Joe Torre was in the news today as he has stepped down from his position with Major League Baseball. Of course that news accorded some friends over at Twitter an occasion to roast him a bit. It was all in good humor, but still. Joe Torre is the Ronald Reagan of managers. Torre, like Reagan, made it look so easy that his leadership will never be fully appreciated. One Twitter buddy basically stated that Torre was just as good as his teams. Was he? How can we measure that statement? Do his four World Series titles count or did he just not get in the way of the richest team in baseball?
This author likes looking at Pythagorean win-loss totals for teams against a team's actual record as some sort of indication of a manager's success. It's not perfect. After all, it is the players that win or lose games. But managing is, by definition, giving people opportunities to succeed. Torre certainly seemed to do that. And he did so in one of the most stressful environments in baseball history. With George Steinbrenner above him, the New York and world press beside him and huge expectations of an entire city beneath him, Torre became the focal point and allowed most of that pressure to fall on his back and not on his players.
Okay, back to the Pythagorean win-loss thing. What this particular statistic measures is how many runs a team scored compared to how many they allowed and what that run differential should have meant for an actual team record. Let's look at Joe Torre's years with the Yankees and later with the Dodgers. We'll do it in list form. In the following list, the Pythagorean win-loss projection (P) will be listed followed by the actual team record (A) and then the difference in plus or minus.
- 1996 - P (88-74), A (92-70), +4 - Yankees
- 1997 - P (100-62), A (96-66), -4 - Yankees
- 1998 - P (108-54), A (114-48), +6 - Yankees
- 1999 - P (96-66), A (98-64), +2 - Yankees
- 2000 - P (85-76), A (87-74), +2 - Yankees
- 2001 - P (89-71), A (95-65), +6 - Yankees
- 2002 - P (99-63), A (103-58), +4 - Yankees
- 2003 - P (96-66), A (101-61), +5 - Yankees
- 2004 - P (89-73), A (101-61), +12 - Yankees
- 2005 - P (90-72), A (95-67), +5 - Yankees
- 2006 - P (95-67), A (97-65), +2 - Yankees
- 2007 - P (97-65), A (94-68), -3 - Yankees
- 2008 - P (87-75), A (84-78), -3 - Dodgers
- 2009 - P (99-63), A (95-67), -4 - Dodgers
- 2010 - P (78-84), A (80-82), +2 - Dodgers
The totals on that list indicate that for his fifteen year run, Torre was 36 wins above his team's Pythagorean win-loss record. That hardly seems to be a manager that is just as good as his team. Joe Girardi is dead even with his Pythagorean record since taking over the Yankees. Don Mattingly was -2 last year with the Dodgers.
How does that compare to other managers? Great question. Mike Scioscia has a great managerial reputation and certainly had a terrific run before the last couple of years of his team outperforming their run differential. In Scioscia's twelve years with the Angels, he is +25. That's great, but so is Torre. In Tony LaRussa's sixteen seasons with the Cardinals, his actual record compared to his Pythagorean works out to a +6. Jim Leyland is +7 in six years with the Tigers. Bobby Cox was +7 for all his years in Atlanta.
There is certainly an argument that Joe Torre wasn't a great manager before he came to the Yankees. His teams never did anything when he managed the Mets, Braves and Cardinals. And that's a valid point. But in those fifteen seasons, he was only -4 in actual record compared to his teams' Pythagorean win-loss expectation. And that's not half bad really. Perhaps he learned on the job though. Can we give him that?
But since 1996, the only one that comes close to Torre is Scioscia and even so, Torre averaged a +2.4 per season compared to Scioscia's +2.14 per season. Was Joe Torre the perfect manager? Don't ask David Wells and Gary Sheffield that question. But the results are hard to argue. Four world titles. A string of first place finishes. Plus his actual wins compared to his run differential seem to paint Joe Torre as one of the great managers of his generation.