Sep 16, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon (70) smiles in the dugout during the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Maddon was AL Manager of the year in 2008 and 2011. He finished first in a Sports Illustrated poll of 291 MLB players asked which manager they’d most like to play for. But while some knowledgeable observers are aware of Maddon’s managerial strengths, many average fans still may not be aware of his greatness. As a strategist, Maddon ranks with some of the most successful managers of all time, such as Casey Stengel and Earl Weaver.
Both Stengel and Weaver were tremendously successful. Stengel won 10 pennants in his 12 years as Yankee manager, and Weaver won 6 division championships and 4 pennants in 18 years with the Orioles. Stengel brought back platooning as a strategy; Weaver extended that to situational platooning by carefully monitoring player statistics and inserting players into the lineup who performed well in particular situations.
Maddon, like Weaver and Stengel, looks for every opportunity to put players in situations where they can excel. Maddon is not afraid to rewrite his lineups — moving players up and down in the order and into different positions in the field. Maddon batted pitcher Jeremy Hellickson 8th instead of 9th earlier this year against the Dodgers. Stengel would occasionally bat second baseman Bobby Richardson ninth. (There was no DH in the AL during the fifties.) Stengel also liked to write a new lineup every day, and rotated Gil McDougald amongst three infield positions. Maddon uses Ben Zobrist much the same way — moving him from second to outfield and occasionally to shortstop to enable him to do whatever it takes to get the Rays’ best lineup onto the field on any given day.
Weaver may have been the first manager to keep stats about how his hitters performed against specific pitchers. Maddon first started putting stats in a computer when he coached for the Angels, and he makes sure he knows his players’ history. That almost sounds like a joke in today’s statistical age of baseball, but while so many manager continues to persist with methods that drive the sabermetrically savvy insane, Maddon has been among the most accepting managers of statistics in all of baseball. Another instance of that is the sacrifice bunt–just like Weaver, Maddon has all but eliminated it from his arsenal of plays.
Of course, what Maddon also shares with these great manager s is success. Maddon’s lifetime winning percentage of .520 is higher than Stengel’s .508. Casey had the misfortune to manage the NY Mets in their early years. Weaver’s percentage of .580 is one of the best of all time, but if you subtract the first two years of Maddon’s tenure with the Rays, when the team just didn’t have the talent to compete, Maddon’s winning percentage is .560.
Of course, the best managerial strategies can’t help if the players don’t execute. But a great manager like Maddon gives his team the best chance to win every day. Maddon has been a major league manger for only eight years now, but if he continues this level of performance, Weaver and Stengel will have company in the Hall of Fame before long.