What Makes Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon Great?

With the Cubs in San Francisco to face the team just behind them in the wild-card race, it makes sense to compare the two managers. After all, they both ended up within the top five in a recent ESPN.com survey, and their teams have both found success in recent years. Though they were born just a year apart, their styles are different enough that they seem to be a study in contrasts.

Who better to ask about what makes them great than their own players and coaches and beat writers? Well, maybe unbiased observers can be more critical than our sample, but the task at hand is to delineate the managers’ strengths.

So, what makes Bruce Bochy great? What makes Joe Maddon great?

*****

Bruce Bochy

Tim Lincecum: He gives us the freedom to play. He’ll let us police ourselves for the most part. He’ll make things known to the team if we run into some skids and whatnot, and he does a good job knowing what’s going and keeping the faith up. Other than that, he’s basically a bench coach that knows a lot more. He’s very meticulous in how he handles his bullpen, he knows really well how to handle the guys on the bench. Never tries to put anyone in a position they aren’t comfortable in. An easy-going guy, for the most part, even if he has his moments like any of us. You never really feel like he’s there as a coach, he’s more there as support. I remember in my first no-hitter in San Diego, I remember coming down into the tunnel and he said “you’re the best I got, you gotta keep this going,” to encourage me and keep me going. And I’ve also had some run-ins with him on the mound when I wanted to stay in the game — not so much lately. Just a real personable coach that allows himself to be available, without overstepping boundaries and making it seem like you’re being watched too closely.

Tim Hudson: His ability to think ahead in the game, those moves late in the game, that’s what he’s really good at. Managing his team, managing his players, trying to put them in a position to be successful. He’s pretty even keel in the dugout. You can tell when he gets emotionally involved sometimes. Not a lot of panic.

Gregor Blanco: What really makes him a great manager is that he gives everybody opportunity to be a part of this team, everybody opportunity to be a hero on this team. I think he really believes that it’s 25 guys that win a game, not only two or three guys. That’s huge. He gives guys a chance — like Joe Panik, Matt Duffy — and he never loses faith in his players. I’m not a guy that’s an everyday player here, but all of a sudden I find myself playing in the World Series. That’s a manager that really believes in us.

Hunter Strickland: He leads by example, he’s a quiet leader until he needs to say something. Lets us do our thing until we need him to get on us. He’ll come up to me and encourage me, he did throughout the playoffs, he said “we got you, we’re going to take care of you, keep competing and have fun with it.” I was a rookie coming up and he was giving me the opportunity. He won’t give up on us.

Brandon Crawford: He’s a good manager of the game. It seems like he knows what’s going to happen a couple innings before they happen. And he’ll have something planned already. He doesn’t get all mad or frustrated or worked up very often, which is nice. For the most part pretty calm. If he does get worked up, it’s something big. I don’t think I’v ever seen a manager as good at seeing something before it happens. He’s gotten better with the rest thing, too.

Chris Haft: He rarely puts people in a position to fail. He puts people in a position to succeed. That sounds basic, but sometimes a manager will send a guy up to bunt who’s got no business bunting. Bruce won’t do that. He knows his players’ limitations, and he never criticizes them in print. That’s another thing that sounds like something that most normal people wouldn’t do, but he just doesn’t do it. He may rip guys off the record, but it stays off the record. I don’t think it affects the way he uses them, either, he may come back with them the next day.

People say he’s a master of the bullpen. Master is kind of a strong term, but relievers don’t like getting up to warm up and then not go into the game. That rarely happens here. He’s not perfect with that. As a postseason manager, he understands a sense of urgency. Where other managers might stick with a starter for a little bit longer because that’s just what they do, well no, look at Game Seven last year, Hudson’s gone after four outs, five outs. He didn’t mess around.

He likes to gamble, in low doses. He has an uncanny knack for knowing when to gamble with a player, even when — and this might sound corny — it’s up to them to make it work. When he started out, after a tough loss, he would sit in his office and yell obscenities, you could hear it ringing throughout the clubhouse. Guys got a sense of how intense he was. Now — and of course winning three World Series will do this for you — it seems like he’s in a good mood every day.

*****

Joe Maddon

Dexter Fowler: He keeps us loose. That’s basically it. He has fun. He’s the man.

