At least nobody can claim OTM isn't paying attention to the Red Sox managerial search.
By now you've heard the news. The Red Sox search to replace Terry Francona, fired during the Pleistocene Era after his players were caught drinking mud and eating fried mastodon parts during games, has finally concluded. Bobby Valentine, long the choice of the thinking man's ESPN viewer, will take over Francona's early afternoon cribbage appointments with Dustin Pedroia starting immediately. According to sources, Valentine was endorsed by Larry Lucchino, Nick Carfardo, and the World's Most Interesting Man from the beer commercials.
And yet, after all that the past six months has brought, all the hand wringing, name calling, hand naming, and call wringing may have been for naught. I don't mean to make light of this, though it being sports and all I'm not sure why not, but two months of manager searching begs the question, could it possibly make that much difference?
My cycloptic colleague Ben Buchanan wrote yesterday, and I quote, "... unless he's a real disaster he -- as is the case with so many other managers -- won't really have a big impact on the team."
If I might be allowed to dissent slightly, it's not that a manager doesn't matter, it's that we don't know how much he matters. We have no accurate way to quantify what a manager does because so much of the job is people skills. A large percentage of a manager's work happens behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the fans and media. How many wins is a happy and focused clubhouse worth? How many wins does internal chaos cost a team? There are no good ways to answer those and the thousands of other questions like them.
As a result, we have seemingly stopped on the notion that all these things even themselves out in the end. A manager's contribution to the team is a few wins either way on the margins. That may be true, and certainly I won't be the one to break that code one way or the other. But there is a difference between not mattering and not understanding how much something matters. If I can get all Mr. Miyagi on you, one must understand before one can discern whether or not something matters.
Leaving aside analytics for a moment for something more Chassian, baseball players play the games, so it stands to reason that they're the ones responsible for winning and losing. Pull any Hall of Fame manager out of a time warp and put him in charge of the 2010 Seattle Mariners and the bet here is they're still going to be a bad team because, no matter what happens off the field, no matter how the bullpen is handled, no matter whether the star players are coddled or not, and no matter whether rules or an absence thereof exists in the clubhouse, on the field the players aren't very good at baseball.
Overcoming a staggering lack of talent is -- we'll leave some wiggle room -- extraordinarily unlikely. But considering all that goes into a 162 game baseball season, it isn't hard to believe a manager can have some impact somewhere.
One way we can measure a manager's success is by wins and losses. Of course, that's more ridiculous than assigning wins and losses to a pitcher. At least the pitcher is on the field and participates actively in the game. A team's Pythagorean record might cast more light on the true talents of a manager, but if so, it's turning on a Care Bears night light in the Grand Central Station men's room at 3 AM. It's a crude tool at best, but if that's all we got, then that's all we got. By that crude tool Valentine's teams have performed better than you would expect. Over parts of fifteen seasons as a manager, his teams have won 23 more games than the formula says they should. So that's something, I suppose.
Ben is probably right. Valentine might alter things a bit one way or the other in the standings, but there's no real way to tell which direction that will go beyond what is essentially a guess. What we can know but don't because nobody will tell us is how Valentine will work with GM Ben Cherington, how receptive he'll be to information, and how he'll use said information. The manager is a conduit, a connection, between the players and the front office, between the players and the media, and between the fans and the players. How Valentine does in those duties will likely effect how long he holds this job almost as much as wins and loses.
When all is said and done, the Boston Red Sox are the same team they were yesterday. A better result in 2012 will be achieved by playing better baseball. Better health wouldn't hurt either. Come to think of it, does Valentine have any medical training?
That said, I'd be open to a study on the effects of Groucho glasses on team performance.