Great players who became managers

Posted: 13th March 2012 by Albert Lang in MLB

The germ of this project was seeded a long time ago, probably around the time I read Earl Weaver’s book on managerial strategy for the second time. While I was continually struck by his outlining of basic sabermetric principles, I was also struck by his experience (or lake thereof) playing baseball.

In my mind, at that time, poor players and journeymen made the best managers. I couldn’t really remember many greats who also managed (aside from Frank Robinson, Ted Williams and Pete Rose) and those I could remember didn’t strike me as particularly good skippers.

However, I had no idea if this was true. I then stumbled upon a Branch Rickey baseball card and learned that he was also a failed player, yet went on to great success.

So, I first took a very anecdotal glance for Baseball Past and Present at the best managers of the game and their playing careers. I wasn’t satisfied that my analysis really got me anywhere besides some interesting information.

Since then, I’ve combed Baseball Reference and put together a spreadsheet that matches all 674 players who have managed a game in the majors with their playing careers. My first analysis of that data is below and focuses on players who earned at least 50 WAR and became managers for at least a short time. I was hoping to confirm one of my theses: that the majority of great players who became managers did so in baseball’s infancy (largely because of the player-manager and because modern players play longer).

100 WAR Players Turned Managers (PTMs)

Record: 4,763-4,842
Average Number of Years Managed: 6.2
Number of 100 WAR PTMs: 12

Twelve players who earned over 100 Baseball Reference WAR in their playing careers became managers. Of those 12, only Ted Williams and Frank Robinson began their careers after 1927. Mel Ott is the only other 100 WAR player turned manager who started his career after 1915. In fact, eight of the 12 had careers that started in 1907 or before.

In addition, 10 of these 12 players were, at one point in time, a player manager. Only Ted Williams and Walter Johnson saw their playing and managerial careers not overlap.

When looking at their managerial careers, Cy Young and Honus Wagner managed just 11 games combined (they went 4 – 7), Kid Nichols managed 169 games and Eddie Collins only helmed a team for 336 games. The rest managed for at least four seasons, with Frank Robinson (16 years) and Rogers Hornsby (14 years) managing the longest.

Tris Speaker rates out as likely the best manager. His .543 winning percentage is the second highest and he is one of two to win a play-off series/pennant/World Series (Hornsby was the other). Walter Johnson and Nap Lajoie have the highest winning percentage of the group at .550, but never reached the post-season. They are followed by Speaker and Ty Cobb (.519), discounting Collins (.521) for lack of experience.

In all, the 100+ WAR players turned managers are slightly below .500, being hurt demonstrably by the longest tenured of the group, Hornsby and Robinson, who combined for 1,988 loses.

 

90 WAR Players Turned Managers


Record: 1,551-1,247
Average Number of Years Managed: 9 (however 21 came from one Manager)
Number of 90-99.9 WAR PTMs: 3

Keeping with the trend, both Cap Anson and George Davis were player-managers who began their careers in baseball’s infancy.

Outside of Anson (.578 winning percentage and five pennants), Mathews and Davis were not particularly adept managers. They managed for three seasons apiece and, combined, went 256-300. That said, adding Anson’s sterling managerial record to the 100 WAR group brings the total 90+ WAR PTMs record to 6,314-6,089. A far cry from the below .500 work of just the 100+ crew.

 

80 WAR Players Turned Managers

Player (bRef page) WAR
Christy Mathewson HOF as player

87.7

Roger Connor HOF as player

87.2

 

Record: 172-213
Average Number of Years Managed: 2
Number of 80 WAR PTMs: 2

When we stretch to 80+ PTMs, we add two names: Christy Mathewson and Roger Connor. Both were player-managers who played during the turn of the century and managed quite poorly. Connor only managed for part of one season: his team went 8-37. Mathewson managed for three years and posted a .482 winning percentage. However, that was good enough for the eighth best winning percentage among 80+ WAR PTMs.

