THE MANAGERIAL MERRY-GO-ROUND

By:  Holly Horning

It was a crazy end of the year, wasn’t it? And no, I don’t mean Al Avila’s late summer give-away program.

This year was the first time when we clearly saw the visible changes going on with baseball’s managers.

We had a manager who was finally set free after 4 very long years. Problem was, he should never have been hired in the first place.

Five other managers did not survive beyond early October. Two of them reasonably terminated because of their team’s results.

But the other 3 took their teams to the playoffs. When was the last time that happened?

Boston’s termination of John Farrell wasn’t a complete surprise. But the Nationals firing Dusty Baker, who had a team that led all of MLB in wins, certainly was. And then there was the curious case of Joe Girardi who took a “rebuilding” Yankees franchise to the brink of the World Series. Even more curious given that the Yankees had no clue where to find their next manager.

What is going on here?

The simple answer is that big money and analytics have significantly changed the role and importance of the manager. And the evidence is mirrored in the rapidly diminishing salaries managers are now receiving.

Five years ago, the salary structure started to change. Managers were making a lot of money and it was common to see salaries of multiple millions. But today, there are only a handful of skippers making near that. Bochy, Maddon and Scioscia. (Girardi, too, if we count last year.) Another couple making $2-$3 mill and the rest earning only 6 figures. The average MLB managerial salary today is somewhere around $700,000.

First of all, managers no longer have the power they once had. It used to be that most ruled the clubhouse with iron fists. What the manager said was the law of the land and players got in line.

But then a funny thing happened. Mega salaries awarded to players took over and the balance of power changed. And the bigger the salary, the bigger the say the player had in what he wanted in order to keep him happy. And owners and managers, afraid to weaken the results of their investment, afraid to have their superstar unhappy, afraid that his unhappiness would spread to the rest of the team, started listening and supporting these players.

Increasingly, we began to see managers fired because their most expensive stars didn’t like their decisions.

But while this was going on, analytics was quietly raising its profile. Teams were starting to understand the importance this new element had on the game. They started expanding their Front Offices by hiring people to fill this need.  And as a result, Front Office payrolls started to grow. No surprise that cutting managerial salaries began in order to help offset the new expenditures.

The Front Offices have quietly been expanding their power, too. No longer sitting silently in the background while the manager sits front and center, more of them are taking away some of the manager’s power – and limelight. They are insisting that their analytics department connect more and more with the manager and his coaches. They see the manager now as the conduit for imparting the info and the message to the players.

Baseball is trending towards using managers less and less for how to play the game and using them more and more as communication tools for the Front Office. Skippers have now become primarily middle-management functionaries with primary roles of communicating statistical information to the players and helping them perform better. No longer do they have much say in the overall team’s direction. That role has now gone to the Front Office.

This is one of the many reasons why Brad Ausmus is no longer with the Tigers. Word finally leaked that he had lost control and influence within the clubhouse. Players were not listening to him.

Dusty Baker lost his job because of his old-school ways re analytics and the influence of Bryce Harper. Joe Girardi was said to not be so user-friendly with some of the younger up-and-coming stars of the Yankees.

And this is why we now have a flurry of new managers who are rookies and youthful with little to no baseball managerial experience. Teams feel it is no longer necessary. They are looking for contemporary managers who can relay the stats provided by the Front Office and connect better with the newer generation of players.

The added bonus is that this manager is easier to control. And less expensive.

Given all this, it’s no surprise that 3 of the 6 new managers are 42 years old. One is 44 and the other 53.

And then we have Ron Gardenhire. The oldest at 59 and the only one with a real track record. His hiring is decidedly different from the others.  And the reasons why? We’ll save that discussion for another day.


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6 thoughts on “THE MANAGERIAL MERRY-GO-ROUND

  1. What exactly is meant by “analytics”? Or sabermetrics for that matter? Is WAR considered an analytic measurement? If so , it’s clearly all garbage because Jordan Zimmerman had a positive WAR in both of the last 2 seasons.

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    • Hi, Tim – Analytics is a broad term for a variety of mediums that help teams determine the value and strategy of games and players. it is stats, but it’s also historical patterns exhibited by a player, sabermetrics, percentages, scouting (the eyeball test), and also video. All the info is run through super computers to give information, probability and all sorts of other data that teams use to trade and acquire players as well as to offer the manager and coaches info to use in-game. But it’s also given to players to help them determine how to play their position against batters and pitchers. Justin Verlander did an entire interview about how Houston provided him with an incredible amount of info to help him prepare for games – and that he could submit a list of what he wanted and get the info. Great question! – Holly

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  2. With the new emphasis on analytics, I would love to see a “WAR” stat created for managers. This would be based on all on-field decisions, did he pull the pitcher too so0n? Is he a better hitter in the 8th and 9th innings. Now that would be fun to read. How long until one of those stats geeks come up with something to rate managers?

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  3. So analytics have taken over. Might as well have a super computer hooked up to a sound system sitting in the dugout acting as the manager.

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  4. Funny how two teams in the NE that are primed to win and one that’s rebuilding hire novices. The Tigers? They’re rebuilding and hire someone who’s experienced. I understand the toxic clubhouse culture Brad left behind and the need to hire someone who is going to command respect but I believe the fan base would’ve been more tolerant, accepting and patient with another little-to-no-experience hiring. Maybe AA had no leverage in this as well?

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