Arguing Balls and Strikes: The Most Influential Managers

In an earlier post I discussed the possibility of managers influencing the calling of balls and strikes by umpires. This was, of course, motivated by Tony LaRussa’s recent comments about Bobby Cox’s excessive complaining to the umpires over the strike zone. Using Questec as a controlled environment, where complaining would be less effective, I looked at how Cox’s and LaRussa’s pitchers performed, in terms of the strikeout-to-walk ratio, in Questec and non-Questec parks. Simple t-tests indicated that while Cox had no influence, LaRussa’s pitchers performed significantly worse in Questec parks, where lobbying the umpire should be less effective. While this test was fun, there could be many outside factors that explain the difference. What about the park, batter quality and pitching quality? These could all contribute to explaining the difference. So, I decided to take it up a notch to control for these factors and examine the lobbying impact of all the managers in the sample.

The data I used is the same as before. I looked at managers in away games (eliminating any impact from home field advantage) in 2002 and 2003. Instead of just concentrating on Cox and LaRussa, I used a sample of all managers who managed at least 60 away games over this time period. I used a multiple regression to estimate the impact of various factors on a visiting team’s strikeout-to-walk ratio in each game. The factors I controlled for were:

  • the average K/BB of the pitchers on the visiting team on the road in that year
  • the average K/BB of the batters on the home team at home in that year
  • the park in which the game was played (using indicator dummy variables)
  • the league of the home team (to control for the designated hitter effect)
  • the manager of the visiting team (using indicator dummy variables)
  • whether or not the game was played in a Questec park
  • the manager of the visiting team in Questec parks ( an interaction term to pull out the individual effect of each manager in Questec parks

The results were quite interesting. And once again, the evidence indicates that LaRussa should not be the one complaining about the behavior of other managers. Here is a list of managers and their estimated increase/decline on their teams’ strikeout-to-walk ratio in Questec parks.

Manager        		Marg. Impact
Bob Boone    		-1.017
Ken Macha    		-0.967
Tony LaRussa    	-0.966
Jim Tracy    		-0.869
Larry Bowa    		-0.743
Joe Torre    		-0.639
Jimy Williams   	-0.584
Clint Hurdle    	-0.494
Hal McRae    		-0.487
Mike Scioscia   	-0.453
Bruce Bochy    		-0.409
Lloyd McClendon   	-0.406
Bobby Valentine    	-0.387
Jerry Narron    	-0.283
Bobby Cox    		-0.275
Jack McKeon    		-0.255
Lou Piniella    	-0.230
Jerry Manuel    	-0.156
Bob Melvin    		-0.114
Felipe Alou    		-0.085
Jeff Torborg    	-0.084
Carlos Tosca    	-0.024
Jerry Royster    	0.000
Dusty Baker    		0.024
Ned Yost   		0.113
Art Howe    		0.160
Grady Little  		0.197
Tony Pena    		0.215
Frank Robinson    	0.271
Alan Trammell    	0.289
Mike Hargrove    	0.348
Eric Wedge    		0.369
Luis Pujols    		0.428
Buck Showalter    	0.483
Ron Gardenhire    	0.749
Bob Brenly    		0.771
Bold: statistically significant at the 5% level
Italics: statistically significant at the 10% level

Update: I corrected the estimates from my previous posting. Brenly, Hargrove, and Gardenhire no longer have statistically significant impacts. Jim Tracy’s estimate is now statistically significant.

As you can see, most managers experience no statistical difference between Questec and non-Questec parks (rounded to thee decimal places). Only 3 managers have a statistically significant impact on K/BB. And right at the top of the list is Tony LaRussa. LaRussa’s ability to sway umpires is not surprising considering that he is a lawyer, which is about as a well-kept secret as John Kerry’s military service. I wouldn’t be surprised if LaRussa is also good at manipulating MLB’s umpire complaint department.

And then look at Bob Brenley (although his impact is large it’s not statistically significant. Why is he so “bad?” Well, there may be some as yet to be explained factors, but I’ve certainly never been convinced by anything he’s said during a TV broadcast. In fact, I’ve changed opinions based on the fact that he agreed with my thinking. I wonder if his arguing skills are so weak that he ends up hurting his pitchers. Maybe other managers take advantage of him when Questec is not around, and he can’t counter with anything. Or, it could be that protects his hitters to the extent that it hurts his pitchers, which was not such a bad strategy given the good pitching he had during these years.

