How do you rank managers? That problem has perplexed this site for years now. And answering the question seems no closer now than it ever has. You cannot go by a team's winning percentage. That is a product of so many different things: front office, injuries, player performance, competition, etc. The Pythagorean win/loss record has been attempted here with mixed results. And yet, despite our total lack of ability to get a handle on this simple question, we make subjective choices all the time. The ultimate subjective choice is the Manager of the Year Award. This year will go to either Oakland's manager or Baltimore's in the American League. But how do we know those team's success rate is because of their managers? We don't, really.
Pondering this question for the umpteenth time led to the comparison of Buck Showalter to Joe Maddon. Maddon has won two Manager of the Year Awards in the past three seasons. Showalter has also won two in his career. Both manage in the American League East. And both have gone head to head often this season with the late results going mostly to the Orioles.
If you were to ask baseball fans, and probably even experts to rank the managers in the AL East, the subjective rank would probably go something like: 1) Maddon, 2) Showalter 3) and 4) Girardi and Farrell interchangeably and 5) Valentine. To be sure, that subjective ranking might not be fair to any of those managers. Again, so much of their team's success or failure is out of their hands on a day to day basis.
But Joe Maddon is the wunderkind in most people's minds. He is constantly in the news for his funky decisions, cool team happenings, popcorn in the dugout and allowing himself to be pied during a national interview. His Elton John-like glasses and cool hair styles cement the image. He is hip, man. Totally. And, of course, there is his known embrace of analytic data and how he runs his team during games. He and his organization are always put on top of that snap analytic ranking. And sometimes, from this biased perspective (aren't all perspectives on baseball biased?), Maddon embraces the genius role and relishes it.
In contrast, Buck Showalter has always seemed like the stodgier, more conservative and older acting manager. He seems old school. He doesn't seem to care about numbers. He doesn't seem to care about how he is perceived. Showalter is not on Twitter. He's a part of the past, man.
And yet, here they are, both competing for the pennant and the wild card with the Orioles currently holding the edge and tied with the Yankees for the division lead. Does that make Showalter a better manager? Who knows!
Here is one thing that will shock the crap out of you. Buck Showalter is two years younger than Joe Maddon. Do you believe that!? It seems like Showalter is ten years older at least. That means that Maddon is at least winning the cool factor race. Showalter and your favorite Fan are the same age. Much more hipness is happening here, man.
Maddon seems to be like Napoleon when walking into Waterloo when it comes to Showalter. And the same thing seemed to happen when Maddon faced Davey Johnson earlier in the season. By appearances, these two old-school cats are more than a match for Maddon. But does that count? Should it? Again, a lot depends on the players, the luck, everything.
Maddon's team has a far better run differential. Is that good or bad? Showalter has an amazing record in one-run games and extra inning games. Does that make him better? Despite having the best closer in the AL this season, the Rays are below .500 in both one-run games and extra-inning games. Is that a knock on Maddon?
The O's have a better record against the Red Sox and Yankees than the Rays. Edge Showalter? Both have almost the exact same career win-loss records (right around the .513 mark). Showalter has shown himself to have a higher degree of humor with his players than originally perceived. His efforts with his clubhouse aren't as loud as the Rays, but seem just as effective. His players do nothing but rave about him. So no real edge can be given there.
Maddon is given universal credit for turning around a moribund Tampa franchise. But Showalter has turned around the Diamondbacks and Yankees in 2000 and 1995 respectively before turning this Baltimore franchise around. And you really can't assign all the credit to either manager for those situations. The realities are much more complex than the perceptions.
Okay, we are about a thousand words into this thing and we aren't getting anywhere. And that perhaps is the entire point. The perception here is that these two managers are the best in the AL East if not in the entire AL. The slight edge here goes to Showalter. But that doesn't mean a dang thing because it is just one man's view and there is nothing concrete to pin the matter down. And it means just as little for this personal perspective to state that either one would be preferable to Girardi.