Well, the Red Sox are off to a horrific start. At 4-9, they sit 4th in the AL East and are tied for 12th in the American League. Is it time to panic? Trick question- it’s always time to panic in Boston. If we were 12-1, we’d be wondering how in the world we were going to fix that glaring problem that caused us to lose a game. That being said, the Sox clearly do have some problems that require attention. Today I want to look at what many teams do when they are faced with either innumerable or unidentifiable problems- fire the manager. To be clear, I’m not calling for Terry Francona’s head or even validating the level of panic that is running through Red Sox Nation right now, I just thought it would be interesting to see how much firing the manager actually effects a team’s performance in the short run.
4 teams opted to switch managers in the middle of the 2009 season: The Diamondbacks, Rockies, Astros, and Nationals. Before the switch, skippers Bob Melvin, Clint Hurdle, Cecil Cooper, and Manny Acta were a combined 126-185, good for a .405 winning percentage. New managers A.J. Hinch, Jim Tracy, Dave Clark, and Jim Riggleman went a combined 169-168, good for a .501 winning percentage. So, the four teams performed nearly 24% better under their new managers. The Rockies even made the playoffs after an 18-28 start to their season under Clint Hurdle. Rockies manager Jim Tracy was the only one of the four new managers with a winning record in 2009, closing out Colorado’s season at an impressive 74-42. He was rewarded with the National League’s manager of the year award as a result, and deservingly so despite not starting the season as skipper. It should also be noted that Houston’s situation is unique in that Dave Clark took over with only 13 games remaining, and was essentially just an interim (Former Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills is currently the manager in Houston).
This is a small sample size, so let’s look at 2008 as well. The Brewers, Mets, Mariners, and Blue Jays made the switch mid-season in 2008. Collectively, they improved from 177-188 to 149-134 and increased their winning percentage from .485 to .527, or 8.7%. A less dramatic increase than 2009, mostly due to Jim Tracy’s uncharacteristic success. Jim Riggleman appears again, as he relieved manager John McLaren of the Mariners in 2008 before relieving Manny Acta and the Nationals in 2009. Milwaukee’s situation in 2008 was similar to the Astros of 2009, as Dale Sveum replaced Ned Yost just for the season’s final 12 games. The Brewers did manage to make the playoffs.
So, the numbers from 2008-2009: Before the manager switch, 303-373, .448 winning percentage. After the switch, 318-302, .513 winning percentage. The 8 teams that switched managers mid-season in 2008 & 2009 experienced a 14.5% increase in winning percentage. When does Francona get the axe? I’m sure if this level of play continues from the Red Sox, there will be rumblings. He is in his 7th year with the team, which is the longest period of time that Boston has gone with one manager since Joe Cronin held the position for 13 straight years (1935-1947). And he only stayed that long because he was a player-manager who is now immortalized in the Hall of Fame and whose #4 is hanging from the right field deck in Fenway Park today. Francona’s contract extends through 2011 with club options through 2013. How much longer will he stay?