Kris Bryant: He’s so personable. He’s really laid back, and he’s the type of manager that’s not hard on you. He’s not a drill sergeant. That brings out the best of you as a player. You’re not scared to make a mistake or scared to do something wrong, you’re not walking on eggshells. If you’ve got a problem, you can talk to him. He’s taught me so much already, I’m looking forward to the relationship that we have to come. In spring training, when I got sent down, he was great, and that springboarded us into talking a lot when I’m struggling and when I’m doing great. He’s really easy-going.

Henry Blanco: The way he goes about his business. He gives players responsibilities. The way he is, he keeps them loose and does his thing, you know him. That helps the momentum keep going. He puts them where they need to be to play the game the right way. He’s probably one of the best managers in the National League. He’s a quiet guy, but he likes to do some crazy stuff to get the guys going, and I’m pretty sure that makes a difference here.

Dan Haren: The non-game stuff that he does, the fun stuff, it helps keep the team looser than the places I’ve been. Not as much attention to things like batting practice and drills, he tries to cut a lot of that stuff out. He gives players a lot of leeway, but he expects a lot back. Managing a game, he’s a little bit of an older guy, but he’s really embraced some new school stuff, the analytics. I’ve taken a look at his lineup card, and I know my stuff a little, but I don’t understand what he has written on there, some crazy stuff, it’s not as easy as left/right splits any more. He’s really embraced that, and he tries new things, like the pitcher hitting eighth, and I try to understand it, and he explains it to me, and I still don’t understand it. But when a guy like him, who has had so much success, you question less the stuff he does in game. And there’s a respect for the players, too.

Patrick Mooney: He’s been the right guy at the right time. They couldn’t have found a better guy to appeal to the young players, fuse the organization together, and deal with a lot of the Wrigleyville nonsense that comes around. He’s a great communicator, and he definitely deflects pressure and attention away from these kids, who have been really talked about from the moment they were drafted as the next big things. For all these players, it’s huge just to have that stability, too — I think it’s five managers in six seasons now. The team has been methodical in signing pieces and Maddon is about as good as it gets when it comes a manager in this day and age.

We hoped you liked reading What Makes Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon Great? by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Rational Fan
Guest
Rational Fan

who says Joe Maddon is the best?

Guy has under performed his projected win total more times than not.

Jross
Member
Jross

“Disappointment” is a word that comes to mind when thinking about Joe’s teams

Blerg
Guest
Blerg

Fredi Gonzalez’s teams have outperformed their preseason projected win totals more often than not. Does this make him a good manager? If you have to think about the answer that question, you haven’t watched many Braves games. There are lots of things that influence whether or not a team outperforms it’s projected win totals, and the manager is only one of them, and far from the most important one. Trying to evaluate managers this way is decidedly irrational, bc there is just way too much noise.

I.A.L. Diamondback
Guest
I.A.L. Diamondback

If this year’s braves squad maintains its current pace, they will fall 3.5 wins short of their over/under, bringing Fredi’s 5-year record down to +8 total, with three teams better than expected and two teams worse.

In his three full years in Florida, Gonzalez was a fairly stunning total of 19 games better than the Vegas lines, with two “winning” seasons and one losing.

Perhaps we should simply swallow our gall, and consider the possibility that Gonzalez is at least a solid MLB manager. So often when evaluating in-game tactics, we grade managers against the Platonic Ideal, rather than against one another. Maybe Fredi, whatever his warts, is better than we think — compared to other managers.

D
Guest
D

With pythag, if a manager lets a pitcher get hammered in mop-up work, it “lowers” his expected wins. So trailing by 4 in the 9th and using a known pitcher and losing 5-1 is “better” than letting someone “take one for the team” and losing 8-1? Using position players as pitcher etc.

Just saying there is probably a small element of managerial style that may impact the formula while not impacting wins. Also, collapsing in Sept 3 of 4 years may not show up in pythag, but it does deserve consideration if a managers teams consistently play better early or get better as the season progresses.

So,who knows,, but in postseason, give me Botchy over “Kimbrel can only get 4 outs, not 5” any day.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B

“Botchy” is downright Freudian.

arc
Guest
arc

Who says that’s the correct way to determine who the best manager is? As far as I can tell, there is no reliable, definitive way to even measure that.

