The big news yesterday was that Walt Weiss will be back for another three years as the Rockies's manager. This news is not surprising at all of course, but it does represent a little bit of a backpedal from last year, when management signed Weiss to a one-year contract as a first time manager. The news then was that Weiss was hopefully going to be managing the Rockies for a long time but that he didn't need a long-term contract to know he was Colorado's guy. I guess that he did need that long-term contract after all.
A MLB manager's value is not easy to tease out of the team's statistics. After all, most of the tactical maneuvering done by managers (like lineup construction, sac bunting, calling the hit-and-run, and bullpen management) has a very small effect on a team's ability to win ballgames. In fact, most of that tactical maneuvering actually decreases a team's ability to win a game - but since every manager in MLB does it sub-optimally, it's not a noticeable impact from team to team.
No, the major impact of a MLB manager is the ability to get the most out of his players' considerable talent. It's giving players the right coaching, motivation, and tools so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. The problem then with evaluating a manager's performance is then figuring out what the benchmark their team should be shooting for is.
In Colorado's case, the Rockies were coming off of the worst season in franchise history in 2012, a 64 win campaign marred by injuries and poor performance across the board. Under Weiss, the team was less injured and in general performed better, hitting 74 wins this year - but what if anything did Weiss have to do with it?
His star players were a little more healthy - particularly the pitching - and the fielding was vastly improved, but the hitting was noticeably weaker on the whole. Some of the fielding improvement might have been due to some pointers from the former MLB shortstop, but it's probably more from inserting Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu into the lineup more often.
In my brief experience in the Rockies clubhouse, I didn't hear any players mention Weiss at all unless directly asked by me. Maybe that's normal for a MLB clubhouse, but it just didn't seem like Weiss had a big role with the team last year one way or another. He didn't make too many cringe-worthy decisions but the management style was probably a little too conservative on a team that needs to really take advantage of their strengths to succeed.
A more nuanced look at starting pitching will help. Weiss noted that he'd look to let starters pitch deeper into games (less of a hard 100 pitch count), reducing the amount of wear and tear on the bullpen - which of course is a fine strategy if the starters are able to do so. Still, I think the Rockies had three pretty great starting pitchers last year and the team wasn't able to capitalize. A repeat performance will be needed to take advantage of this leeway.
I hope that next year the Rockies will have better talent for Weiss to work with, but whatever the talent level, I think we'll continue to wonder if he's having much of an impact as manager.
Josh Timmers of SBN Chicago Cubs blog Bleed Cubbie Blue writes about the impact of MLB managers. Of particular interest to me is the juxtaposition between the situations of Dusty Baker (a very successful manager who appears to be a terrible tactician) and Manny Acta (a more sabermetrically inclined manager with a poor W-L record). It's also a good look at the difference between a team that places a higher value on wins and losses and a team that is focused on creating a culture of value in a world of performance.