Overall, most managers don’t seem to have any real impact in arguing balls and strikes, which is consistent with rent seeking outcomes. Everyone wastes energy arguing but nothing is gained. At least maybe Questec can get the excessive bickering over balls and strikes out of the game.

Given that Boone is no longer managing, I think it’s safe to say that Tony LaRussa is the best rent seeking manager in the game today. Although, rent seeking is generally considered to be bad, it certainly is good news for the Cards. So, I think it’s a quality to be admired, but certainly Tony LaRussa has no moral high ground to accuse any other manager for influencing the game through umpires.

13 Responses “Arguing Balls and Strikes: The Most Influential Managers”

  1. l boros says:

    jc, thanks for posting the heads-up over at curveblog. you needn’t have gone to all this trouble —- i (and most other card fans) could have told you that la russa’s the biggest strike-zone jockey in baseball. he’s also a beanball warrior, yet nobody’s quicker to accuse the other manager of throwing at his hitters. re tlr’s acquaintance with the moral high ground, i direct you back to my blog . . . .

    if our clubs play each other in the playoffs, the poor umps are gonna need about five questec machines, a whole law firm, and a full judicial panel to decide ev’y pitch . . . . .

  2. l boros says:

    p.s. — i really enjoy your site. keep it up

  3. Jason says:

    Nice piece of work, JC :) It did seem a bit strange at the time that the winning-est team in baseball last year had such trouble in playoff away games. Only away game they won was in LA, a non QuesTec park (both Boston and Houston have QuesTec according to the ESPN article).

  4. JC says:

    Good point, Jason. I hadn’t thought of that. Does anyone know if Questec was “on” during the postseason? I’m not sure it was. In any event, those games were closely monitored.

    So what’s Bobby Cox’s excuse? ;)

  5. josh says:

    What are the impacts of the other variables you controlled for? Specifically the questec vs non questec.

    Also it’s possible that the pitching plan developed by the manager is what’s causing the difference (the manager reacting to the fact that it’s a questec park and pitching differently. This fits with La Russas reputation as a master of minutia).

  6. Chuck Oliveros says:

    An interesting question is raised by the results of your study. Does it make sense for a manager to argue balls and strikes at all? If he were to stop arguing, would the umpires tend to give the opposing manager the benefit of the doubt, knowing that the manager wasn’t going to complain? Of course, there is also the psychological aspect to consider. I’m sure that managers often argue and complain about balls and strikes because they think it will have a positive effect on their players’ morale.

  7. JC says:


    I may post the full regression results when I get the time. It’s a real jumble. I’ll try and get it together though.

    The effect of Questec is minimal, and not statistically significant. I do agree that some of the good play by the Cards may be a product of coaching, but it would have to be bad coaching. Duncan and LaRussa’s guys do worse in Questec parks.

    I’m also looking at hitters and finding some interesting stuff.

  8. J. Cross says:

    JC, nice work.

    With 36 managers we would expect about 4 to be significant at the 10% level and 2 to be significant at the 5% level even if no managers influenced balls and strikes. We end up with 5 and 3. Is there a statistical test you can run to tell whether there’s evidence that some managers have an effect or whether this is the kind of spectrum we’d expect if there is no effect?

  9. Sabado Gigante says:

    What are the units used in the table? I mean, what does the -.966 for LaRussa mean? My apologies if the answer is something obvious, but I couldn’t figure it out.

  10. JC says:

    What are the units used in the table? I mean, what does the -.966 for LaRussa mean?

    It is the decline in the K/BB ratio when the manager is managing in a Questec park compared to a non-Questec park. So, LaRussa;s pitchers have a K/BB .966 lower in Questec parks than non-Questec parks.

  11. JC says:


    These are regression-estimated coefficients not observations from a distribution of K/BB differences. Each individual effect is estimated to be statistically significant or not according to the distribution of all potential coefficients for each variable.

  12. J. Cross says:

    JC, thanks, I get it now.

  13. Jason says:

    J. Cross has a very good point—the number of managers in the 5 and 10% intervals line up so well with what we’d expect by random chance that there is no way these are real effects being observed.