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Blue Jays: How Much Is Experience Worth In Hiring A Manager?

The Blue Jays are looking for a manager with experience. Is that a good idea or not?

Cito Gaston and Mike Scioscia
Cito Gaston and Mike Scioscia
Jeff Gross

Assuming the Blue Jays aren't really going to go into 2013 with Cito Gaston managing the club again (Tom: Don't even joke about that), Toronto is going to have to fill the hole left by John Farrell with someone. While Alex Anthopolous may not be in much of a hurry to figure out who that guy is, Ken Rosenthal reports that they have a type very much in mind:

The Blue Jays are leaning toward hiring a manager who already has done the job, according to major league sources ... Those options would include Jays bench coach Don Wakamatsu, who previously managed the Seattle Mariners, former Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy and former Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta, along with Reds Double-A manager Jim Riggleman, who previously managed four major league clubs.

That list represents a sea change for the Jays. As Rosenthal reports, only three of Toronto's 14 managers (counting Gaston twice) have had previous major-league experience upon taking the reins in 36 seasons.

The benefit of hiring a manager with previous experience is that you have a much better sense of what kind of skipper he'll be. You can see how much he likes to bunt and how he deploys his bullpen. His strengths and his weaknesses are all on display, and any struggles he had in his previous stint can be explored to see if he really has learned from his mistakes. New managers, even those who helmed minor league clubs for a few years, are comparatively unknown quantities when they finally gets the reins and gain the freedom to play who they want, when they want, and when the wins and losses actually count.

But does it really matter if the guy at the helm has had experience in the past? Sure, an experienced manager is probably less likely to turn in a bad lineup card or mess up a trip to the mound like Don Mattingly did in 2011, but would that experience actually translate into any kind of a difference on the field?

I looked at every new hire from 2000-2012 to see if there was an on-field improvement the next year. The results are complicated. Teams who hired experienced managers improved by an average of 2.5 wins in their first full season with a new skipper. Of the 48 mangers, 27 with previous experience led their team to an improved record the following season, while 13 (27%) won an additional ten games or more over the previous year. Newbie managers, on the other hand, averaged a 1⅓- win improvement in their first seasons at the helm, but 14 of 30 improved their team's record, and six of 30 (20%) improved by 10 or more. That seems to indicate there's a relatively small advantage to hiring experienced managers.

Again, that's a complicated statement. For one thing, managers aren't typically responsible for bringing in new players to improve the club, and managers with no big-league experience are more likely to sign with lower-revenue clubs (because they cost less) that are less likely to spend money to improve their team after a disappointing season. In other words, no matter which manager the Jays hire, it's not his fault the Jays aren't going to bring in Zack Greinke. That's a function of who the Jays are, as is the type of managers they've tended to hire.

To be clear, we're not talking about huge data sets. Only 90 managers were hired between 2000 and 2012 (for the sake of everyone's sanity, I removed the dozen first-time managers who had had experience the previous year as an interim manager from the analysis), so it's entirely possible we didn't capture the true difference. Regardless, it's hard to look at the data and say that hiring a manager with prior experience is a bad idea. The advantage is small, if it exists at all, and ultimately it's one that is far more dependent on which retread you choose (note: do not choose Bob Boone, Bobby Valentine or Cito Gaston (again)). Still, assuming good candidates are out there, you're less likely to get a dud if you know who you're dealing with ahead of time.

Michael Bates is one of SBN's Designated Columnists and one of the minds behind The Platoon Advantage. Follow him at @commnman.