Is Jim Leyland a Future Hall of Famer?

Jim Leyland is an elder statesman of the game, usually recognized as one of the best managers in baseball, and his Tigers just won their third straight division title. The three best managers of the last generation, Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre, have all retired. So, is Leyland a future Hall of Famer?

Jim Leyland has managed for 22 seasons. Remarkably, all of them have been full seasons: he’s never been fired or hired midseason. Leyland is the winningest active manager: his 1769 regular season wins are fifteenth all time, behind Lou Piniella (1835) and ahead of Dusty Baker (1671). He has taken eight teams to the playoffs, garnering one World Championship, three league championships, six first-place finishes, and two Wild Cards, both of which went to the World Series. He has won three Manager of the Year awards, in 1990, 1992, and 2006. He won the first World Series in Marlins history, took the Tigers to their first World Series since the Bless You Boys of 1984, and led the Pirates to their last division title in franchise history, 1992.

I love managerial Hall of Fame debates; in my old gig at Yahoo, I entered three of them, evaluating Billy Martin (no), Lou Piniella (no), and Joe Torre (yes).

It’s a lot harder to evaluate managers than players: while the Hall of Fame instructs voters to consider a player’s character including off-field activities, the bulk of a player’s worth is achieved on the field, while a manager may have his greatest impact in the clubhouse, in the long hours between games, helping his players to perform to the best of their ability and putting them in the best position to succeed.

So a player’s worth is easily measured with on-field stats, while a manager’s worth is not. Tactical screw-ups on lineup construction, bunts, situational hitting and pitching may cost a team a few runs here and there. It’s hard to measure how much the rest is worth, but it stands to reason that it’s worth something. In every other human endeavor, leadership matters. (Think about the difference between your best teacher and your worst, or between your best boss and your worst, and then try to imagine that $200 million was riding on your performance.)

By that standard, Leyland has been remarkably successful: not only have his teams won, but he’s one of the only people in the last two decades to coax wins out of the Pirates, Marlins, and Tigers. But by other measures, Leyland is less impressive. According to Chris Jaffe’s 2010 book “Evaluating Baseball’s Managers,” Jim Leyland actually is credited with being worth negative runs to his teams. Jaffe’s book is three years old, and his data is five years old, but it’s worth trying to understand why that might be.

There are three general features of his career, across the four teams he has managed. First, he helmed some truly awful teams. Second, he undervalues closers, perhaps to a fault. And third, he rides his starters hard.

As to the first reason, he is partly victimized by some truly awful teams toward the end of his tenure in Pittsburgh, in Florida in 1998 after the big firesale, and in his single season in Colorado in 1999. But Jaffe found that Leyland did not generally tend to make his players better than they otherwise were.

Regarding the second reason, according to Jaffe, throughout his career, Leyland has generally lacked a shutdown closer. As Jaffe writes, “his actions indicate he thinks it is overrated.” That was true in 1989, when his best reliever was setup man Bill Landrum; it was true in 2006, when his best reliever was setup man Joel Zumaya; and it has certainly been true the last two years, when he has hardly had anyone he trusted at the front or back of the pen. Of course, refusing to overrate a closer is a form of sabermetric thinking. But his bullpen troubles in the 2012 and 2013 postseasons may suggest that he takes it to an extreme.

Moreover, Leyland is not otherwise on the cutting edge. He has overworked many of his most promising young arms, including the fortunately indestructible Justin Verlander, but also including Jeremy Bonderman, Rick Porcello, Livan Hernandez, Doug Drabek, and the young (and equally indestructible) Tim Wakefield.

According to Jaffe’s numbers, then, Leyland has actually been worth negative wins to his teams. Jaffe’s book has him as worth -156 runs. That’s quite similar to Dusty Baker, at -103 runs. By contrast, Piniella was worth +50, Bruce Bochy has been worth +354 runs to his teams, and Bobby Cox was worth +655 runs. So Leyland was decidedly worse than his longest-tenured peers.

For what it’s worth, Leyland’s overall winning percentage is barely positive; his .506 winning percentage is decidedly pedestrian, 42nd out of the 59 managers who have won 1000 games, just ahead of Bobby Valentine at .504 and Bruce Bochy at .500 even. On the other hand, Leyland’s eight playoff appearances are tied with Connie Mack for eighth of all time. After Cox, Torre, and La Russa, Leyland has the most playoff appearances of any manager in the last 50 years, though Baker and Bochy are right behind him with seven and six, respectively.

