A manager’s role in helping his team win games isn’t completely understood or easy to quantify. It is especially difficult because for 21 hours a day we rely on subjective anecdotes from media members and players that attempt to discern a manager’s ability as “leader of men”. In-game decisions, however, provide an objective look at how managers impact the game. Recently, Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus calculated the tactical differences among managers. This process provides a glimpse at the amount and kind of tactical decisions managers are employing without qualifying their contribution to a team’s chance of winning. The methodology includes totaling up usage in 10 separate tactical categories including sacrifice bunts, hit and runs, pitch outs called, and challenges used. Ben calculated the league-wide mean and standard deviation for each of the 10 categories that allowed him to come up with a z-score for each individual manager. Summing up all of the z-scores gives a composite z-score that shows how many more or fewer tactical decisions an individual manager uses compared to the rest of the league. Obvious caveats include the fact that only one season of data was inspected and that each manager has a different roster that require drastically disparate machinations in an attempt to maximize the ability to win baseball games. In any case, this is an interesting study.
Joe Girardi, despite all the binder jokes, actually graded out closest to league average in terms of tactical moves. Quickly running through each category and Girardi’s corresponding z-score: sacrifice attempts: -0.2, pinch hitters used: 0, intentional walks allowed: -0.4, pitchouts called: -0.2, hit and runs called: -0.8, challenges used: -0.8, lineups used: 1.3, 1-batter faced pitching appearances: 0.7, defensive substitutions: 1.0, pinch runners: -0.6. The composite z-score is -0.1, meaning he is almost exactly league average (0 is league average). Lineups used and defensive substitutions are the only categories Girardi scored +/- 1 z-score away. His drastic use of lineup changes is largely a function of having a lot of roster turnover (Alfonso Soriano, Kelly Johnson, and Yangervis Solarte out. Stephen Drew, Martin Prado, and Chase Headley in) rather than trying to find production and optimize lineups. The defensive substitutions are mostly subbing Ichiro Suzuki and Brendan Ryan into games late when the team is ahead. The latter will cease to exist with Drew and Headley in the fold. Girardi hasn’t made substantially any more or less moves compared to the rest of the league.
This study is very reassuring as most moves (particularly sac bunts and pitch outs) that managers employ are counterproductive to winning. It is also interesting that in a season decimated by player injuries (both pitching and hitting) that necessitate strict reliance on gaining the platoon advantage or squeezing runs out the offense, Girardi has been almost exactly league average in terms of tactical moves used.