By:  Holly Horning

Baseball is changing faster than ever – and in all areas of the game.

We’ve seen the evolution of defense and also offense. Front offices have expanded.

And all of it due to the emergence of analytics.

Let’s face it, analytics has touched every area of the game, changing it significantly.

But the one area that hasn’t been discussed widely is the place that sits between the clubhouse and executive offices.

The dugout. It’s not immune to the changes analytics have wrought.

Managers have changed, as have their coaches.

That is, unless we’re talking about the Tigers, one of baseball’s last true throwback teams.

But even with the Tigers, they have a couple new positions with titles that are so long and obscure that we can’t remember them.


Let’s start with managers for the moment.

It used to be that the skipper was older and had gotten his promotion after working his way up through the minors via coaching. After establishing a solid record with an MLB team, the best of them got long-term contracts worth millions per year.

Not anymore.

Increasingly, managers are becoming much younger and often skipping the minor league training ground. Today, we’ve got a handful who have come into the position straight from their days as a player or a year or two removed.

And the trend now is also hiring college or independent coaches who never worked in MLB.

Salaries and contracts are also on the decline with 2-years/1 option year or 3-year contracts now the norm.

Other than a few grizzled veterans like Joe Maddon, most managers today are not making millions per year. They’re making around $1 mill or slightly less, depending upon their experience.

So why is this happening?

It’s because the power of decision-making in-game has changed. Dramatically.

Most of the shots now are being called by established analytics departments. They are generating the reports and strategies and then passing them onto their manager, if he is analytics-friendly, or to their point man in the dugout. He is often referred to as a “quality control manager.”

The skipper, as a result, now wields less power and less control. Thus, he’s being paid less and is no longer considered to be as crucial to the team’s performance as he once was. That is why we’ve been seeing more often teams shedding managers who took their teams to first place and not blinking when they do it.

(On an interesting footnote, a top MLB executive revealed that most front offices have a “spy” planted in the clubhouse who reports back to them on what is going on with the team so they can keep tabs on how well information is being passed and whether there are any problems.)

The money once spent on managers is now being used to build and expand analytics departments. New equipment, super computers, the latest technology and guys with degrees in analytics, sports performance and statistics from top colleges which offer these specialized majors.

And this department is now the one that is controlling the message, controlling the goals and giving the orders. The manager is now the messenger.

Today, it’s most important for the skipper to be well-versed in analytics, understand them and be able to pass them along to the coaches and the players.

He also must be media-friendly. No more interviews where he spits food while trying to simultaneously eat and answer reporters’ questions.

He has to be camera-ready and give 2 interviews per day. He has to come across as user-friendly. There’s no excuse anymore for someone in the public eye not to be able to successfully navigate the media.

It’s one reason why so many of the newer managers have come from doing tv and radio work recently.

The skipper’s main role today is to manage his players. To keep the clubhouse calm. And to be an excellent communicator with everyone inside and outside of the organization.

He must also be able to nurture the rookies and keep the stars in check. Which is why you’ll rarely see a top manager with playoff experience overseeing a rebuilding team in the early stages. Or a rookie manager overseeing a team loaded with stars.

Er, cough, most teams that is……

It’s why you saw Alan Trammell fail with a team of burgeoning stars and replaced with no-nonsense Jim Leyland.

It’s also why you saw A.J. Hinch, who was unwilling or unable to stop the Astros’ cheating, subbed out for Dusty Baker. A man capable of calming the Houston seas, correcting the clubhouse culture and garnering player respect.

It’s also why Ron Gardenhire came to Detroit. Never mind that he is one of Jim Leyland’s best friends. An old-school manager in the twilight of his career hired to oversee a clubhouse with a constantly-revolving door of players and zero expectations. A friendly guy – affable and with a sense of humor. A kinder, gentler manager who will not attract criticism of any kind.

It will be interesting if Gardy makes good on his comments about retiring after 2020. Who would replace him?

Not an in-demand successful manager.

But we are now officially taking bets on either Don Kelly or (gulp) Lloyd McClendon.