Unlike Torre or Piniella, all of Leyland’s career value came as a manager: as a minor leaguer in the Tigers system, Leyland never made it out of Double-A. That’s the same level at which Fredi Gonzelez’s playing career stalled. Most managers reached the major leagues as players; Leyland is one of the most successful of those who haven’t, behind luminaries such as Earl Weaver and Joe McCarthy, the greatest manager of all time.

It feels as though Jim Leyland has been around forever, which is why people are often astonished to learn that he is still only 68. His Hall of Fame case rests largely on the rest of his tenure in Detroit. If he wins another World Series or a couple more pennants, he’ll basically be a lock. As it is, he has a reasonable case but not an overwhelming one.



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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


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G
Member
G
2 years 11 months ago

I think Leyland is a lock for the HOF. He has the most playoff appearances of any manager in 50 years.

Your suggestions that Porcello and Verlander are overworked have absolutely no merit. The Tigers’ starters have stayed healthier than any other team during Leyland’s tenure in Detroit. They only used 6 SPs all season.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles
2 years 11 months ago

4th most – “After Cox, Torre, and La Russa, Leyland has the most playoff appearances of any manager in the last 50 years”

semperty
Guest
semperty
2 years 11 months ago

Tony LaRussa made the postseason as many times from 2000-11 as Leyland did throughout his entire career….not sure how he has the most in the last 50 years.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles
2 years 11 months ago

Like all managers, when you have talent you win, when you don’t you lose.

That said, his undressing of Bonds when Barry had it coming was a priceless moment during the Bucs 90’s run. NSFW

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9DHA2dJ7uQ

AMAC
Guest
AMAC
2 years 11 months ago

F**king world speed swearing f*king hall of f**king fame for f**king sure. One trick pony but he is to using the using the word f**king what Mariano Riviera is to the 9th.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles
2 years 11 months ago

Also, can you really say he overworked Drabek? Doug was never hurt in his 6 years in Pittsburgh and only had trouble when he was in his 30’s in Houston.

Justin
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Justin
2 years 11 months ago

Livan Hernandez was very durable as well

shawn
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shawn
2 years 11 months ago

I think Leyland definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Its not as if he took over what someone else built in any of his stops, he mostly was responsible for the turnaround and then took the team deep into the playoffs or to a championship. He also has managed some of the games more difficult personalities (Bonds, Bonilla, Sheffield, Miggy)and got each of them to perform on the field. So on both ends, in terms of consistent success on the field and being a manager of people, I feel he as been a Hall of Famer.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 11 months ago

“he mostly was responsible for the turnaround”

General managers making the personnel decisions would likely get as much or more credit, no? Unless he turned around bad teams with substantially the same personnel and turned them into winners.

Also, does Miggy have a difficult personality? He’s had off-field issues, but I’ve never heard him described as difficult by teammates or former managers.

ben
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ben
2 years 11 months ago

Miggy’s not white, which seems to be a huge factor when media and fans discuss who’s “difficult.”

M Hedberg
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M Hedberg
2 years 11 months ago

Alcoholism is a disease, but it’s the only disease you can get yelled at for having.

“Damn it Otto you’re an alcoholic!”

“Damn it Otto you have lupus!”

One of those doesn’t sound right.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
2 years 11 months ago

Alcoholism isn’t the only disease you can get yelled at for having. I’m sure many people have been yelled at for having Herpes.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
2 years 11 months ago

The Mitch Hedberg joke wins.

Utah Dave
Guest
Utah Dave
2 years 11 months ago

Prior to reading this I was certain Leyland was a HOF lock. But after reading I do not feel as certain. As far as the contruction of the bullpen, doesn’t the GM(s) also have a say in who the closer is? IMHO Cox, Torre and LaRussa all belong in the HOF. Leyland might be a smidge behind these guys.

And as far as overworking picthers – Tim Wakefield in particular – I think just about every Pirate fan old enough to remember the deciding game of Braves/Pirates in 1992 wishes he would have overworked Tim Wakefield and not Stan Belinda.

