Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Myth of Managerial Experience

I've heard several times already that Terry Francona is the only logical choice for the Cardinals vacancy, largely due to his major league experience and his wealth of success. Both of those are nice attributes, and both fit Francona nicely. He does have recent success.... two world series rings. He does have experience.... managing in the AL east over the course of the last 8 years, and for the Phillies in some down years prior to that. You don't turn the keys of your Ferrari over to someone who's only driven a golf cart, right?

If the question were, "Would Terry Francona be able to handle our managerial opening?" the answer would certainly be "Yes." But the fact is....the answer would be "Yes" to everyone on the Cardinals' list of candidates. We give managers far too much credit. Which of Mike Matheny, Ryne Sandberg and Super Joe McEwing would fold under the weight of a lineup decision or pitching change? Ask Charlie Manuel how difficult the job is, and he'll tell you. "I just write the names on the card."

In fairness, the manager does have some impact on a team's actual record, but the decisions that they make often even out to close to neutral over the course of a year. With the best managers, a swing of a few wins could be expected. So if we consider the best manager in baseball earns his team around one to two wins above replacement......what is an average manager worth? Furthermore, why would we pay several million dollars for the marginal difference between Terry Francona and a Joe McEwing (I'd even disagree that there would be a noticeable difference.) We value players in terms of skills and pay them accordingly on the open market, and everyone loves the idea of finding a young, cost-controlled player. Why don't we ever hear of finding a young, but capable and cost-controlled manager? Kirk Gibson was pretty good in his first was Ron Roenicke. Recent history tells us that new managers can step in and do well.

A more appropriate and rarely posed question is, "What about Terry Francona made him successful during his major league experience, and is this specific to him?" The fact is, Terry Francona had some awful teams in Philadelphia. In his four years there, his best finish was 77-85...good enough for third place in the NL East.

He then went to Boston, and that's where his glory years started. In 2004, Boston won a World Series and Francona was a part of that. But a very small part. Blessed with a top 5 payroll, Theo Epstein's staff and several players who have later been implicated or have admitted to steroid use, the Red Sox finished 2nd in the AL East. This was good enough to fall 3 games back of the rival Yankees and win the wild card. Here's where it gets interesting. The Red Sox met the Yankees in the playoffs and immediately fell down 3-1 in the series, and many people in Boston (Bill Simmons included) were calling for Francona's head. His decision-making was called into question on several occasions early in the series, but that's when the players changed his legacy forever.

By storming back, beating the Yankees in the series and rolling through the World Series, the Red Sox painted Francona into a hero. The revisionist history made all of his decisions correct in hindsight, and Francona was instantly one of the elite managers in baseball about 10 games after being on his way out the door. It's funny how these things are forgotten or adjusted in people's minds. Admittedly, Francona has done well in Boston and added another WS championship a few years later before their recent collapse. But my question is, with the resources and players at his disposal, does that make him better than others on the list? Obviously Boston didn't think so....

The only thing his years of managerial experience tells me is that two storied franchises, Boston and Philadelphia had him and didn't want him. He failed to impress them, and he has therefore failed to impress me.

To revisit the Ferrari analogy.... Would you give the keys to your Ferrari to someone who has never driven a Ferrari? Or do you toss the keys to the guy who has a bunch of experience and has already wrecked two? You probably just interview both of them and make the best decision based on what you hear....

1 comment:

  1. Of the "inexperienced guys," my preference is Matheny. High character, leadership ability, part of the Cardinals family. Former-Cub Sandberg scares me ( and there is no way that "Super Joe" gets respect from a veteran clubhouse that remembers his playing days.