Adding Mathewson and Connor to the mix don’t move the needle much: the record of Hall of Fame players turned managers with 80+ WAR is 6,486-6,302.

70 WAR Players Turned Managers

Record: 3,426-3,036
Average Number of Years Managed: 7.8
Number of 70 WAR PTMs: 6

This group adds the first player who started his career after 1960 and became a manager (Pete Rose). Rose, like the five others in this cohort, was a player-manager at one point during their playing career. Another similarity to their higher WAR brethren: four started their careers before 1895 and Frankie Frisch started his career in 1919.

Fred Clarke is the managerial star of this group and the only player, so far, who can challenge Anson for managerial supremacy. His .576 winning percentage spread over 19 seasons resulted in four pennants and one World Series.

That said, the group is pretty evenly split: Clarke, Rose and Frisch had .500+ winning percentages, while the other three (Bill Dahlen, Bob Caruthers and Pud Galvin) had sub .500 winning percentages. Caruthers and Galvin didn’t get any run as managers, going 23-59 combined. As a group, though, the 70 WAR PTMs are nearly 400 games above .500 and raise the stellar players turned manager’s record to 9,912-9,338.

60 WAR Players Turned Managers

Record: 2,873-3,056
Average Number of Years Managed: 5.6
Number of 60 WAR PTMs: 8

Thanks to Alan Trammell, Buddy Bell and Willie Randolph, we have added three more players to the list who started their careers after 1960, were worth at least 60 WAR and became managers. There are now four such players with Frank Robinson (began his career in 1956) just missing the cut. However they are a distinct minority. Of the 31 managers with at least 60 WAR, just seven began their playing careers after 1940. In fact, 13 began their careers before 1900; 20 began their careers before 1920; and 24 players began their careers before 1940.

Of the eight 60 WAR PTMs, just three were player managers and more began their careers after 1970 than before 1900. However, as a whole, this group didn’t make particularly good managers. They combined to go below .500, with only Buddy Bell, Yogi Berra and Joe Cronin having significant managerial careers. Collectively, they have just four pennants and five play-off appearances between them with no World Series victories.

50 WAR Players Turned Managers

Record: 8,215-7,859
Average Number of Years Managed: 4.9
Number of 50 WAR PTMs: 25

Expanding the pool to 50+s adds 25 players turned managers, 17 of whom were player-managers. Oddly, only Tony Perez and Joe Torre started their careers during or after 1960, while eight began their careers before 1900 and 11 began their careers between 1903 and 1932.

Torre stands out in this group, winning as many World Series as the others combined; however he does have just the sixth best winning percentage.

Lou Boudreau really holds the group back. While he managed for 16 seasons, the second most of the group behind Torre, his winning percentage was just .487 and he had only one play-off appearance (of course he did win the World Series).

Carried mostly by Torre, this group has an impressive win total, but an incredibly short average tenure.

Summation

It does appear that great players who became managers skewed mightily toward the early parts of baseball. In fact, 46 of the 56 players with at least 50 WAR who became managers began their careers before 1940. Not surprisingly, as these were some of the best players of their time, a large portion also served as player-managers.

Of the 57 players with 50+ WAR who became managers:

  • 21 began their careers before 1900;
  • 11 began their careers between 1901-1920;
  • 14 began their careers between 1922-1940;
  • Four began their careers between 1945-1959; and
  • Six began their careers between 1960-1977.


In addition:

  • 40 were player-managers
  • 12 managed for just one season
  • Five managed for two seasons
  • 11 managed for three seasons
  • 10 managed for five or six seasons; and
  • Eighth managed for 14 or more seasons.
  1. [...] Great players who Became Managers for Baseball Past and Present: http://baseballpastandpresent.com/2012/03/13/great-players-managers/. [...]

  2. Vinnie says:

    Nice piece, but I think you need to recheck the war for del rice. No way on earth he was 58 WAR.

