Checking in on the New MLB Managers for 2018

Prior to the 2018 season, six Major League Baseball teams hired new managers to lead their clubs: three in the National League and three in the American League. The season is barely two weeks old, but it seems like a good time to check in and see how each new manager is faring. (Note: All numbers are as of Saturday morning.)

Mickey Callaway, New York Mets

After the 2017 season, Terry Collins announced his retirement from his long-time position as the Mets skipper. General Manager Sandy Alderson hired a fresh face in Mickey Callaway, who had no previous managerial experience. So far, Callaway has done quite well.

Through their first 12 games, the Mets are a franchise-best 11-1 with the best record in MLB. This is great for New York, especially with the news on Friday that its top two catchers will miss significant time. Travis d’Arnaud is out for the season due to Tommy John surgery and Kevin Plawecki is set to miss 3-4 weeks with a fractured left hand.

New York has been consistent on both sides of the ball. According to Baseball Reference, four Mets players have been worth at least 0.5 WAR so far this season. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera leads the pack with 0.8 WAR (due to a .347 batting average and 1.008 OPS). Closer Jeurys Familia has been the most valuable pitcher with 0.6 WAR in just eight innings. This year’s team seems to be playing well all the way around. Perhaps most importantly, Callaway hasn’t made the mistakes most rookie managers make, and he has safely avoided negative headlines — unlike the next manager on the list.

Gabe Kapler, Philadelphia Phillies

Where to start with Phillies manager Gabe Kapler? Like Callaway, he had no experience managing a team before 2018. Like Callaway, Kapler took over for an older manager in Pete Mackanin. But unlike the Mets manager, Kapler has repeatedly made headlines for his questionable managing. It began on Opening Day, when Kapler pulled starting pitcher Aaron Nola from the game with five-plus innings of shut-out ball and just 68 pitches under his belt. The Phillies were leading 5-0 at the time but went on to lose the game 8-5. The following day, Kapler used nine pitchers across 11 innings.

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It got worse from there. In the third game of the season, Kapler summoned a reliever from the bullpen when no pitchers were fully warmed up yet. Philadelphia lost the game 15-2, and a position player had to pitch. Additionally, Kapler kept center fielder Odubel Herrera — one of the Phillies’ best players — on the bench on Opening Day. Herrera voiced his displeasure, and Kapler said, “When I talked to Odubel, he said, ‘I’m upset. I want to play.’ And I said, ‘Awesome. That’s exactly what we want you to feel.'” Kapler has done little to endear himself to fans since then.

Dave Martinez, Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez was Joe Maddon‘s bench coach from 2008-2017. Maddon, a three-time Manager of the Year Award winner, is arguably one of the best managers one could observe first-hand. Martinez has likewise been smart with his team. His bullpen management has been somewhat unusual compared to his peers: Martinez favors consistency over historical advantages and he generally doesn’t change pitchers more than once an inning.

How has this worked? The Nationals’ record of 6-8 puts them in fourth place in the division. They won the first four games of the season but lost eight of 10 after that, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Mets. While Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg have been pitching well (0.90 and 2.20 ERA, respectively), there aren’t many other positives about this team. Washington is batting just .227 collectively. The team ERA is over four, with a FIP of 3.67. So far, Martinez seems to be an average manager captaining an average or below-average team.

Alex Cora, Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox, on the other hand, are thriving under Alex Cora’s leadership. When former manager John Farrell was fired at the end of the 2017 season, it came as a surprise to many. It seems President Dave Dombrowski struck gold with Cora, however, because Boston leads the American League through its first 13 games with an 11-2 record.

Rick Porcello and Chris Sale have been worth 1 and 0.9 WAR, respectively, per Baseball Reference. Right fielder Mookie Betts has been worth another 0.9 WAR. Four other players have been worth at least 0.5 WAR each. That’s five wins between seven players over a baker’s dozen worth of games.

Four players have at least 10 RBIs, five players have two or more home runs, and four players have hit at least five doubles. On the pitching side, Porcello has a 1.83 ERA and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning on Wednesday. Chris Sale has been even better, with a 1.06 ERA and over 12 strikeouts per nine innings. Closer Craig Kimbrel has converted all four save opportunities and hasn’t allowed a run in six innings pitched. With the exception of a gesture made during Tuesday’s brawl with the New York Yankees, Cora has stayed professional and mostly kept himself out of negative press.

Ron Gardenhire, Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire is the outlier of the group, as the only new skipper for 2018 with previous major league managing experience. Gardenhire managed the Minnesota Twins from 2002-2014. He made the postseason six times and won the Manager of the Year Award in 2010. The decision to hire Gardenhire was surprising at first, however, it has proved to be a decent one so far.

Detroit isn’t good by any stretch of the imagination: its 4-9 record is fourth-worst in MLB. But the rebuilding team with myriad of young faces didn’t need a sabermetric manager that would help it win. It needed leadership that only an experienced manager could provide. Gardenhire takes care of that. A bonus is that Gardenhire has personality and gels well with local media. In March he recounted his minor league career as a “futility player” and he was ejected on Opening Day in Detroit. His pre and post-game quotes are almost always amusing in some way. He’s a nice change from Brad Ausmus, who neither led his team nor endeared himself to media and fans.

Aaron Boone, New York Yankees

New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone is the last on our list. He took over for Joe Girardi, who had managed the Yankees since 2008 — 10 seasons altogether. Boone’s job is possibly the most difficult and high-profile of any of the new managers, and his team has gotten off to a rocky start. From Tuesday to Thursday the Yankees played the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The first game featured a 13-run deficit for New York (and the team gave up 27 runs in the series). In the last game, the Yankees were no-hit for six innings. And in the middle, there was a huge fight that resulted in four ejections and eight people — six players, a manager, and a coach — being disciplined. Not how you want to start your first season as a rookie manager, to say the least.

Despite all of this, there have been some positives for Boone’s Yankees. The biggest positive is the offense — the batters have been doing their best to make up for the abysmal pitching. Four players have an OPS of 1.000 or higher: Aaron Hicks (1.371), Didi Gregorius (1.122), Aaron Judge (1.036), and Ronald Torreyes (1.000). Gregorius, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton have at least 10 RBIs each, and Austin Romine is batting .316. Boone has had a difficult start to his managerial career, but he has the potential to do well in 2018.

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