Former MLB Players as Managers: What The Past Tells Us

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Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images /
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Former MLB Players as Managers: What The Past Tells Us

Perusing through the long history of Major League Baseball, one can easily identify significant trends. For example, compare 2019 league-wide statistics to those from 30 years ago, and you’ll immediately see how prevalent the home run is in today’s game. A similarily striking point can be seen when looking at the history of former MLB players who have earned managerial jobs.

The range of success that managers had in their playing days is quite drastic, as the game has seen some of the sport’s best head a clubhouse as well as those who struggled mightily. For example, Ty Cobb, widely regarded as one of the best hitters of all-time, served as a player/manager of the Detroit Tigers from 1921 to 1926. Bruce Bochy, who has just retired from managing after leading the San Francisco Giants to three World Series in his 13-year tenure, had a career batting average of .239 in nine seasons. So, with such a varying level of on-field success, how did former players who have managed perform, on average?

Looking at data from Baseball-Reference, I decided to dive into these questions. I imposed a few restrictions on my research, the first of which was to only focus on those who have played in the “live-ball era”, or from 1920 on, due to severe changes in the style of play from that period onward. Secondly, I restricted my sample to only those who have accumulated at least 200 at-bats or 50 innings pitched.

This helped eliminate some extremes that would’ve influenced calculations – former Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister has a career 1.000 AVG, thanks to singling in his lone career at-bat. Lastly, I wanted to focus on those who have managerial positions for a meaningful period of time, so I considered only those who had logged at least 81 games, or half of a current season, at the helm.

From 1920 through 2018, the average career statistics of managers who have played in the Majors, per my filters, are as follows:

Career Statistics – Position Players

  •  Games Played = 1036
  • AVG = 0.250
  • HR = 77
  • League-Adjusted OPS = 90.9

Career Statistics – Pitchers

  • Games Played = 272
  • IP = 1523.7
  • League-Adjusted ERA = 135
  • K = 616
  • BB = 486.9
  • SV = 11.7

Based on these findings, we can draw a few conclusions. Perhaps the most glaring piece of information is how mediocre these MLB players performed at the plate. A 0.250 AVG is not terrible, but it’s not fantastic either, especially considering that on the whole, this group was about 10% worse in OPS when compared to their contemporaries. On the mound, managers seemed to have faired better, posting an above-average league-adjusted ERA. Notably, the average career length in each group is sufficiently large.