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If there was a list of the most polarizing figures in recent Boston sports, Bobby Valentine would have to be near the top of that list. Some people find him endearing and entertaining, other people find him annoyingly narcissistic. Some people praise him as a baseball strategist, while others believe him to be an oblivious fool. Regardless, the Red Sox remain below .500 with no bright future on the horizon. Nevertheless, none of this deterred Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe from rating Bobby V as the fourth best manager in all of baseball. Wait. What?
Evaluating a baseball manager is a lot more subjective than a football or basketball head coach. Why? In football and basketball a head coach creates play books. When a team loses in these sports, the reason can often be that a head coach simply got outsmarted.
On the other hand, a baseball manager does different things like…tasks that any casual fan can confidently believe they are capable of (it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to fill out a lineup or realize when a pitcher is out of gas). A baseball manager can only really work with what he is given (whereas many football and basketball teams with the right coaches often “overachieve” in the opinion of the fans and media). Otherwise, all a manager can do is present himself to the media in a manner that doesn’t result in his team’s fans rioting outside his house with torches and pitchforks.
With all of that in mind, off the top of my head, I would subjectively rate the top five managers in baseball as such:
Bobby Valentine would be near the bottom of that list. I call it the John Lackey line of respectability. When a manger has a personality as big as John Lackey’s waistline and his team is as bad as John Lackey’s 2011 season, you got yourself a problem. But that’s subjective and doesn’t count for much. Put a terrible manager on a winning team and they’re a genius and vice versa (I’m looking at you, Grady Little). There has to be a better standard for this type of thing. Perhaps it could be:
A good manager gets the best results out of the least amount of talent.
This would mean that a good manager can lead a winning team that does not have much business competing. It would appear that Bobby Valentine does the exact opposite–he has a team that is considered to have talent, yet he yields disappointing results. Using this line of thinking, my rough estimate of the top five managers would be:
But again, this is all eyeballing. And eyeballs have limitations, which is why I have to wear glasses while driving. There needs to be a more accurate way to measure a manager who makes the most out of the least.
So I tried to make a statistic called Manager’s Effectiveness (ME) using a team’s total WAR and Winning Percentage. Except I forgot that I can’t do math and failed miserably. It was rewarding underachieving, talented teams like the Red Sox, but penalizing overachieving “untalented” teams like the Orioles. I think I’m onto something though.
No matter how you slice it, Valentine is a middling manager at best. He adjusts the lineup too much (and oftentimes makes baffling choices in doing so), makes players field positions they aren’t supposed to, leaves pitchers in too long, and relies on the bench to excess. Saying anything otherwise means you are unwilling to look past your heavy bias towards the Red Sox. There are few excuses for this team, with the amount of raw talent and resources it has, to be this bad. Bobby Valentine can continue to be as self-promoting, obstinate, and “quirky” as he is, but none of it changes the fact that the Red Sox are in last place. Part of that does fall on the general manager and uninspired players which makes this a situation with no quick-fixes. Except Terry Francona, maybe. I heard that guy can coach.
Who do you think are the best managers in baseball?