Mickey Callaway, who had just been hired as the manager of the New York Mets after the team lost 92 games in the 2017 season. As he ventured into the clubhouse, he wanted to talk to Yoenis Cespedes, who was considered the moodiest of the lot. He wanted to convince Cespedes and help him play his best game. He was one of best the team has had. After playing seven major league seasons with four teams, coming in at number three or four.
The statistical analysis team was sure that if we could bat at number 2, he would definitely be scoring more runs. When the manager talked about the possibility, he said, “I’m the three hitter,” trying to diffuse the argument. Callaway’s way of the game was different from his predecessor Terry Collins who never let outside talks influence his players. Callaway instantly knew that he had to care for the numbers later and focus on what his team wants to do. Therefore, he constructed a team order around Cespedes’ third hitter. He hadn’t managed the team at any level before but wanted to try out a new idea.
The idea started growing on Cespedes slowly. He later said, “I will hit wherever the manager asks me to.” As it turned out, the Mets won nine of the 10 games in the season with Cespedes adding three home runs and 10 runs batting in at number two. It also gave the team the best start in their 57-year history.
This example gives us insights into modern day team management. Managers have historically relied extensively on numbers and data and this shows in their approach in the game. If Callaway made Cespedes come at number 2 without actively persuading him that he would fit into the role well, the team would have met more defeats at the hands of their opponents.
Earl Weaver who was with Baltimore Orioles between 1968 and 1986 won four pennants for the team. He was a very careful analyzer of how each of his hitters fared against the pitchers of other teams. Tony LaRussa had a similar story in which he kept elaborate charts about the batters hitting the balls so that he could define their range and stop them accordingly. He believed that players who did something often in a particular situation, are more likely to do it again and his 33-year managerial career is a testimony that it works.
In modern times, however, the information collection systems have also changed. Now these systems focus on the players’ strengths and designs a more conducive atmosphere around for them to thrive. Millions of dollars are being spent on analytics these days but the focus is less on numbers and more on people. The way that statisticians gather information has changed and so has the way they are being disbursed to the players. Managers now want to make information handier and give it to the players in a more persuasive way. If not, there could be a time when managers become dinosaurs of baseball.