Last week, Ron Gardenhire and Bud Black were named the American and National League managers of the Year. But were they the best managers in their respective leagues this season?
Typically, the awards go to the managers of the teams that most outperformed the preseason expectations of the so-called baseball experts. But what if the experts were just wrong? What if those teams were actually more talented than believed? Does that manager still deserve to be Manager of the Year?
What we need to do is measure how many games a team won compared to the talent level on the roster. To do this we will look at total team Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which is just look at how well the entire team performed on the field statistically. We will then compare that data to the number of games each team won over the last four years.
What we see is that there is a very strong correlation between team WAR and Wins (R-squared=0.73; you can see full graph here). No surprise here. The better stats a team puts up, the more games a team wins. But this also gives a simple formula to predict how many games a team should have won based on a team’s stats.
We can then compare a teams EXPECTED WINS with their ACTUAL WINS to get an idea of which teams actually outperformed (or underperformed) their talent-level this past season…
As we can see, the Padres and Black did indeed outperform the team’s expected win total by 4.5 wins. Meanwhile, Gardenhire and the Twins actually had one fewer wins than expected based on their team stats. And neither manager was tops in their league.
Charlie Manuel of the Phillies led the NL with 9.2 wins more than expected. And Joe Maddon of the Rays was 7.2 wins above expected in the AL.
Meanwhile, we can see that the Diamondbacks were justified in their mid-season firing of AJ Hinch, as the team underperformed their expected performance by more than 13 wins.
Strength of schedule should play an important factor in how many games a team wins. And that data makes Manuel’s and Maddon’s seasons all the more impressive. Not only did they have more wins than their team’s talent would have predicted, but they also did it in tough divisions. Meanwhile, Gardenhire and Black faced a schedule that was easier than average.
Gardenhire and Black are excellent managers. But neither was the best manager in their respective leagues this season.
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