A longtime reader of Marlin Maniac brought up his disdain towards my attitude regarding the next Florida Marlins manager in a recent email. Let it be known that I am not alone in this opinion of nonchalance; my good friends Ted and Dave over at Marlins Diehards shared a similar opinion in a much funnier fashion. I am of the opinion that the manager has very easy on-field decisions to make that have a small impact on the outcome of baseball games. I think that managers get paid more for their presence in the clubhouse than for any strategy they introduce into baseball. How difficult can it be to write the right lineup card and make sure you throw your most appropriate bullpen pitcher at any given time?
Look, my opinion is my opinion. If you think managers really matter that much, you are welcome to believe so. But it is my opinion that teams are openly displaying how much they feel the manager is worth based on one very simple thing: money.
The 2010 market value for a win above replacement (WAR), based on free agent signing values of players, was around $4M last year. Let’s use that as a baseline to compare how the average manager is paid. I took a look at a sample of managers signed within the last few seasons and made estimates of their average annual salary whenever possible. Data for these numbers came from Cots Contracts, with a good number of estimates from myself based on the team’s past signing habits if the information wasn’t available. With many of my guesses, I increased the salary of a manager about $0.2-0.4M from the last known figure.
I won’t bore you with the entire set of details, but I will tell you that, based on the sample and estimates, I got an average value for managers of about $2M per season. This figure was a bit higher than I expected but not terribly surprising. Based on the 2010 market value given above, that values the average manager, in all of his capacity, both on the field and in the clubhouse, at about 0.5 WAR per season. Given what we know about how much a manager could potentially add by optimizing his on-field decisions, this value seems perfectly correct. Valuing a manager at about half a win a year in contribution is probably close to what the average manager will provide in his leadership, maintenance of morale, and any on-field decision making such as lineup shifts and the like.
The top managers are paid around $3.5-4.5M per season, headlined by guys like Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre. The lower level guys are mostly newer managers who are attempting to work up that payscale. The range was essentially between close to $1M and upwards of $4.5M, with a median of $1.75M indicating that the higher salary guys were pulling up the low-level earners to a certain degree.
Does that gel with the prevailing thought on how a manager can influence a team? If not, then the suggestion made by proponents of this line of thinking states two potential problems:
1) Managers as a whole are being over- or undervalued by teams
or 2) Teams have some information in their daily communication with managers that we do not have that properly evaluates them at half a win a year.
I would personally be more comfortable in agreeing with whatever teams are paying given that we as laymen are not privy to information that those teams have. Maybe general managers and team owners have witnessed how well a team is working under a manager’s watchful eye and feel like some of the success can be attributed to him. Maybe they know the amount of research a manager invests into finding proper matchups or something. I don’t know what it could be, but I do know that teams as a collective group are far more likely to be closer to the real answer when it comes to managers than you and I probably are.
My opinion still stands, in that I think I can do a pretty good job of managing a ballclub strategically. Have someone like Wes Helms be the leader of men and pay me 1/10 of whatever the next Marlins manager will make and I’ll bet I’ll deliver just as well as that next guy. However, I can’t be certain that teams haven’t found more of interest in the managerial position. What I am fairly certain about is that if teams