. Second Order Wins attempts to strip out hit sequencing and substitutes actual runs scored with projected or ‘Equivalent Runs' scored using actual run components (hits/walks/total bases/stolen bases); these are park adjusted. Third Order wins uses ‘Adjusted Equivalent Runs' scored and allowed, which accounts for quality of opponents' pitching and defense.
The Twins were well out of the playoff race early in the season, and ended up finishing 20 games behind the Tigers in the American League Central and 18 games out of a playoff spot. They are a team that rarely changes managers (they have only had two managers since 1986), but the position is currently vacant. Despite finishing in the basement of the Central, and having a low payroll, there is significant value to be placed on ownership loyalty. The Twins topped Jason Parks' (then Baseball Prospectus and now Cubs employee) organizational rankings for 2014. Although two of their top players, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano missed significant time due to injury, they are likely to still be in the top five for overall organizational talent, with both potentially becoming September call-ups in 2015.
Knowing a team will retain a manager's services for a long tenure, and having the ability to lead a team that theoretically should be on the rise, could be an exciting prospect for a managerial candidate. By Ordered Wins, the Twins are middle-of-the-pack in the teams evaluated, and the cumulative team Wins Above Replacement is only .2 wins behind the Brewers, who were in the playoff hunt until late in the season. Despite the ugly 2014 numbers, there is a lot to like about the situation in the twin cities, although the Royals, Tigers and Indians make for formidable competition.
Of the teams on this list, Texas' window has been open for the longest, and the Rangers have come the closest to winning a World Series, but how quickly times change. Since 2008, the Rangers had finished first or second every year until 2014. This season, however, was a complete loss. Despite the 2014 mess, their managerial position is only open because of Ron Washington's abrupt resignation due to personal issues, and it is pretty clear that if he had his druthers, General Manager Jon Daniels would have retained Wash for at least another season. The Rangers endured serious injuries from both position players and pitchers (to include Prince Fielder and Derek Holland). Injuries combined with underperformance by their key free agent acquisition, Shin-Soo Choo, contributed to the Rangers ending up with the worst record in the American League. They were next to last in team FIP, and 24th in wRC+.
Despite the highest payroll on our list, the Rangers were such a mess this year. It will be incredibly difficult to bounce back to first place, as the 2012-2013 Red Sox did last year, since Texas has significant money tied up in Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Choo. By Ordered Wins, only the Diamondbacks were worse this year, and the Rangers were behind every team on our list in WAR. On the plus side, the Rangers have a top ten organizational rank, with Rougned Odor already with major league experience and Joey Gallo tearing the covers off baseballs in the minors. It looks like the window on this currently-constructed Rangers roster is closer, while the medium-term looks a little brighter. This certainly is not an ideal situation, especially when considering a clubhouse-beloved players' manager left the team on his own accord.
There was not a more dysfunctional team in the majors this year than Arizona. From top to bottom, the team was an absolute mess. Kevin Towers' ill-advised moves have been well-documented by our own Joseph Werner, Kirk Gibson gained a reputation for advocating ‘faux tough-guy' methods rather than acting as an effective leader, and the team finished wtih the worst record in the majors.
By second and third ordered wins, they are significantly behind the Brewers, Reds and Twins, and are currently undergoing an overhaul at all facets of the front office. Arizona's middle-of-the-road by org rankings, and were 15th coming into 2014. Analyzing ordered wins, 2014 finish and outlook towards the future, combined with front office dysfunction, the DBack's managerial situation will hardly be an enviable position to hold in 2015. The only saving grace on the longer term is the number one pick secured by a hapless team, who finished the year with the worst record in the majors, but this is highly unlikely to have much of a positive effect on the 2015 major league club.