  3. Even adding Rice’s WAR totals between Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs only comes to 18.2.

  4. Albert says:

    Yeah, looks like my spreadsheet pulled his runs above replacement. We’ll update.

    Thanks for noting, Vinnie

  5. Albert says:

    So, taking Rice out of the article doesnt change much:

    Record: 8,215-7,8539
    Average Number of Years Managed: 4.9
    Number of 50 WAR PTMs: 25

    Expanding the pool to 50+s adds 25 players turned managers, 17 of whom were player-managers. Oddly, only Tony Perez and Joe Torre started their careers during or after 1960, while eight began their careers before 1900 and 11 began their careers between 1903 and 1932.

    Torre stands out in this group, winning as many World Series as the others combined; however he does have just the sixth best winning percentage.

    Lou Boudreau really holds the group back. While he managed for 16 seasons, the second most of the group behind Torre, his winning percentage was just .487 and he had only one play-off appearance (of course he did win the World Series).

    Carried mostly by Torre, this group has an impressive win total, but an incredibly short average tenure.

    Summation

    It does appear that great players who became managers skewed mightily toward the early parts of baseball. In fact, 46 of the 56 players with at least 50 WAR who became managers began their careers before 1940. Not surprisingly, as these were some of the best players of their time, a large portion also served as player-managers.

    Of the 56 players with 50+ WAR who became managers:
    • 21 began their careers before 1900;
    • 11 began their careers between 1901-1920;
    • 14 began their careers between 1922-1940;
    • four began their careers between 1945-1959; and
    • Six began their careers between 1960-1977.

    In addition:
    • 40 were player-managers
    • 12 managed for just one season
    • Five managed for two seasons
    • 11 managed for three seasons
    • 10 managed for five or six seasons; and
    • Eighth managed for 14 or more seasons.

  6. Mary Corey says:

    Andrew ” Rube” Foster?

  7. How much do we owe Boudreau for popularizing the Williams Shift, though?

  8. Albert says:

    Not sure what you’re asking, Mary…

  9. Foster was a great Negro Leagues pitcher, manager, and patron.

  10. Albert says:

    Re: Foster, that’s absolutely true. I believe Frank Chance called him the most finished product he’d ever seen in the pitcher’s box.

    It would have been nice to include Negro League players in this analysis, but couldn’t figure out a way to make the data jive.

  11. Vinnie says:

    You’re welcome Albert. I remember Del Rice as a player and he was at best a back up catcher with a good glove and a lousy bat. The number jumped out and bite me.

    Graham,
    You might want to look into the history of the original Williams shift. The one they developed in the 20′s to stop Phillie slugger, Cy Williams.

  12. This is great stuff, Albert. A couple things:

    - This is an obvious one, but winning percentage does not always correlate with good managing. Semantically, I’d call then “successful”. :)

    - I’m curious if you split the records at all between when they were still an active player and after they hung up their playing spikes.

  13. Albert says:

    Thanks for the comment and the read Adam. Absolutely correct, so many things go into wins and winning percentage that crediting managers with that goes beyond their powers. Unfortunately, there isnt a statistic we have that identifies managerial success, wins, winning percentage, World Series, pennants, playoff appearances and average yearly finish are all flawed. I will attempt to look at those individual metrics and how they relate to playing careers. Perhaps we’ll gain some understanding of the general qualities of a good skipper. That said, I like your distinction, that managers with good winning percentages are “successful” rather than good.

    As for your second question, I havent done that, but I’ll take a gander at doing it in the future. I take it to mean you’d like to see managerial records as players versus when they retired and were just managers to identify if there was a difference?

  14. Right, I’m curious to see if their managing success improved once that was their #1 focus.

  15. Albert says:

    Man, I wish I had thought of that! I’ll make sure it gets added to the lengthy list of things I want to do with the data. That said, given it’s your idea, if you wanted to give it a crack (I’ll send you my data) that would work.