Gabriel
Guest
Gabriel
2 years 11 months ago

Instead of measuring by playoff appearances and World Series/League Championship Series victories, why not measure the number of seasons with 95+ wins and postseason winning %?

That would allow a better comparison between eras. Comparing his number of postseason appearances to Connie Mack’s otherwise seems kind of silly.

chief00
Guest
chief00
2 years 11 months ago

“Comparing his number of postseason appearances to Connie Mack’s otherwise seems kind of silly.”
Except that the relative ease with which modern teams get into the playoffs is balanced somewhat–not perfectly, but somewhat–by the fact that Mack managed for about 150 years. Mack also managed some of the greatest players of all time. Will history make the same judgment about the players Leyland has managed?

Shane
Member
Member
Shane
2 years 11 months ago

I wonder how the extra wild card spot will be looked at, in terms of making it to the post season. Does making, but losing the playin game count?

Mike
Guest
Mike
2 years 11 months ago

You really need to explain how you determined that those pitchers were overworked because it’s not entirely clear for a lot of them. You can’t just make baseless assertions. Porcello has never pitched 200 innings, Leyland wasn’t Bonderman’s manager for most of his early years pitching in the majors, and Verlander didn’t start throwing heaving innings until he was in his mid to late 20’s. How do you determine who is and isn’t overworked?

Mike
Guest
Mike
2 years 11 months ago

Also, Wakefield only threw 200 innings once under Leyland, when he was 30 years old. How did he overwork Wakefield?

bada bing
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bada bing
2 years 11 months ago

I’m not sure. Let me think about it over a cigarette. Or 12. In a row. Like Leyland.

Ron Paul
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Ron Paul
2 years 11 months ago

Ask any knowledgeable Tigers fan over the past 5 years. He is awful at numerous things.

1. ROSTER STRUCTURE(not 100% him obviously): Tigers usually have terrible fits for the bench. Inge, D.Kelly, D.Worth, R.Santiago, etc. Each really struggles to hit, and none can run well. The Tigers can’t pinch-run for their plodding veterans late in games because they have zero speed on the bench. Teams with the Tigers payroll & high playoff probability need to have a better bullpen.

2. PLAYING TIME: Leyland will routinely give too much playing time to players like Inge, Kelly, etc. Yet conversely, he failed to sit M.Cabrera in Sept. when he clearly needed 2 weeks off to get healthy for the playoffs. The argument of needing Miggy in the lineup to make the playoffs in inaccurate. He slugged .333 w/ a .056 ISO in Sept/Oct. He was playing on one leg! His defense is, well, not good. Therefore, if he’s not hitting due to injury, he should be resting for the benefit of the team.

3. STARTING PITCHERS: He will send his SP’s out with a high pitch count to start an inning they have little hope of finishing. This handicaps his bullpen and taxes the SP’s arms over the course of the season/careers.

4. AUSTIN JACKSON: He is the glaring example of what J.Leyland is…a hands-off manager! A.Jackson is a much better hitter without a legkick to begin his swing. Avid Tiger’s fans see this. It is very obvious. A.Jackson was 3-33 w/ 18 K’s going into last night’s game. He can’t hit a fastball. He had 2 walks all postseason. Either get his swing fixed pregame, or bat him at the bottom of the order until something changes. Leyland finally moved him down last night(2-2 w/ 2 bb)..and said “here are the changes everyone keeps wanting!”. He had to take heat for 2 weeks to make a change.

Jim Price
Guest
Jim Price
2 years 11 months ago

I must be an unknowledgable Tiger fan since I don’t agree.
1. Roster structure is mainly the GM.
2. Playing time: baseball isn’t a video game where you just roll out the top 9 guys all 162 games, you have to find the right balance of resting regulars and keeping the bench players sharp. The regular season is a marathon. Also the Cabrera situation is no win, if you sit him, play Santiago there, and lose, then you’re an idiot anyway and you’ve made your best player unhappy. And often we don’t really know whats wrong with a player.
3. With the rotation the Tigers have and the bullpen they have, wouldn’t you try and get as many outs as possible from the rotation? The Tigers’ rotation has been far from injury plagued or fatigued.
4. Jackson: who else you got? Kelly? This is their everyday CF since 2010. He’s in a slump. It happens.

