You Could Play, But Can You Manage?

Brad Ausmus has been about a .500 manager in his Tigers' tenure. (via Arturo Pardavila III)

Brad Ausmus has been about a .500 manager in his Tigers’ tenure. (via Arturo Pardavila III)

Though tasked with leading some of the world’s best baseball players, major league managers come from myriad playing backgrounds. Some never cracked the big leagues, while others had extensive, illustrious careers. A player’s standout major league career doesn’t mean that he’ll make a good manager, and a player’s mediocre career doesn’t mean that he won’t.

However, one interesting possible indicator is a player’s position. Of the 30 current managers, 14 played at least some catcher professionally. That may speak to a catcher’s role in calling games for the pitcher, staying in tune to all kinds of information to help steer the ship. It makes sense that that ability would translate to managing.

It’s an inexact science, but it’s fun to look back and see which current managers from each position group have had the most success.

Catchers

  • Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (managerial capsule): Ausmus played 18 seasons and 10 of those came with the Houston Astros. No other catcher has played more games (1,259), racked up more hits (970) or scored more runs (415) in Astros history. He also is third in major league history with 12,843 putouts as a catcher and won three Gold Gloves. Ausmus was an All-Star in 1999 with the Tigers, and finished that season hitting .275 with a .350 wOBA and 102 wRC+. He led all catchers with a .998 fielding percentage too. For his career, Ausmus was +178.7 defensive runs above average (DEF).
  • Major league managing credentials: Three seasons; 182-180 record; 2014 playoff berth

  • New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi (managerial capsule): Girardi was part of Yankees World Series-winning teams in 1996, 1998 and 1999. He played 15 seasons total and made the 2000 All-Star team as a replacement for Mike Piazza. He was a .267 career hitter with a +76.3 DEF.
  • Major league managing credentials: 10 seasons; 829-667 record; 2009 World Series champion; five total playoff berths; 2006 National League Manager of the Year

  • St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (managerial capsule): During a career that spanned 13 seasons, Matheny won four Gold Gloves. Further flexing his fielding acumen, Matheny went 252 consecutive games without an error over an almost two-year period from 2002-04. That’s an NL record among catchers. He had a career +109.7 DEF behind the plate too.
  • Major league managing credentials: Five seasons; 395-292 record; 2013 NL champion; four total playoff berths

  • Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia (managerial capsule): Scioscia played his entire 13-season career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was an All-Star in 1989 and 1990. He went on to lead all catchers with 822 putouts in 1989 and was second in 1990 with 842. Scioscia had a +115 career DEF. At the plate, he hit .259 for his career, and his 567 walks are 10th in Dodgers history.
  • Major league managing credentials: 17 seasons; 1,433-1,198 record; 2002 World Series champion; seven total playoff berths; 2002 and 2009 American League Manager of the Year

Infielders

  • Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly (managerial capsule): Mattingly was a career Yankee and collected six All-Star selections and nine Gold Gloves at first base during his 14-season career. He hit .343 in 1984 to win a batting title, and added 23 home runs that year, plus a .401 wOBA and 153 wRC+. Mattingly won AL MVP honors the next season, and hit .324 with a career-high 35 home runs. By the time he retired in 1995, he had racked up 222 home runs and 442 doubles, which is fourth in Yankees history. He was a career .307 hitter with a .361 wOBA, 124 wRC+ and 40.7 WAR.
  • Major league managing credentials: Six seasons; 467-381 record; three total playoff berths

  • Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor (managerial capsule): Molitor played most of his 21-season career with the Milwaukee Brewers. He spent the majority of his time in the field at third base, and also spent significant time at second base. He spent even more time, though, at designated hitter. Molitor was a seven-time All-Star. He won a World Series title with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993 and was named MVP of the series. Molitor hit .306 for his career with 3,319 hits, 1,094 walks, 234 home runs and a 67.6 WAR. His 2,281 hits, 1,275 runs, 755 walks and 86 triples with Milwaukee are all second in franchise history, and his .303 batting average is third. Molitor was inducted into Hall of Fame in 2004.
  • Major league managing credentials: Two seasons; 93-107 record

  • Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura (managerial capsule): When it came to grand slams, Ventura was one of the best. He hit 18, which is tied with Willie McCovey for fifth in major league history. In the field, Ventura won six Gold Gloves at third base. Ventura played 10 of his 16 total seasons with the White Sox and, along with being tied for first in franchise history with 10 grand slams for Chicago, Ventura also is fifth in franchise history in walks with 668 and sixth in total home runs with 171. He made All-Star squads in 1992 and 2000 too. Ventura was a career .267 hitter with 294 home runs, a .351 wOBA and a 56.7 WAR.
  • Major league managing credentials: Five seasons; 321-366 record

  • Colorado Rockies manager Walt Weiss (managerial capsule): Weiss’ major league career got off to a nice start as he was named AL Rookie of the Year in his first full season with the Oakland Athletics 1988. A year later, he won a World Series with the Athletics. Weiss, a shortstop, was also an All-Star in 1998. He was a career .258 hitter.
  • Major league managing credentials: Four seasons; 228-296 record

Outfielder

  • Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker (managerial capsule): Baker earned a pair of All-Star nods (1981 and 1982) in his 19-season career. He played eight seasons apiece with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves. With the Dodgers, Baker was named the NL Championship Series MVP in 1977 and won a World Series in 1981. Baker also won a Gold Glove in 1981 for his play in left field. He finished his career hitting .278 with 1,981 hits, 242 home runs, a .349 wOBA, 117 wRC+ and 37.9 WAR.
  • Major league managing credentials: 21 seasons; 1,694-1,520 record; 2002 NL champion; seven total playoff berths; 1993, 1997 and 2000 NL Manager of the Year

