Tuesday, April 4, 2017

White Sox Manager Survey: And a Ceviche Chef Will Lead Them

And a Ceviche Chef Will Lead Them: Renteria's short managerial
track record holds immense promise for the South Side.

I've been dragging my heels about getting this Manager Survey series started, but with the season kicking off today in remarkable fashion—a 6-3 pasting in nanook weather—well, perhaps it's time for a bit o' sunshine.

When Rick Renteria was the instantaneous hire to follow Robin Ventura, I shook my head. Under Ventura, the White Sox had suffered years of mediocrity and malaise under a manager whose personality made Jerry Manuel look like Ozzie Guillen.

Yet the same bizarre rationalizing used to hire Robin (among other things, then-GM Ken Williams mused that Ventura could have been a great military general) seemed to be repeating itself (GM Rick Hahn noted with unnerving confidence that had the White Sox not snapped up Renteria, another team would have hired him away. Yes, the bench coach. Of a 78-win team).

There was no harm in talking to a few candidates. After all, Guillen crashed Williams' 2004 managerial search at the last minute, and the feistmeister's hung-over bravado convinced Ken to switch his hire from the dulcet tones of Cito Gaston to all-brass, no-bass Ozzie. For all the criticism levied on Guillen—and 2011's charges are beyond reproach—Ozzie ended his tenure with the seventh-best winning percentage in White Sox history, and as the sixth-best manager overall (more on that in a minute).

But after engaging in a pretty exhaustive investigation of every managerial performance in White Sox history and slotting in (sample size alert!) Renteria's one year in the big chair (2014, with the Chicago Cubs), I'm a lot more comfortable.


Because in Renteria's one season managing the Cubs, before being jettisoned in rather ungainly fashion once everybody's favorite quirky badass grandpa, Joe Maddon, became available, Renteria tore it up.

Sorry, I know Cubs GM Theo Epstein is a genius and he poops inconceivably delicious Skittles, but his decision to can Renteria was 100% optics, 0% methodology. Yeah, yeah, he'll point to a manila folder bursting with dot matrix research dating back to his junior high years to support Maddon as a better choice than Renteria, but, nope. 

(Maddon is basically a wash as a manager, costing his team 10.69 wins over the course of his 13-season, 1,833-game career. Bizarrely, in his 2015 season with the Cubs, Maddon had his best season as a manager, with a 7.5 WAR identical to that of Renteria in 2014. Must've been something in the water.)

Hell, after Renteria's food truck schtick stretched all winter, I'm not even convinced Maddon brings a higher "crazy uncle" factor to the table than his South Side counterpart. 

How do I know Renteria projects to be a terrific manager? Because it's nearly impossible to manage better than Renteria did in 2014. Yup, those baby Cubbies who grew up to become World Series champeens won just 79 games—but by all accounts, they were lucky to crack 70. 

Here's how great Renteria's season on the North Side was: By my measure of managerial WAR (jesus, I said more on that in a minute!), Renteria logged a 7.5 WAR helming the Cubs in 2014.

Want some perspective? You got it, bub.

Great 5th: Only three White Sox managers, over four total seasons, have logged better than a 7.5 WAR.

Predecessorily Speaking: Ventura cost the White Sox about two wins per year (-1.98 WAR) during his tenure. To give you an indication of how bad White Sox managers have been over time, that kind of career mark places Ventura in the top half—18 of 31—of White Sox managers.

Context, Baby: OK, so White Sox managers have generally sucked. But in my admittedly random survey of mangers in history (small sample size, ranging from a "Hall-of-Famer" like Bobby Cox to a, er, really good hitter like Ted Williams) finds just eight better seasons out of 187 I've studied so far.

Now, do these stats, particularly given Renteria's small sample size, mean anything? Dunno. But White Sox fans are being asked to accept Cody Asche as a major league designated hitter, so perhaps a pinch of slack should be offered here.

And now, for the fine print...

The Methodology
I'm going to keep my explanation basic. 

I prefer to use something I'll call team WAR, which adds replacement WAR (~48 wins) to the sum total of player WAR, and subtract that from actual wins.

In Renteria's 2014, replacement WAR + team WAR added up to almost 72 wins. Subtract that from 79 actual wins, and Renteria's WAR is 7.072.

That's one half.

As a bit of a control to the above method, I do the same thing, but with the team's Pythagorean (generated by run differential) wins and subtracting them from its actual wins. Pythagorean WAR is less nuanced than the team WAR method, but again, I'm applying it as something of a control.

In 2014, the Cubs had 71 Pythagorean wins, so the team's win total under Rick, 79, gives him 8.0 WAR in my book.

So in combining both methods, I get a 7.5 WAR (actually 7.536) for Rick in 2014.

Renteria's 2014 is rare. Pythagorean WAR is almost always a more modest figure than the team WAR method.

Yeah, before you say it, I understand that manager WAR can be credited 100% to dumb luck. So if you choose to call this "lucky WAR" for managers, fine, go ahead a be a jerk about it.

I happen to believe a manager has a ton to do with performance on the field. Yes, he fills out the lineup and chooses his pitchers. But he's also creating a clubhouse culture, supporting his players, sensing when to give a guy a day off, juggling the batting order. And, for sure, whipping up some tasty queso.

A manager can benefit from trades or call-ups, health, weather, and hell, even a lack of travel delays. So you could term Managerial WAR something like "off-field WAR" instead, and spread the credit around. 

But that's not my style. I'm crediting or debiting the manager, period.

Hahn may have been right in insisting he'd unlock greatness in Renteria. The new White Sox skipper may truly be a keeper.

Yeah, it's just one year to work off of, but lighten up, man. It's a bleak season ahead.

A Note About the Bleak Season Ahead
Yes, I plan to write more White Sox Managerial WAR articles, to discuss the best managers in White Sox history, who's had the best individual seasons managing the White Sox (indisputable, it's the same guy, in successive years!), and who's the worst manager in White Sox history (shockingly, it's not Terry Bevington). I'll get to it, someday, some way.

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