Terry Francona was run out of Philadelphia before he became an overnight success in Boston. Bobby Cox, who soon will be on his way to the Hall of Fame as a manager, ran up a 262-323 record in his first stint as Braves manager.
Clint Hurdle, the manager who has helped the Pirates to the best record in the majors, says his comfort level as a manager was “night and day” between when he came to Pittsburgh in 2011 and when he was hired for his first managerial job, with the Rockies one month into the 2002 season.
There’s an undeniable learning curve that goes into running a major league team, even if someone like the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny makes it look easy every now and then. It should be no surprise that Dale Sveum and Robin Ventura are fighting to keep their heads above water midway through the 3-year contracts they were given after the 2011 season.
Managing a major league team is a tough job. It’s serious business, especially when you don’t have a lot of experience to draw on.
When you look beneath the surface, even Matheny’s ride to the NLCS with last year’s Cardinals, in his rookie season as a manager, illustrates the learning curve. St. Louis won 88 games during the regular season a year ago; The Pythagorean standings show they should have won 93, given their level of run scoring and run prevention.
That’s a -5 for Matheny, and the trend is continuing with this year’s Cardinals, who entered the weekend four wins below their Pythagorean number. That’s a combined -9 for Matheny, which is the worst number among 24 managers who have been on the job since the start of 2012.
It could be worse. Comparing real victories to the Pythagorean standings, Jim Leyland and Joe Torre were -12 and -11 for their first 2 years as big-league managers.
You don’t need to get out your calculator to know that Chicago’s managers have been challenged as they start their careers. They have been learning on the job with bad teams – a reality that is probably easier for Sveum, who knew he was going to suffer, than for Ventura, who had the White Sox in first place at 81-66 on Sept. 18 last season.
As the Cubs and White Sox deal with the possibility of a seemingly endless season, with a .500 finish as remote a possibility as it seemed in Pittsburgh before Hurdle’s arrival, it’s worth considering what they’re getting from the guys who stand at the end of the dugout.
Pythagorean ratings last two years
How their teams have performed the last two seasons according to the Bill James formula that projects expected wins and losses based off metrics
Buck Showalter +14
Clint Hurdle, Ron Washington, Dusty Baker, Bruce Bochy +6
Joe Girardi, Bob Melvin, Davey Johnson, Don Mattingly +3
Mike Matheny -9
Dale Sveum -8
Joe Maddon -6
Ned Yost -5
Robin Ventura -4