Pitcher

  • Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell (managerial capsule): Among current managers, Farrell is the only one who was a full-time pitcher in the majors. Injuries limited his career, but he pitched parts of eight seasons with Cleveland Indians and the Angels. His best season was in 1989, when he had a 3.63 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 208 innings pitched, spread across 31 starts. Farrell pitched 698.2 career innings in 116 games (109 starts), and had a 4.56 overall ERA.
  • Major league managing credentials: Six seasons; 424-425 record; 2013 World Series champion

Bonus: Best minor leaguer

  • San Diego Padres manager Andy Green (managerial capsule): Green did play in 140 major league games across four seasons, but he shined the most in the minors. There, across 10 seasons and 901 games, he was a career .295 hitter with 984 hits, including 67 home runs. In 2005, he was named the Triple-A Pacific Coast League’s Most Valuable Player for batting .343 with 125 runs, 80 RBIs and 19 home runs with an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate.
  • Major league managing credentials: Green is in his first season as a major league manager.

As you can see, several were real-life All-Stars. But let’s take it a step further: Pitted against each other, who would make a legends All-Star team of sorts? You can probably gather who I would have at some of the positions, but here is my complete list:

P: John Farrell
C: Mike Scioscia
1B: Don Mattingly
2B: Paul Molitor
3B: Robin Ventura
SS: Walt Weiss
LF: Dusty Baker
CF: Dave Roberts (Roberts, the Dodgers’ manager, didn’t make my list of standouts, but he played the majority of his 10-season career in center field. He was a career .266 hitter, and stole one of the most celebrated bases in postseason history.)
RF: Terry Francona (Similarly, he also didn’t make my standouts list, and he primarily played first base, but Francona’s 99 career games in right field make him my choice here among the current selection of managers. The current Indians manager, Francona hit .274 for his career across 10 seasons.)

To cap things off, I would tab Joe Maddon to manage this team. Maddon didn’t make the majors, but played four seasons in the minors and is a three-time Manager of the Year.

Can we get this squad together for a real All-Star weekend exhibition? Your move, MLB.


Wayne Epps Jr. is a recent graduate of James Madison University, where he was the editor of the student newspaper The Breeze. He has worked for The Boston Globe, USA Today and The New York Times. Follow him on Twitter @wayneeppsjr.
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Philip
5 years ago

I’d guess in the past 30 or so years we’ve seen an upswing in the percentage of major league managers who were former big league catchers.

That All-Star team looks pretty good.

But I think one of coaches from 2015 would beat them:

P Rick Honeycutt
Closer: Dave Righetti
C Tony Pena
1B Mark McGwire
2B Davey Lopes
3B Tim Wallach
SS Larry Bowa
LF Tom Brunansky
CF Brett Butler
RF Harold Baines
DH Don Baylor

Philip
5 years ago

Meant to correct SS with Omar Vizquel

Àngel Lluís Carrillo Pujol
5 years ago

The average of Wins in the Player MLB/Manager is.531 (10 managers, without Andy Green, only 52 games), and for the other Managers of MLB that never play in MLB, 19, the Average of Wins is.497.

Maybe, the experience and play in a great level are an extra point for being a good Manager, maybe.

Àngel Lluís Carrillo Pujol
5 years ago

And one graphic to see that, maybe, the best Managers are ex-MLB players

https://public.tableau.com/views/Managers2016Bisbol/Sheet2?:embed=y&:display_count=yes&:showTabs=y

channelclemente
5 years ago

Bochy just gets no respect among this Dodgers riff-raff.

Mac
5 years ago

The intro discussion of this article left me a bit confused. I see two lines of inquiry here:

1) History of the best playing careers among current MLB managers
2) Speculation and/or analysis of how playing careers might impact managerial performance

Clearly the article meant to focus on point #1. But then much of intro discussions meandered around point #2. I think both are equally of interest, but I was super confused which route this article was going on first read.

Fun read once I figured out what going on.

Àngel Lluís Carrillo Pujol
5 years ago

And with this graph, maybe, the best Managers are the Ex-MLB players

https://public.tableau.com/views/Managers2016Bisbol/Sheet2?:embed=y&:display_count=yes&:showTabs=y

David P Stokes
5 years ago

Mac said: ” I see two lines of inquiry here:

1) History of the best playing careers among current MLB managers
2) Speculation and/or analysis of how playing careers might impact managerial performance”

Yeah, and IMO, the second is more interesting. But you can’t just look at current managers; you need some historical content. Also, FWIW, I think the article implies that many of the mangers of today were better players than they actually were. I remember that Bill James, in one of his books, broke down managers as players into 4 categories: Outstanding Players, Good Players, Borderline Players, and Never Played in the Majors (I might have those names a bit wrong; I’m doing this from memory, but you get the idea). Over time, the percentage of managers who were outstanding players has gone down, and the number who never made the majors has gone up (of course, the raw numbers of managers in each category is a different issue than the relative managerial success of the men in each category). IMO, the only guys listed in the article who were truly outstanding players were Molitor and Mattingly, and even there, I think Mattingly as a player is a bit over-rated, and Molitor was great, but, well, he was a DH.

For a bit of historical context, look at the last generation of managers who are now retired, and check out most recent batch of managers to go into the HoF: Torre, Cox, and LaRussa. Only Joe Torre can reasonally be considered an outstanding player, or even a good player. Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa had completely forgettable playing careers.