As you all may know, I’m not a huge believer in managers having big effects on their ballclubs. In general, I think most managers make many of the same in-game mistakes, and a large part of their job is what goes on behind closed doors and we don’t have very good information about that. Bat a guy with a .295 OBP lead-off? Sure, fire that manager then. That means that when it was announced that the Orioles finally signed Buck Showalter to be their new manager, I didn’t have much to say on the topic (he’s apparently used Wins Above Replacement in some analysis at ESPN, and he doesn’t seem particularly terrible on the face of things), so I decided to contact Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times – author of Evaluating Baseball’s Managers – to do a guest post on Buck. Chris was kind enough to agree, but the piece turned out so well that it made more sense to provide it to a general baseball audience at THT. I’m going to quote the article excessively though:
“Though Showalter isn’t a fanatic about running the same starting lineup every day, he does like to use his best players as often as possible. For example, in his last five years as manager, there were seven times a player appeared in at least 160 games, with a pair of 159ers right behind. That isn’t too unusual, but it is a bit high…
There are other ways Showalter leaves clearer fingerprints upon his teams. He’s arguably the least “small ball” manager ever. To him “bunt” is just another four-letter word. His offenses finished in last place with sac hits or tied for it four times, including at least once with every franchise he’s managed. He’s also come next-to-last twice. None of his AL teams ever bunted more than 27 times a year. MLB’s record low for team SH is nine – and that was the Showalter-managed 2009 Rangers.
The longer Showalter’s been around, the more anti-SH he seems to be. In New York, only one player – Pat Kelly – ever hit double-digits in SH. In Texas, there was only one time a player had more than FIVE sacrifice hits in a year (Rod Barajas, with eight in 2004). In Texas, in the 21 times a player qualified for the batting title under Showalter, the hitters collected a grand total of four SH. Young had three of them all by himself in 2003 and Gary Mathews Jr. had the other one in 2005.
Showalter is more willing to steal bases than to bunt a guy over, but that isn’t saying much. He’ll usually have one guy who runs some, but it helps if the guy is a good percentage stealer. For instance, Showalter’s biggest base-stealing threat was Tony Womack, who stole 72 bases in 85 attempts, a rather nice success rate.
But a runner like Womack is the exception, not the rule. His clubs have been last in steals twice, in the bottom four teams in six different campaigns and in the bottom half in all but two of his 11 managerial seasons. In four years under Showalter, a young (age 23 to 26) Bernie Williams averaged 10 steals a year. In his first three seasons without Showalter, Williams stole at least 15 bases a year. Alfonso Soriano stole 43, 41 and 35 bases in the three seasons immediately prior to his arrival in Texas. He averaged 24 a year in a pair of campaigns under Showalter, but then stole 41 in his first post-Showalter season.
However, unlike the SH, Showalter’s become increasingly likely to employ the stolen base. The Yanks featured both of his last-place stolen base finishes, and never ranked higher than 12th in steals in the 14-team AL under Showalter. Neither Arizona nor Texas ever came in last in steals, and each had some middling seasons at it.
In the 22 times a player qualified for a batting title in the Bronx under Showalter, a man went the entire year without a stolen base six times. Meanwhile, only five times in New York did anyone steal more than a handful of bases for him. Since New York, every single batter qualifying for the batting title has had at least one stolen base for Showalter, and a majority (19 out of 35) have stolen more than a handful. Even with Soriano, his depressed stolen base totals were because Showalter moved him from the leadoff slot to the heart of the batting order.
Also, Showalter’s generally done a good job putting OBP at the top of the order. The chart below shows the team OBP for all the squads Showalter’s managed, as well as the OBP from the Nos. 1 and 2 slots – the table setters in the order:Year Team No. 1 No. 2 1992 NYY 0.328 0.328 0.329 1993 NYY 0.353 0.354 0.345 1994 NYY 0.374 0.388 0.420 1995 NYY 0.357 0.359 0.409 1998 ARI 0.314 0.340 0.306 1999 ARI 0.347 0.326 0.382 2000 ARI 0.333 0.311 0.353 2003 TEX 0.330 0.324 0.347 2004 TEX 0.329 0.354 0.349 2005 TEX 0.329 0.321 0.385 2006 TEX 0.338 0.361 0.356
This isn’t fantastic, but it is above average. One out of every seven teams gets worse OBP from each of the top two slots than the team as a whole, but that’s never happened to a Showalter team. Of the 1,378 teams from 1954-2009, 35 percent have worse OBP in their No. 1 slot than the team as a whole. With Showalter, it’s 64 percent. So it’s fairly standard.
Where Showalter does stand out, is in the No. 2 hole. From 1954-2009, 42 percent of teams have worse OBP in the second slot than on the entire team. Showalter only did it twice in 11 years, and neither of those years was much below the team average. Oftentimes, a manager will place a bat control specialist in that role, and prioritize that over all else. Showalter, with his lack of interest in the bunt, is more interested in getting someone else on rather than moving the runner over. He isn’t the best at putting OBP at top, but he is good at it.
Also, it’s especially important that he get such good OBP from his table setters, because if there’s one thing his teams have been good at over the years, it’s slugging the ball. Twice a Showalter-managed team led the league is Isolated Power, on two other occasions they finished second, in a fifth year they came in third, and in two more campaigns they came in fourth. Not bad for an 11-year haul.
Thinking it through, there’s a clear theme to everything above, a theme that represents Showalter’s offensive philosophy. He isn’t playing for one run at a time, but prefers going for the big inning. To that end, he’ll try to put good OBP at the top of the order so his big boppers can drive runners in.
The ballparks Showalter managed in (especially Arizona and Texas) play a clear role in these high ISO rankings, and talent always matters the most. That said, what a manager prioritizes and how he coaches can affect things as well. Of the 21 individuals who played in at least 300 games for him, 14 set new personal single-season home run bests under his watch, eight of which still stand. Showalter presided over unexpected power surges from Mike Stanley and Jim Leyritz, had 30-something veterans Jay Bell and Steve Finley defy time to improve their power, and witnessed the best seasons from Young, Mathews Jr. and Kevin Mench.
I don’t want to overstate my case. Showalter’s no magician who automatically makes everyone a better power hitter (Soriano, most notably, did not improve under him). My point is much simpler. Baseball can be like any other workspace in that employees respond to items their boss pays more attention to. There are other ways Showalter leaves clearer fingerprints upon his teams. He’s arguably the least “small ball” manager ever. To him “bunt” is just another four-letter word. His offenses finished in last place with sac hits or tied for it four times, including at least once with every franchise he’s managed. He’s also come next-to-last twice. None of his AL teams ever bunted more than 27 times a year. MLB’s record low for team SH is nine – and that was the Showalter-managed 2009 Rangers…
Right now, it looks like a guy who can’t get along with his bosses working for a boss who can’t get along with his employees. Sounds like a bad sit-com idea. I have no idea how it’ll play out, but my guess is that Showalter will make the Orioles play more professionally, but I wouldn’t expect him to last too long there.”
The bolded part is my favorite. Let’s see what Buck can do with this young crew now.