Hot Seat / Wobbly Chair Potentials
Much like the Rangers, the Reds were predicted by some analysts to make the 2014 postseason, and came away as underachievers. The Reds made little noise this season due in part to injuries to Joey Votto and underperformance by their entire offense. The Reds finished with an 83 wRC+ -- only the Padres were worse in the majors. Despite a $114 million payroll, the Reds had the second-to-last team WAR on our list (only the $133 million Rangers were worse). By first order wins, the Reds underperformed by three games, finishing with only 76 wins to the first order 79 wins, however, when diving deeper into park adjusted numbers, hit sequencing, and opponent adjustments, they overperformed their second and third order wins. The organization ranked 16th coming into the season, with rookie Billy Hamilton looking like a star in the first half. In the second half of the season, he had a .254 OBP and a abysmal 42 wRC+.
The Reds are closer to the playoffs than others on this list, most notably the Diamondbacks, but the future does not look bright. With a consistent Cardinals team, and an up-and-coming Cubs team, as well as an already-arrived Pirates team, it will be difficult to compete in a talented and challenging National League Central for the near-term.
The Brewers were in the playoff hunt for pretty much the entire season, but underwent a tailspin in an abysmal second half, eventually finishing six games out of a playoff spot. While there have been rumors ownership may replace Ron Roenicke, nothing is definitive. Nevertheless, analyzing the Brewers is an interesting exercise, as they dominated the National League Central for the first four months of the season. Compared to the other teams on this list, they were seemingly successful most recently -- as recently as mid-August, in fact, when they had a 90% chance to make the playoffs per Fangraphs' playoff odds -- but bitterly disappointed in the last several weeks. Compounding matters, the Brew Crew ranked 29th in organizational rankings coming into the season, so it seems there needs to be significant retooling before this team takes a significant step forward. On the surface, it may seem that with a little luck, the Brewers could be back to being contenders, but this year's good luck still led them to finish a half dozen games out of a playoff spot, and there seems to be little help coming up from the minors. In the short-term, there may be enough to make them relevant again in 2015, but any success will be short-lived.
Each of these teams present a unique challenge to a new skipper/potential skipper. Diving into the numbers often yields different results than we expected, but sometimes reaffirms what we thought we already knew. The Diamondbacks are an organizational disaster, and with Tony LaRussa making the decisions, it is hard to imagine Arizona gaining any winning traction in 2015 or 2016. The Twins appear to be in a short-term hopeless situation, and it is true they have to compete with the Tigers, Royals and Indians, all of whom finished above .500. However, Minnesota has a track record of sticking with their managers on a long-term basis, and there may be an opportunity to oversee the next period of Twins success - particularly when you look at their farm system, there is a lot to like. For a managerial candidate who wants a longer-term challenge, and potentially mentor young talent, this would be an ideal fit.
The NL Central teams each bring along their own unique challenge. The Brewers were close to making the playoffs for a vast majority of the year, and looking at the numbers, it seems they were a true-talent .500 team, unlike the Reds. In the era of a dual-wildcard, true-talent .500 teams are close enough to be viewed as a 2015 competitor. Should the managerial seat became vacant, the Brewers are likely the closest to competing in 2015, but it would surely be a difficult task. The Reds' situation is less enviable, as their second and third ordered wins are even lower than the 76 wins they put in up 2014. With a middle-of-the-road farm system, and limited payroll, they likely will not be able to compete in the division in the near-term, and a short-term window appears to be closed.
The Rangers present the most perplexing case, as they have been incredibly successful in recent years, but 2014 was an unmitigated disaster. Their team WAR was far below anyone else on our list, as were the first/second/third order wins and losses. Although they came into the year as seemingly contenders for a playoff spot, the Rangers suddenly find themselves fighting for fourth place, as the A's, Mariners and Angels appear to have all taken a step forward, and it would be difficult to argue they are all not superior teams to beat in the West. The Rangers' current situation is probably the least desirable of all these teams, although whoever ends up manning the helm will have their hands full.
|Team||Opening Day Payroll||Team WAR||Actual W-L||First Order W-L||Second Order W-L||Third Order W-L|
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All payroll data and org rankings courtesy of Baseball Prospectus.
Steven Martano is a contributing writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.