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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Bowa v. Manuel: Comparing Managers 

Who is a better manager, Larry Bowa or Charlie Manuel? Depending on who you ask you can very different answers. To some the Phillies made a mistake when they fired the firey former shortstop Bowa after the ’04 campaign: Bowa’s temper and energy resonated with a lot of fans. Others, and I would include myself here to a certain extent (more on that later), think the Phillies made the right call when they elevated the calm, mellow Manuel to manager for the ’05 campaign.

Naturally, when it comes to winning and losing, it seems like the Manuel supporters have a somewhat stronger argument: in his last two seasons as manager Larry Bowa went 86-76 and failed to make the playoffs. In his first season as manager, Charlie Manuel got the Phillies two more wins (88-74), but fell short in the end, missing out on a playoff berth on the final day of the season.

The conventional wisdom is that Bowa was a micromanager, while Manuel is a hands-off, laid-back manager. Is that actually true? I looked and compared Manuel and Bowa’s “Managers Stats” in the ’05 and ’06 Bill James Handbooks.

Let’s start with lineups used:

Lineups Used:
2003 (Bowa): 119
2004 (Bowa): 107
2005 (Manuel): 80

The image of Bowa as micro-manager and Manuel as the laid-back boss gets a boost here, although the ’03 number is probably a little high because Placido Polanco and David Bell were in and out of the lineup so much.

Pinch Hitters Used:
2003 (Bowa): 244
2004 (Bowa): 258
2005 (Manuel): 265

This is a wash. I really don’t see a big variance here. Compared with a “strategist” manager like Tony LaRussa, it should be noted that Manuel actually made use of just five fewer pinch hitters in ’05. The Pirates Lloyd McClendon used just 218. Jim Tracy, formerly of the Dodgers and now the Pirates manager, used 303 with the Dodgers in ’05. Manuel seems pretty middle-of-the-pack and so does Bowa.

Defensive Substitutions
2003 (Bowa): 26
2004 (Bowa): 36
2005 (Manuel): 19

I think Manuel clearly lives up to his rep here. Tracy used 37 in L.A., the Mets Willie Randolph used 51, the Brewers Ned Yost used 35, LaRussa used 48 … you get the idea. The only NL manager I found that matched Manuel was McClendon at 19. Manuel left the Phillies defensive alignment intact as often as he could … although I’ve noticed this season that he’s removed Pat Burrell from the game in favor of Shane Victorino several times. This assessment may change … But for now there doesn’t seem to be a lot of micromanagement there. Bowa, on the other hand, looks pretty middle of the road. It doesn’t seem like his reputation as a micromanager is justified here.

Stolen Bases Attempted:
2003 (Bowa): 101
2004 (Bowa): 127
2005 (Manuel): 143

This was a major surprise to me. I simply assumed that Bowa was a go-go-steal-steal kind of manager. Maybe not like Whitey Hertzog, but he struck me as a “you have to create runs by stealing bases…” sort of manager. I don’t see that at all here. I don’t think it is much of a personnel issue either, because Jimmy Rollins and Bobby Abreu, the Phillies prime base-stealing weapons, have been available to Bowa and Manuel for the duration of their seasons. Simply put, Charlie Manuel is a little more willing to give his guys the green light. This is a piece of evidence that runs against the conventional wisdom.

Sacrifice Bunts Attempted:
2003 (Bowa): 69
2004 (Bowa): 74
2005 (Manuel): 86

I’m going to note that Bowa seemed to move away from sac bunts as he continued to coach the Phillies: in ’01 he had 87 attempts and in ’02 he had 97. Again, this is a piece of evidence that seems to contradict the conventional wisdom on Bowa and Manuel.

Pitch Outs:
2003 (Bowa): 31
2004 (Bowa): 23
2005 (Manuel): 11

Here is some evidence to support the conventional wisdom again. From ’01 to ’04, Bowa called an average of 27 pitchouts. Manuel called 11, though he called more when he was the Indians manager (30 in 2000, 43 in 2001).

Who is the better manager? I still think the money here has to be placed on Manuel: the Phillies have had more success with him and the helm and the Indians did well under his leadership. In terms of personality, I think Manuel’s is better suited to manager and I admit that is a bit of a personal preference on my part. I’m a pretty laid back, mellow guy generally and I prefer to interact with calmer people. If I were a player, I wouldn’t have interacted with Larry Bowa well, and I suspect the majority of players are the same way. I think Manuel has coaxed better performances from nearly the same supporting cast than Bowa did. As for the popular image of Bowa as the control freak and Manuel as the mellow manager, there is a lot of evidence going both ways on it. Pitch Outs and Defensive Substitutions support the conventional wisdom, but stolen bases and sac bunts don’t. I’m eager to see what a full year of Manuel’s coaching will tell us about him (I’m wary of reading too much into his numbers as the Indians manager because the DH skews numbers a little), but it seems like the truth is much more complicated than it initially appears.

But that isn't to say that I'm thrilled with Manuel, who employs some questionable strategy sometimes: Friday Night, the Phillies are behind to the Pirates 1-0, runners at first and second. Manuel orders Bell to sac bunt. Okay, maybe Bell isn’t a great bet to drive Howard and Rowand home, but the game was just 1-0, and it seemed like Manuel was playing just to tie it at 1-1. With runners at first and second with no outs, a team should score 1.52 runs in the inning. Bell’s sac bunt dropped the Phillies to 1.41 … then Lieberthal drove in Howard with a fielder’s choice dropping the Phillies down to 0.36. The decision to bunt limited the Phillies to one run in the inning. I further question the wisdom of leaving in Brett Myers to hit when the go-ahead run was just 90 feet away. Poor guy has thrown six innings already. Maybe a little trust in the bullpen is warranted.

Fast forward to the eighth: Phillies down 3-1, Jimmy Rollins singles on. 0.92 run expectancy. After Chase strikes out, Manuel orders J.Roll to steal second with Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard due up. Huh?

Bottom-line: I like Manuel better than Bowa. I think the team plays better under him than the volatile Bowa. But that doesn't mean that he makes decisions I agree with 100% of the time. Tomorrow I review More Than Beards, Bellies and Biceps.

Oh, and nice game lat night with the Marlins too, though I don't think that the Phillies can always count on the Marlins blowing a 5-1 lead. Be sure to vote in today's new poll.


Very interesting post. I couldn't stand Bowa -- talk about a bully. And I wanted to give Manuel a chance, but what you call his "questionable strategy" makes it tough to get behind him as well. I can't believe we let Leyland walk ...
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