Yes Leyland is a little old school but he does seem to know how to handle people and when he gets to the playoffs he has had a pretty good win%. I don’t think he’s HOF but I don’t see anyone else better suited to the Tigers right now either.

Lkershw
Guest
Lkershw
2 years 11 months ago

That certainly doesn’t sound like a knowledgeable Tiger fan. Sounds more like a hypocritic.

shawn
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shawn
2 years 11 months ago

He is 2 games away of getting you to your second straight AL pennant, and third over the past 8 years. He is doing something right.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 11 months ago

Are we attributing having an all-world rotation and acquiring Cabrera et al to Leyland now?

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
2 years 11 months ago

is there anyone in America who can’t write Verlander’s name into the SP slot and put Cabrera in the lineup?

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 11 months ago

Exactly! I’m not saying Leyland has *no* value, just that he doesn’t get credit for their acquisitions and farm system that have contributed to this nice little run. Gotta dig a little deeper than that.

cable fixer
Guest
cable fixer
2 years 11 months ago

We crucify Dusty Baker for his failure (especially when it comes to filling out a lineup card “incorrectly” or losing in the first round of the postseason) but when a manager does these things well and wins, we cannot bring ourselves to acknowledge it. Instead, we surmise that it was a fait accompli.

If we’re going to be that critical of Dusty, then we should give a corresponding amount of credit to Leland. Or…dial back the outrage/hype meter on both sides.

Reuben
Guest
Reuben
2 years 11 months ago

I read an article re: Dusty that wrong decisions have a greater affect than right decisions. I.e. a manager is more able to cost his team wins than actually improve their chances (in baseball).

Excalibur
Guest
Excalibur
2 years 11 months ago

Leyland isn’t in there yet but rather is something like Beltran is as a player…moving in that direction.

That being said, Beltran is closer than Leyland is less is required for Beltran to get in than Leyland.

Beltran has like two more strong years and I think he is in.

I think Leyland needs another World Series championship (a super strong year) or 3-4 strong years.

LaLoosh
Guest
LaLoosh
2 years 11 months ago

Hall of the Most Overrated, sure.

Tape Dispenser
Guest
Tape Dispenser
2 years 11 months ago

Who would want to visit that place?

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
2 years 11 months ago

I’m not sure I follow on the underrating a closer line. He loves a “proven closer”. Stuck by Valverde for an extremely long time. Thinks Smyly doesn’t have the mental makeup for it, so he refused to use him in the 9th. Same with Benoit for half the season.

Chris Johnson
Guest
Chris Johnson
2 years 11 months ago

So you’re asking if an obvious total moron with no concept of in-game strategy, who’s rated as -15 career wins and 5 wins worse than laughingstock-of-all-managerial-laughingstocks Dusty Baker in the only evidence you present, belongs in the Hall of Fame? Really? I mean I guess I understand the love, since you’re the FanGraphs writer equivalent of 150 runs below average, but wow. How did this see print? How do you still have a gig here?

ben
Guest
ben
2 years 11 months ago

Chris, you really come off as a jerk. Some people enjoy debating this stuff, and you’re citing a single stat as evidence that there should be no debate. Maybe you should stop frequenting the site and posting rude, insulting comments.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 11 months ago

To be fair, it *IS* Chris Johnson. It’s what he does.

Brian Kenny
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Brian Kenny
2 years 11 months ago

Grrrrr…

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
2 years 11 months ago

It seems to me that managers entering the Hall of Fame is something akin to a Lifetime Achievement award. If managers manage for a lot of seasons, they’re going to win a lot of games. Most of that will be because they had great players. But if they manage many seasons and win a lot of games they’ll probably get in the Hall of Fame.

It really has little to do with how good a manager they were since no one really knows how to evaluate managers. The BBWAA, therefore, just bases it on seasons, wins, and playoff berths.

Mike Green
Guest
Mike Green
2 years 11 months ago

Is Dave Dombrowski a future Hall of Famer? Probably not. Dombrowski is nonetheless likely more responsible for the successes (and failures) in Florida and in Detroit than Leyland.

