MLB Managerial Tendencies: Hitting Approach
Each week, Chris Bouvier provides analysis on the managers around the league. More specifically, he breaks down who they are, how they manage their bullpens, how they make their lineups, and how they handle the run game.
It is incredibly hard to quantify the impact from a manager on his team from a fantasy perspective. There aren’t any saber-metrics or magic numbers to just google and find out how a manager is impacting his team. The goal in this article is and always has been to locate statistics and/or obvious team strategies that give us an idea of what a team is doing in order to put ourselves in the best position possible to find the players that we need for our fantasy teams. What we’ve got for you this week is a breakdown of the approach in the box of each team with a first-year manager. The purpose of this is to identify drastic changes in approach with the manager seemingly being the biggest culprit of the changes. Now obviously teams make changes to their rosters to add pieces that benefit their weaknesses so we’ll address those as well. Let’s see what we’ve dug up!
Ron Gardenhire (DET)
Starting things off in regards to each manager, we’ll take a look at team swing percentage. This is the percentage of pitches that each team swings at in a game, giving us an idea of how patient or aggressive they are in their approach towards at bats. The Detroit Tigers have a 47.2-percent swing rate, down from 49.5-percent in 2017. Then we have O-Swing-percent which is the percentage of pitches out of the strike zone that a team is swinging at. In this case, Detroit has raised their percentage to 34.8-percent from 30.6-percent in 2017. What these two things tell us are that while Gardenhire is instilling an approach where his Tigers will see more pitches and exercise more patience early in at bats, it may be forcing his young team to swing at pitches out of the zone later in counts. This would explain their decrease in team walk rate as they went from 8.2-percent last season to 6.9-percent (28th in MLB) this season. These are stats that you have to consider as a whole. They are also stats that you can see actual impact from their managers philosophy on the team over a big enough sample size as long as you consider them all, again, as pieces to the puzzle.
Mickey Callaway (NYM)
Now that we are clear on what these numbers represent let’s get down to business. The Mickey Callaway experience has not gone according to plan for the Mets this season and it seems as though Callaway just wasn’t prepared for this stage quite yet. Team swing percentages are almost identical from last year at 46.3-percent (46.1-percent in 2017) and so is their O-Swing-percent at 30.4-percent (30.1-percent in 2017). The walk rate has been much improved going from 8.6-percent last season to 9.5-percent this season. As we said earlier it’s important to consider everything when analyzing team approach as the Mets added guys who walk a lot in Todd Frazier (10.4-percent) and José Bautista (19.1-percent) and have also been fortunate enough to have a hot start to the season by Brandon Nimmo who had a 14.8-percent walk rate before June when he fell off a little bit in that department. Considering those additions and no disparities in swing percentages, it appears that Callaway hasn’t had an effect on his teams approach at all and based on the Mets season to this point it doesn’t look like he’s had a positive impact in any category thus far.
Gabe Kapler (PHI)
First off, let me personally take the “L” here as I thought for sure Kapler was the wrong guy and wouldn’t succeed in Philadelphia. That was hard. Kapler has done a tremendous job with this team and is pushing all of the right buttons. Kapler has instilled some aggression in this team that was much needed as they had a 45.3-percent swing rate last season and only an 8.1-percent walk rate. Obviously, the hitters have a huge impact on their at bats but the manager can absolutely employ a certain philosophy for his hitters. What has happened in Philly has certainly turned this team around. The team has increased their swing rate to 47.1-percent while decreasing their O-Swing-percent to 29.5-percent, thus increasing their walk rate by over two percent to 10.2-percent this season which leads the league. Kapler has certainly provided a mindset that his team be more selective in at bats with the idea that pitchers will have to be a little more careful with the aggression on pitches in the zone and force fast balls in after getting behind in counts. The Phillies are second only to the Astros in at bats that end up with 3-1 counts. The Phillies are also fifth in baseball in walks after a first pitch strike. As a team, they are working counts, putting themselves in favorable counts, thus creating more run scoring opportunities.
Alex Cora (BOS)
I mean do we even have to break this team down? They are really, really good. There, moving on. No seriously, this team is as good as there is in baseball right now and it shows up all over the stat sheet. Cora has the Red Sox adopting a very patient approach where they simply take what is given to them. There aren’t many players to pitch around and this team knows it. They have lowered their swing percentage from 46.6-percent in 2017 to 43.9-percent this season and their O-Swing-percent has only gone up 1-percent to 30.5-percent which is league average. With the walk percentage at 8.5-percent this season and 9.0-percent last season, they clearly aren’t walking more but its allowing them to get better pitches to hit. Boston has the most runs batted in in baseball after starting the count 2-0. They also have Major League Baseball’s highest OPS and fourth most walks after starting a count 0-2. They simply don’t whiff, they work counts and are extremely selective. These are the makings of an extremely dangerous team. While it’s easy to say Cora has made this team more selective, we can’t forget that they have Mookie Betts , Xander Bogaerts , J.D. Martínez and Andrew Benintendi . They had similar numbers in 2017 as a team, they’re just getting a little bit more to go their way as their .309 BABIP this season as opposed to their .300 BABIP last year suggests.
Aaron Boone (NYY)
Another team that is absolutely loaded and doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation as to why they’re so good but that wouldn’t make for a good read now would it? Starting things off, the Yankees have almost the same swing percentage as last season’s 44.9-percent rate with a 45.2-percent rate this season. As a team, they’ve raised their O-Swing-percent slightly from 28.3-percent to 29.6-percent this season and their walk rate is mirroring last year’s 9.7-percent with the 9.8-percent rate they have so far in 2018. As you can see Aaron Boone hasn’t put his foot down and changed anything in regards to his squad’s hitting approach. A team that has 162 home runs just after the All-Star break likely doesn’t need many adjustments so it’s hard to say Boone should be swaying his boys one way or the other. Sometimes the best move is the one you don’t make, Aaron Boone seems to be just fine letting his guys do their thing in the box. Fantasy numbers galore coming from the Yankees in 2018.
Dave Martinez (WAS)
The first-year manager in the nation’s capital has hit a bit of a bump in the road with his time struggling mightily over the last few weeks. While most of those struggles are coming from the pitching side of things, the offense hasn’t been much help either. Their approach has been solid, raising their team walk rate from 8.7-percent in 2017 to 9.6-percent this season. They’ve slightly lowered their swing percentage from 46.5-percent to 45.9-percent this season but are chasing a bit more going from 28.8-percent last season to 30.3-percent in 2018. Washington has the 8th highest number of plate appearances in which the count starts 0-2. They also have the 7th least amount of plate appearances in which the count begins 2-0. This tells us that they just aren’t doing themselves any favors in the box. As a team, they’re struggling to work counts or put themselves in hitters counts, thus reducing the amount of hittable pitches coming their way. It would be wise for Martinez, who had a very solid career 0.63 BB/K ratio and .341 OBP, to instill some of that wisdom in his players before the season gets away from them. Nationals hitters also have the 8th lowest BABIP in baseball so a little bad luck could be playing a part as well, however, its time to get down to the nitty gritty and fix whatever issues they’re having before the playoffs become unattainable.