  16. @Adam, Albert– perchance, has anyone taken a crack at developing managerial WAR? I go off Pythagorean W/L myself.

  17. Graham, it’s actually something I want to work on next. :) I have some ideas.

  18. Albert says:

    Pythag would be interesting to look at…I’ll leave that to the true number crunchers though….i think it’s a tad above my capabilities.

  19. Brendan says:

    Looking at Pythagorean winning percentage would at best capture only a portion of managerial skill, since a team’s runs scored and runs allowed are the starting point of the Pythag Win% calculation. Exceeding Pythag Win% is often interpreted as luck, but it could equally well be interpreted as the manager’s ability to squeeze additional wins out of his team’s production. If a team exceeds its Pythag Win% year after year, I would begin to discount luck and give credit to the manager instead.
    But the manager can also affect the team’s run differential, and in my estimation this is the larger portion of what makes a good manager. A manager’s leadership and decision making (some combination of preparation, motivation, strategy, tactics, and other factors) directly affect the team’s runs scored and runs allowed, and it would be great to capture this skill with a WAR-like metric. Not an easy task, in my estimation.
    The traditional view that marginal players make the best managers is part of baseball folklore. Challenging this view is a worthwhile task, so I applaud your efforts, Albert.

  20. “If a team exceeds its Pythag Win% year after year, I would begin to discount luck and give credit to the manager instead.”

    Let’s look at Mike Scioscia’s managerial career. His Angels routinely outperform their pyth. In fact, since 2004 they have ALWAYS outperformed their pyth (save for one year they were even):

    2011: +1
    2010: +1
    2009: +5
    2008: +12
    2007: +4
    2006: even
    2005: +2
    2004: +1
    2003: -3
    2002: -2
    2001: -2
    2000: +1

    Total: +20

    That’s 20 wins better than they should have been over 12 years. Since it is reproducible, I think some of that goes to the manager (like Brendan says).

    Time to start digging into this.

  21. Brendan says:

    Adam,
    Nice job of data-mining. These numbers make a compelling case for Scioscia’s managerial skill. If he is also making decisions that increase his team’s runs scored (or decrease runs allowed), then perhaps we should start thinking of him as a great manager.
    And his WAR as a player: 23.7 (bb-ref). Interesting…

  22. Rick Smith says:

    Outstanding research, very interesting.
    Clark Griffith with a WAR of 49.0 just missed the cut. He was elected to the HOF as an Executive, but put up some good numbers as a pitcher, 237 wins, 146 losses, and as a manager, 1491 wins, 1367 losses, .522 pct.
    Rick Smith

  23. Baseball-Reference has Griffith in as a player whereas the Hall site has him as an Executive. I’m not sure who to trust.

  24. Benjamin Raucher says:

    How about Casey Stengl

    Benjamin Raucher

  25. Albert says:

    Hey guys, wanted to apologize for tardy responses. I’ve been on a bit of vacation and only had access to a computer where you cant use the P, 1, 5 and other keys!

    @Benjamin: Stengel will feature prominently in some future analysis. He wasnt a really good player though. He could walk (.356 OBP), but didnt hit for power and only had 4,869 plate appearances in his 14 year career (just 348 per year). As a player he just falls short for this first bit of analysis.

    @Rick: i love Griffith, The Old Fox, from 1895-1901 he pitched 2,174 innings (311 per season). As a manager, he had an odd off-on again player-manager stints. He also only one one pennant, but had some solid Washington teams that ran up against some really good Boston Red Sox squads.

    @Adam, thanks for running down Scioscia, as the angels seem to be perennial Pythag beaters. That said, I do find it kind of weird that of the +20, a good portion comes from one season (2008). I imagine you are working to address that, but it would seem most extreme outliers would have to be removed from this kind of analysis. That said with recent analysis on how catchers can influence strike calls/runs, perhaps sticking with Mathis all those years was a good managerial decision.