Maddon vs. Gardy: Comparing Performance of Two Managers
With the news of Joe Maddon’s opt-out, Twins fans everywhere are clamoring for the front office to make him a serious offer. Maddon has earned a reputation as one of the greatest minds in the game, a savvy and sabermetrically-aware manager capable of getting a lot of production out of his players.
Just how much of an improvement would Maddon be over Gardy? It is widely thought that he will command a salary near Mike Scioscia’s $5 million. This would be a big step up from the $2 million Gardy will be earning for the last year of his contract, but certainly not a bank-breaker by MLB standards.
Since 2006, both Gardy and Maddon have been at the helm of several playoff teams with little postseason success. Factor in Gardy’s 2002-2005 seasons, and you generally have more of the same. Both managers have also received praise from baseball writers. Maddon was named American League Manager of the Year in both 2011 and 2008. Gardy won the award in 2010 and finished runner-up in 2006, 2008, and 2009. Both men are generally seen as “player’s managers” who run loose and comfortable clubhouses.
A major difference between Gardy and Maddon is their usage of sabermetrics and advanced stats. Gardy has publicly mocked them, while Maddon has embraced them. For instance, Maddon revolutionized defensive shifting. Gardy, meanwhile, has been consistently hesitant to platoon players, demonstrating a non-acknowledgement of numbers.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to quantify managerial performance. From a fan’s perspective, we can only judge based on what we see on the field and in the papers. Here, I’ve attempted to quantify (albeit crudely) the managerial performance of Gardy and Maddon. I’ve used a few simple metrics to clump managerial performance into two broad categories:
1. Making the most out of every run, as evidenced by team performance in 1-run games and relative to Pythagorean record. This is largely related to in-game managerial decisions and luck. Team confidence also factors into this; a team that is confident in their ability to win should, in theory, win more close games. Presumably, a manager can affect this.
2. Making the most out of cheap players, as evidenced by money spent per win. This reflects several things – lineup decisions, clubhouse rapport, defensive positioning, and front-office performance. The extent to which a manager affects this is unknown and undoubtedly varies from team to team.
Making the Most Out of Every Run
Here are comparisons of Gardy (red) vs. Maddon (blue) in Pythagorean difference (Pythagorean wins – Actual wins) and 1-run games from 2006-2014:
Over the course of 2006-2014, Gardy has a Pythagorean record of +1 overall, while Maddon’s is -4. In that span, their 1-run records are virtually identical: Gardy is 221-211 (.512), while Maddon is 215-202 (.516).
What do these numbers mean? Basically, they say two things. First of all, both managers have fielded teams that are, on average, slightly better in close games than their opponents. In that sense, both Gardy and Maddon seem to be above-average managers. However, neither manager is capable of making extraordinary in-game decisions that lead to far more wins than expected based on runs. If Maddon is substantially better than Gardy, it doesn’t show up in these metrics.
Making the Most Out of Cheap Players
While neither Gardy nor Maddon has had the opportunity to work with gargantuan payrolls, there is a clear difference here: from 2006-2014, the Twins won 709 games for a total payroll of $723.05 million ($1.02 million per win), while the Rays won 754 games for $479.65 million ($0.64 million per win). This is a striking difference. Furthermore, it is completely in-line with Maddon’s reputation as someone who can do a lot with a low payroll.
But a huge question remains – just how much does a manager actually affect wins per dollars spent? Does a great manager make a difference? Or is this more closely linked to front office decisions? In an effort to examine this, I compared 2006-2014 year-by-year money spent per win of four teams:
1. Twins (red)
2. Rays (blue)
3. Mets (orange; a team with changing managers and a front office with a poor reputation)
4. A’s (green; a team with changing managers and a front office with a great reputation)
Here are the results:
What’s interesting here is that the A’s have been almost as efficient with their money per win as the Rays, despite a revolving door of managers. And this doesn’t even include Billy Beane’s first 8 years as the A’s GM, when he originally championed the “Moneyball” philosophy.
The Twins were part of the “efficient” group until 2010-2011. Two things happened around this time: 1) Joe Mauer started earning a lot more money, and 2) Bill Smith’s craptastic decisions reached a peak, trading Wilson Ramos for the overpriced Matt Capps and trading the underpriced J.J. Hardy for nobody noteworthy. Since then, the Twins have been struggling to spend money efficiently, especially with Mauer’s clunker contract still looming large.
The Mets have been relatively inefficient spenders from 2006-2014, although they have heading in the right direction more recently. Like the Twins, they fired a GM during this time - Omar Minaya in 2010.
How much is Gardy to blame for the Twins inefficiency over the last four years, and how much should Maddon be credited with the Rays efficiency? These figures suggest that front office changes are far more meaningful in this regard – the consistently clever A’s and Rays front offices have kept their teams efficient despite drastically different managerial histories. Meanwhile, the Twins and Mets efficiency has fluctuated more with front office changes than managerial changes.
Overall, Maddon hasn’t really outperformed Gardy in any in-game metrics that could confer an advantage per run scored. And although Maddon probably had some impact on the Rays’ efficiency per dollar spent, front offices appear to be far more influential than managers.
Bottom line: it would be wicked cool to welcome Joe Maddon as the Twins’ next manger, and he’d certainly sell more tickets. But in comparison to the front office, his impact would be relatively small.