Do Managers Decline With Age?

In the most recent podcast episode of Effectively Wild, a listener asked about managerial ageing curves and whether managers get worse with age. The general consensus of the answer was “not really”, but I wanted to try and find out for sure. So I decided to get good old Google Sheets out and do some data inputting. The results were inconclusive, but interesting all the same.

Because of the number of things that you can’t put a number on — like controlling the clubhouse and making canny bullpen decisions — I thought I would start with this current crop of Major League managers and good old fashioned win percentage. I know, it’s not a great stat, the team could be fantastic and the manager just goes along for the ride (tell that to the 2015 Washington Nationals). But without trying to deal with the intricacies of bullpen usage and defensive metrics, I just wondered if win percentage would give us anything. I wanted to set some ground rules to begin with:

  1. This data would not include this season.
  2. This data would include partial seasons (if hired or fired halfway through). The only partial season it does not include is Dave Roberts one game stint as Padres manager.
  3. Torey Lovullo is not included as he hasn’t completed a full season. His time as Red Sox caretaker does not count.

Now, the win percentage data is only against their age. It doesn’t account for how long they have managed and it’s not cumulative. It’s a single season snapshot, against their age at the time. Here are the results.

Except for a few outliers in the low 60s dragging the rest of the bunch down, it seems with this current crop of managers, as they get older, become more successful. A rolling average line with a frequency of 2 produces this.

The 45 to 60 years old range seems  the most stable and least volatile of managerial records for those in the majors right now.

Because the data for this current crop isn’t huge, I thought I would look at a different set of numbers. The managers with the most wins. They won’t necessarily have brilliant numbers, because all their winning seasons could have come at the start, the end or ‘jam spread’ across their career.

The rules for these numbers were as follows:

  1. 25 managers from the top wins list were used.
  2. I removed any manager who started prior to 1920. Connie Mack going on into his 80’s was crazy for the data.

I produced the following graph.

This graph shows us that you should fire you manager on his 70th birthday. Or, not let Casey Stengel return in his 70s and manage a brand new Mets franchise.

The linear trend line here doesn’t really help, as it essentially draws a line from top left to bottom right and that isn’t really the trend. We can all see with our eyes, that if you ignore the 70+ work from Stengel, it’s actually an upward trend as the years go by. This could be attributed to a number of things, including and not limited to:

  • Having a crop a players that grow with you
  • Showing some success in one place with a small club and then moving to another club that is ready to win and needs that final push
  • Plain old experience; not making the dumb mistakes you used to make as a younger manager (except if you are Buck Showalter and don’t think you should use Zach Britton in a tie game)

Finally, I decided to combine both sets of data (the current manager corp and the top 25-wins guys) and see if it made any difference. It didn’t really shift the balance, but it did make me think about extremes. There must be some serious highs and lows for each year of the managers life. So I decided to add a formula to find highest and lowest win value of each year to see what the spread was like. The spread displayed should then give us the idea of how extreme the shifts in the average win % are.

The results were interesting.

Between 60-70 years old the highs and lows of season win percentages are much less volatile and the average is comfortably above .500.

Finally, lets use the same extremes formula and look at our current crop of managers.

Again, 60-65 sees less extremes in the highest and lowest win percentages, also as seen in the very first graph, it seems that managers between 45-60 seem to come close to or just above .500. Before that age range you could attribute the results to inexperience and after that…well without being too ageist, maybe they just can’t keep up anymore.

This is just a basic look, and obviously doesn’t control for the quality of the squads that the manager has at his disposal. That’s something for us to tackle again in a future post.

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