Rational Response
Guest
Rational Response

Angry White Sox fan trolling alert!

chicubs1369
Member
chicubs1369

its so much more complicated then that and if thats how you determine what makes a manger a good or bad one then i just don’t know what to tell you.
you may think that i am biased because i am a cubs fan and all that but its simple i know i can’t decide if a manger is good or bad if i don’t know enough about the situation.. there is so much that goes into it other than beating projections or not.. there is health, luck, production, ect.

joe maddon has led the cubs to a 73-51 record.. the cubs were projected 82.5 wins this year and if you told me they would (safe assumption) easily surpass that mark with Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler having negative WAR then I would be very confused. This Cubs team has gone 21-4 and have been one of the hottest teams in baseball since the end of July and might I say their worst 2 players since then have been trade deadline acquisitions..

he brings his teams a breathe of fresh air, he always knows exactly what to say, and the players respect/trust him.

Joe Maddon is going to be the first manager to lead a team with 3 everyday rookies to the playoffs. There is a something to be said about that.. and thats that he’s a great manager.

I.A.L. Diamondback
Guest
I.A.L. Diamondback

Maddon has done a great job this year. But his superrookie quartet of Bryant, Schwarber, Russell and Soler has only been worth 2 bWAR more than the St. Louis rookie foursome of Grichuk, Piscotty, Cooney and Socolovich.

The big difference between these groups is that all 4 Cubs were Baseball America top 20 overall prospects — and 3 of the Cardinals weren’t even top 100. (Piscotty at #70 was by far the highest rated.)

So if an N.L. Central manager deserves credit for getting the most out of his rookies this year, it’s probably Mike Matheny. Which partly explains how his squad is on pace to finish 9 games ahead of the Cubs, rather than the 4 games predicted by Fangraphs, or the 6 games forecasted by Vegas.

This year, relative to the preseason expectations of B-Pro, Clay Davenport, Fangraphs, or anybody else, it’s Maddon great, Hurdle greater, Matheny best.

florida ron
Guest
florida ron

I can’t wait to see how Matheny shits the bed in the playoffs this year. Criminal charges could have been filed against Bochy for the abuse he inflicted on Mikey boy last October.

Howie Porker
Guest
Howie Porker

Exactly.

I.A.L. Diamondback
Guest
I.A.L. Diamondback

Matheny’s career playoff record is in fact superb. He has been the betting underdog in 6 of his team’s 8 series, and led them to victory 5 times.

He’s been outmanaged in the playoffs by Bruce Bochy — as has every single manager Bochy has faced since he arrived in San Francisco. (Bruce was just 8-16 as a Padres skipper in October.)

Treaty of Zoilo Versalles
Guest
Treaty of Zoilo Versalles

Yeah, I remember Bochy “outmaneuvering” that rube Matheny, and sending Juan Perez to the plate for one of the season’s most critical at-bats. It was the 10th inning, game 3. Winning run on first base, none out.

Perez, a simply terrible, terrible player who hit .170 during the regular season and somehow accrued -1.0 WAR in just 109 plate appearances, found himself with a bat in his hands. Dreadful hitter, winning run on 1st, you bunt. Right? Nope, Bochy had him swing. (Perez had 2 reg. season sac bunts and 3 GIDPs in 100 AB’s, in case you were wondering.) Insane, having him swing.

And of course Perez got the big hit, basically clinching the game.

The guy who was one of baseball’s worst players during the regular season, and who certainly had no business on the postseason roster, got one of the biggest hits of the playoffs. Bochy brilliance? Of course not. But sometimes crazy moves pay off anyway.

ed
Guest
ed

F uck Maddon overrated

I.A.L. Diamondback
Guest
I.A.L. Diamondback

I would like to see the evidence that Joe Maddon’s teams have “underperformed” their projected win totals more often than not.

Link?

From ’09-’14 his Tampa teams averaged 88 wins, which while not great, was very good considering their A.L. East competition. I would bet that the average projection (or Vegas over/under) was between 84 and 86 wins per year over that 6-year stretch. (And I mean that literally. I would bet it.)

Maddon’s 5-9 playoff record since 2008 may be worthy of scrutiny, however — especially in light of his very odd and un-Maddonlike back-to-back managerial misfires in the 2013 postseason.

I.A.L. Diamondback
Guest
I.A.L. Diamondback

Okay, I checked. Maddon’s final 8 Tampa teams were 5-3 v. the Vegas over/unders. (I couldn’t find a Vegas number for his debut 2006 season.)

From 2007-2014, Joe was a total of +24.5 wins, or 3 victories per year on average. I’d call that a very big success.

Stefan
Guest
Stefan

Is that even true?