Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Are Jim Leyland and Davey Johnson hall of fame managers?

Jim Leyland stepped down earlier this week as the manager of the Detroit Tigers. He is now 68, and this may be his last managing job. He is the leader in active managers in wins, leading Dusty Baker by 98. Is Leyland a Hall of Fame manager?

Davey Johnson stepped down as manager of the Washington Nationals two weeks ago. Johnson is 70 and says he is not interested in managing again. Johnson first played in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles in 1965 and took over as the starting second baseman in 1966. He played for Baltimore until 1972 when he was traded to Atlanta in a six players deal (which involved another future Orioles manager, Johnny Oates). Is Johnson a Hall of Fame manager?

Johnson was a good player. Selected to 4 All Star games, he won three gold gloves and hit 43 home runs in 1973, benefiting from the "Launching Pad" of Fulton County Stadium (the Braves hit 118 of their 206 home runs at home that year.) Johnson managed in the minors for three years and was promoted to manage the New York Mets in 1984.

Like many good baseball managers, Leyland never played in the major leagues. His highest level as a player was AA, and as a catcher hit .208 in 161 games. He pitched in two games as well. Leyland managed in the minors for 10 years, from 1972 to 1981. His teams posted a winning season 7 times. He managed a young Kirk Gibson at Lakeland in A ball. He then worked for Tony LaRussa in Chicago between 1982-85. He took over the Pirates following the 1985 season.

Overall Records (all stats courtesy of

Jim Leyland: 22 seasons, 3497 games, 1769-1728, .506 winning percentage
Rankings: 15th all time in wins, 14th all time in games.

Davey Johnson: 17 seasons, 2443 games, 1372-1071, .562 winning percentage.
Rankings: 28th all time in wins, 21st all time in winning percentage, 30th all time in games.

Leyland took over the Pirates when they were in full on rebuilding mode, then guided them to the top of the division for three consecutive seasons. Leyland's first Tigers team in 2006 posted a 25 game improvement over the previous year, even though Curtis Granderson and the arrival of some kid named Verlander had a lot to do with that.

Johnson's Mets teams finished first or second every year from 1984-1989 and were in second place in 1990 when he was fired. In Baseball's Greatest Dynasties, Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein wrote that if the second and first place finishes were reversed, the 1980s Mets would be considered one of the best teams of the 20th century. Those Mets won 87 games every year, but finished second 4 times. Two of those teams, the St. Louis Cardinals of 1985 and 1987, went to the World Series. The two others, the Cubs of 1984 and 1989, were pretty fluky teams.

In addition, of the 33 people who have managed over 2400 games in their careers, only 5 have higher career winning percentages than Johnson; all of them are in the Hall of Fame.

Leyland: 8 playoff appearances, 44-40 overall record.
6 division titles, 3 pennants, 1 World Series (1997 Florida Marlins)

Johnson: 5 playoff appearances, 19-21 overall record.
6 division titles, 1 pennant, 1 World Series (1986 New York Mets)

Johnson managed the 1994 Reds, who were 18 games over .500 when the strike ended the season in August. They won the division in 1995.

While Leyland has more pennants, each has one world series title. Johnson's teams made the playoffs the same number of times as Leyland's (if you count 1994) and Leyland managed for 5 more seasons than Johnson.

Leyland: three time manager of the year (1990, 1992, 2006) three time runner up for that award (1988, 1991, 2011)

Johnson: Two time manager of the year (1997, 2012), four time runner up for that award (1984, 1986,1994,1995)

Again, even.

Odds and Ends
1. Johnson's teams were consistently good. Only during four years did he post a losing record:
  •  1990, when he was fired at 20-22.
  • 1993, when he took over the Reds from Tony Perez. Johnson was 8 games over .500 until August 9th and the Reds collapsed down the stretch.
  • the 1999 Dodgers are the only team managed by Johnson for a full season with a losing record.
  • the 2011 Nationals, whom Johnson took over after Jim Riggleman was fired.
2. Johnson is 301 games over .500 for his career. This is the 15th highest total of all time, and only 5 of the 14 managers in front of him managed fewer games. All of them (Billy Southworth, Cap Anson, Harry Wright, Al Lopez and Frank Selee) are in the hall of fame. Anson as a player, Wright as a player, manager and organizer. Three did the majority of their managing in the 1890s. Billy Southworth is the greatest "forgotten" manager in baseball history.

3. Johnson brought Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Wally Backman and Sid Fernandez with him in 1984, and was the ULTIMATE creative manager who would do just about anything to get people into a lineup and got great bench production. Evidence:
  • In 1986, Kevin Mitchell played 24 shortstop. Kevin Mitchell was a subpar fielder at first base, for goodness sakes.
  • On July 22, 1986 in Cincinnati, Johnson alternated Roger McDowell, his righthanded closer, and Jesse Orosco, his lefty specialist. When a righty came up, McDowell would move in to pitcher from left field and Orosco would go to right, with Mookie Wilson moving over to left. When a lefty came up, they would switch back. The Mets won the game 6-3 in 14 innings, with this unorthodox arrangement tossing five scoreless innings. Orosco also drew a walk and scored on Howard Johnson's home run in the 14th.
  • Jeff Branson was  the best utility player in the NL in 1994 and 1995, hitting 18 home runs in 440 at bats over those two years. For the rest of his career he totaled 16 homers in 1115 at bats.

4. Leyland was a different sort of manager, one that would take over teams and gradually turn them into winners. He was usually quite good at developing younger talent. When he took over the Pirates in 1986, the starting rotation was
However, the youngsters were on the way, and Leyland oversaw their development:
With the Tigers, Leyland managed the development of Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer.

5. Bill James produced the Pythagorean winning percentage, which predicts a teams record based on its runs scored and allowed. It is used to identify teams who play above or below their statistics for various reasons. Here are the Pythagorean records of Johnson's teams, with their actual records and difference:


 In 14 full seasons, Johnson's teams outperformed their Pythagorean expectation by 17 games. In 22 seasons, Leyland was at a +/- of 0.

6. Baseball-Reference has a stat called "average rank", which is the average finish of a manager's teams. Johnson and Joe McCarthy are the only managers at 2.0 (second) or better who managed over 2000 games. Johnson is at 1.9. McCarthy at 2 even. McCarthy was the manager of the New York Yankees from 1931 to 1946 and won seven world series titles in 16 years.

Johnson's teams were consistently competitive, as were Leyland's when he had the horses. Only 6 managers have more postseason appearances than Leyland. Three (Casey Stengel, Joe McCarthy and John McGraw) are in the hall and the other three (Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre) are not yet eligible. I would guess all three of them will be in at some point.  Leyland won 90 games 7 times. Johnson did it seven times also, in five fewer seasons. Johnson's Reds teams of 1994 and 1995 may have won 90 games each year if not for the strike. I would argue that both men are worthy, but I would go for Johnson first. His teams were close to the top year in and year out. They will most likely cancel each other out in the voting and neither will get in, which is a shame. Johnson also ruffled more than a few feathers in his time and was quite adept at wearing out welcomes.

However, Johnson did say the following of his 43 HR season. "Those home runs were no accident. I could pole." Awesome.


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