Need more proof about the changing role of managers? Consider that only 3 out of 30 managers have lasted 5 years.

And since 2017 – less than 3 years – two-thirds (20 teams!) of all MLB organizations have changed their managers.

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20 thoughts on “MANAGER AS MESSENGER

  1. That analytics business seems so detached from the fan base and what happens down on the field on a sunny afternoon. It reads to me that the end result of all that behind the scenes calculating is an alleged game that has degraded itself to a point where those merely watching or trying to watch don’t find it all that fascinating anymore. It just isn’t baseball.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Almost going full tilt back to the pre-radio era, even pre American league era. While there were a few long termers-many were player/managers whose managing career’s ended with, or soon after their playing days. Up or out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hinch is only out a year. No word on Cora, but I’d bet the same. These guys are up to speed on the new baseball, so have a go at them. What in the world is there to lose (legendary failed at Seattle Lloyd or Jimmy’s boy DK)?


  4. I also miss the days of the Manager being an artist. My favorite managers were creative, bold, and thought outside of the box. Now the players and analytics department rule the game, and the managers all use the same boring script. You used to see skippers go with more of their gut and ride the hot hand, now it’s pull the pitcher after 6 innings, endless pitching changes, shifts, and station to station offense.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Seems the goal of MLB is to turn baseball into a computer game made to order for those with a short attention span and an aversion to the smell of fresh cut grass. Think about it, all you need is some teenage gamer to design a game for a box and a bunch of special effects guys to do the animation and BAM millions of teenagers are hooked. No knowledge of baseball or experience on a diamond or butts in the bleachers required. Never mind Joe Dimaggio where have you gone Mr. Tiger?

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Analytics is doing to baseball what the new “smart app” did for the Iowa caucuses. Baseball is made for paper and pencil and eyes and guts. I don’t need a computer to tell me Christin Stewart plays left field like a Little Leaguer. I can see it with my own eyes.

    Liked by 3 people

    • “Gut” is the original analytics. A manager going with his “gut” is actually doing rudimentary calculations in his head about this particular pitcher, this particular batter, this particular base-out state, this particular situation. It’s the culmination of all his experience, and even though he may be not a SQL star, he’s definitely doing some calculations in his head. Otherwise, “gut” would be the same as “flipping a coin”.

      Liked by 2 people

      • How true. Sparky comes to mind. He built his team with classic strength up the middle and in the ’84 series played his hunches to again an edge. He put Marty Castillo at third and kept him in the series because he had a hunch and Castillo came through. Tom Brookens got the short end of it but the manager and his way prevailed. Sparky would have no use for what’s going on today.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. If the manager is making such a tiny fraction of the salary of the men he is charged with managing, it is highly likely that he will not be taken seriously. I suspect this pendulum will swing back, as teams start to figure out that there are elements to sustaining a successful, winning team that can’t be broken down into analytics.

    Liked by 6 people

  8. I remember many years ago seeing a quote by I believe Billy Beane or Bill James that in describing what he looks for in a manager went something like: “A guy with a little gray in his hair, looks good on the dugout step and can handle the press”. In other words, the manager is pretty much irrelevant in the modern game.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lots of great comments today! Statistics have surrounded the game of baseball for over a century – from the backs of baseball cards we memorized as kids to the box scores we studied in the papers. All those numbers reflected the artistry the players exhibited on the field. But the goal of today’s analytics is to harness, control, or replace that artistry – and that’s a shame.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. I could live with Don Kelly but OMG Legendary Lloyd if it comes to that I think I’m done with the Tigers and BTW Holly I loved the reference to Leyland and those post game interviews when his mouth was full of whatever the sandwich of the day was and then watching him mumble something unintelligible with a mouthful of food all while his feet were on the desk

    Liked by 4 people

    • Agreed cs; a great illustration of just how little respect he had for the fans who were the customers of his thoughts. I’m no great fan of Brad but it struck me how refreshing it was to not see JL’s post game spewing.


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