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Friday, January 26, 2007

Mid-Course Corrections

So here is something I don't understand (I know that will come as no surprise to many). In researching the prevalence of in-season managerial changes for teams that made it to the postseason I noticed that for playoff teams and other teams alike there is an interesting curve that looks as follows:

In-season managerial changes hovered at around 10% of teams in the first three decades (1900s-1920s) of the 20th century before increasing to around 15% over the next three decades (1930s-1950s) and then exploding to over 20% for the next three decades (1960s-1980s). Since then the frequency of changes has dropped again to around 13%.

Why the upward trend over much of baseball history? I thought at first it might be because it seemed to work but outside of the 1932 and 1938 Cubs who changed managers midstream and caught fire on their way to the pennant, there aren't similar cases until the summer of 1978 when Yankees manager Billy Martin resigned and was replaced by Bob Lemon. And then why the downward trend over the past two decades? Is a new found realization that the influence of managers is circumscribed responsible for the downward trend? Is it the more substantial financial investment in managers by front offices that makes them less willing to pull the plug during the season? Is there something else going on? It's a mystery to me.

Incidentally, over the course of history 15.6% of teams changes manager during the season - 11.9% for teams that reach the post season. I would have thought the latter percentage would have been less but then again it is sometimes the case that a team going nowhere installs a new manager (the 1989 Blue Jays who fired Jimmy Williams after a 12-24 start and hired Cito Gaston who led them to a 77-49 finish comes to mind) and takes off for whatever reason.


jeff angus said...

As you know, there are many reasons managers get deep-sixed mid-season. Some firings are sheer team performance issues, some are human cred issues (say Tim Johnson, some are friction between manager and front office or the owner , etc.

It'd be informative to see you break the # of changes into clusters... do any individual clusters stay roughly the same over time?

jeff angus said...

...and based on your own insights, what clusters do you think you'd break this down into if you were going to parse the reasons?

Dan Agonistes said...

That's a good question.

My first thought is that at least the recent trend might be attributed to the length of manager contracts although unfortunately I don't have that data in hand. The second way to break it up would be by winning percentage but since I've already looked at managerial changes for post season teams (not shown in the original post) and saw the same general trend, I can't imagine that winning percentage would have much of an effect.

I suspect that it is more of an underlying characteristic of the various eras that could in some sense be self-sustaining. As fewer managers are let go in midseason it means that there are fewer experienced managers available to tempt other front offcies into dumping the guy they have.

It could also be broken down by league to see whether or not the AL or NL differs in this respect but off-hand I can't think of how else to break it down.