Reacting to Managerial Changes in Baseball
Author: Scott Spreitzer - Monday, June 23, 2008
As a general rule, you should expect a team to improve after firing its manager:
* The players may have stopped listening to the former manager, and will play
enthusiastically for the new guy.
* Whenever the axe starts falling, people start worrying about their own jobs.
Of course, players are guaranteed their money. But they don't want to be benched
because of bad performance. Many players who had been "slumping" suddenly
develop a new sense of urgency about their contributions.
* New managers aren't afraid to make changes that help the team. There's no
loyalty to guys for what they may have done in past seasons. If you're not
producing now, the new manager will replace you with somebody who's going to
produce. So, whether an underachiever fixes his own problems, or gets benched,
improvement comes from that spot in the lineup.
* Sometimes teams go through bad spells because of rotten luck. When that
regresses to the mean, they start winning again. That would have happened even
without the managerial change. You'll find that many mid-season changes come
when teams were losing more often than they should have because of some bad
luck. The new manager benefits from the changes in fortune.
It's very hard to make a losing team worse. The preponderance of influences will
lead to a turnaround in performance. Seattle wasn't just a losing team. They
were a HORRIBLE team. I think changes in management there will lead to
significantly improved play. As handicappers, we should practically just start
their season over and handicap the Mariners based ONLY on what's happened since
the new man took over.
With Toronto and the NY Mets, we have a different situation. In both cases,
we're talking about teams who were hovering around the .500 mark for impatient
ownership that had higher expectations. It actually IS possible to screw that up
because the teams weren't really that bad to begin with. Making changes may
create a crisis in confidence that leads to a stunning collapse.
The ranges of volatility:
*Changing leadership on a .500 team could be exactly what it takes to get a lazy
team to kick things up a notch and start winning.
*Changing leadership on a .500 team could infuriate the players who think the
decision-makers overreacted. If the prior manager was popular with the players,
the team could go right in the tank.
I think the NY Mets were overdue to get a kick in the pants. I wouldn't be
surprised if they start to play like the contenders they were supposed to be.
Toronto is in a killer division (AL East), and really doesn't have the resources
to compete with Boston and New York, or the young talent of Tampa Bay. It's hard
to see a sudden surge from the Jays given their competition. The smell of panic
might actually drive the team in the opposite direction.
As handicappers, we have to outline expectations based on our read of the
situation. But then we also have to watch the situation develop very closely.
These are significant windows of opportunity that are likely to catch the
betting markets napping. If a team does get hot and start to surge, it will take
the lines a few weeks to catch up. If a team does fall off the map because the
players are in some sort of revolt, it will take a few weeks to account for this
new direction as well. Betting lines are based on "perceptions" of teams. It
takes a little time for perceptions to catch up with reality when something
dramatic happens in the middle of the season.
I strongly encourage you to keep track of Seattle, Toronto, and the NY Mets
separately from your normal handicapping research. If another manager gets fired
before the All-Star Break, do the same with that team. Force yourself to pay
very close attention to what's happening on a daily basis with franchises in
transition. I've already circled the names of about ten key "underachievers" in
the lineups who I will be monitoring statistically. If these guys do play with a
new sense of urgency, they'll be lighting up the scoreboard the next few weeks.
I want to see what their replacements do.
The great thing about sports handicapping is that reality keeps changing the
playing field! Oddsmakers and the general public have to react without any real
certainty about what's going to happen. If you can stay ahead of them on the
learning curve, you can grind out a profit until the lines catch up. In a sport
like baseball, that can be as long as a couple of months.
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