I would set a high bar for managers. Earl Weaver. Of course. Whitey Herzog. No question. Tony LaRussa. Yes. Bobby Cox. Probably (but he obviously was less important to the Braves’ success than Schuerholz). Most managers just don’t make that much of a difference.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
2 years 11 months ago

As a lifelong Braves fan, I disagree with Cox. I think he’s a great manager. Sure schuerholz constructed a lot of great teams, but they often had really young teams. Especially near the end of their division title streak, bobby was good at motivating young players (something LaRussa seemed pretty terrible at).

chief00
Guest
chief00
2 years 11 months ago

“Most managers just don’t make that much of a difference.”
Comments like this are useless, pointless, and baseless. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to explain where the “bar” is and what specific criteria were used to set it at that level. Wins? How many and why? Pennants? How many and why? Titles? How many and why?

How about cross-generational issues, like colour barriers and number of players/teams? Was Miller Huggins a better manager than Jim Leyland? He won 6 pennants and 3 WS titles when there were no black players and 16 teams. However he also didn’t finish higher than third until he managed Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Nathan
Guest
Nathan
2 years 11 months ago

I think the main problems are that almost all managers are overrated in terms of game management, and that we don’t really have a way to quantify how effective managers are at dealing with personalities, and what contribution that has to the success of a team. Leyland is a great example — like most all managers in the history of the game, based on what we know now about win probabilities and such, he’s not a great in-game manager. But he has regularly been praised by everyone during his time as the Tigers’ manager for having the respect of his players and being a guy that they love to play for.

If we were to more objectively judge managers based on the information we can quantify, Leyland is clearly NOT a HOFer. But I think he’s a lock given how managers are judged by the voters, and given the fact that Leyland is something of a “brand name.”

The one thing I’d like to know a little more about is the criticism of Leyland supposedly under-utilizing the closer position. As a Tigers fan in his late 20s, I don’t know much about his career outside of Detroit based on following the team first-hand. But as the Tigers manager, I don’t see him as having under-utilized the closer position at all.

The main problem he’s run up against is Dombrowski having provided him poor bullpens. The second problem I see is that if anything, he’s dramatically over-valued the role of the “traditional closer.” He was far too loyal for too long to Todd Jones and Jose Valverde in particular, and I can’t rationalize any reason for that other than that they were already branded as “closers” so he stuck with them as such.

I’m not sure I buy the argument about over-using his starters. At least with the Tigers, it’s again a question of the position Dombrowski has put him in. I’d lean heavily on the likes of Verlander/Scherzer/Sanchez/Fister/Kenny Rogers/Jackson/etc. given how much better they are/were than his bullpen options of the time. Is it hard to keep your starters’ pitch and inning counts down if you have the pens that teams like the Braves and Giants have had in recent years?

joe
Guest
joe
2 years 11 months ago

If you rank Pinella over Leiland, you need to look at your ranking criteria.

Book_Worm
Guest
Book_Worm
2 years 11 months ago

That criticism should be directed at Chris Jaffe, whose book Evaluating Baseball’s Managers the article is citing. The author of this article doesn’t present that work as the be-all end-all determination of managerial value, anyway.

Adam S
Guest
Adam S
2 years 11 months ago

Laughable. But who knows given recent voting trends.

Obviously Leyland is a prolific manager. But it’s unclear if he’s even an above average manager. It’s really hard to make a case FOR him as a Hall of Fame manager. The case is: his teams were good, he must have had something to do with that.

Randy
Guest
Randy
2 years 11 months ago

I was kind of surprised to hear about the author thinking Leyland undervalued closers. He has been perhaps too loyal to Tiger closers, particularly if they were signed to contracts to be closers, which I think is why there is often a better reliever pitching as a middle reliever instead of closer. I don’t think he is doing it for philosophical reasons; I think he is using experience as a factor combined with gut instinct. I’ll give him a break on the pitch counts since he seems to have changed that behavior with the Tigers; even Verlander only tops out at 130, which is high yet reasonable for him. Overall, I think it is true that Leyland costs his team runs, especially with lineup decisions and in game strategy. I certainly have observed many occasions when I thought the Tigers could have scored more runs or prevented runs if Leyland had made different decisions, and Birnbaum seems to back that up. I tend to think it is the talent, not the manager, that is winning all of these games, though I don’t doubt that he is a player’s manager and is a good clubhouse leader. That has value, but it is balanced out by the negative runs, which results in a near .500 career record.

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