Terry Collins, the New York Mets, and Manager WAR – A Research Experiment


As the title suggests, I’m doing research for a “Manager WAR” of sorts this offseason. Because of the preliminary status of my research, I’m not going to delve too deep into it. What research I have done, however, seems pertinent given yesterday’s decision to extend New York Mets manager Terry Collins. The question everyone’s been trying to solve is: Is Terry a good manager?

It’s complex. As most sabermetricians know, one of the big issues with the eye test is that we’re inherently predisposed to remember events that support our biases. We quickly recall times when a bullpen move leads to a loss, or when Justin Turner bats cleanup. We don’t see the decisions that occur behind closed doors, and we don’t see how lineup decisions or days off may positively impact the team long-term. And, of course, there is no easy way to quantify these things. But what if we could try?

We have two objective methods to assess how a team does over a full season. The first – Pythagorean Record – is a system that projects an expected record based on runs scored and allowed. The second – Wins Above Replacement – gives us an expected record based on a team’s talent level. Both sites that compute WAR, Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, base their metrics on a “replacement level” .294 winning percentage (just under 48 wins). How they determine and allocate their WAR differs between the sites, but the theory is largely the same. Initial research suggests that Baseball-Reference’s figures are much more consistent (the standard deviation for bWAR is around 3.8 whereas for fWAR it’s around 5.4). My somewhat-educated guess is that using runs allowed (RA9) instead of Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) instead of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) provides a better measure of team performance in aggregate (or, in other words, that the primary difference comes from how each system measures and grades team defense).

What I’ve done so far is used the two metrics to identify “Expected” (Pythagorean Record) and “Actual” (WAR) results to determine how a team performs relative to its talent level. A 30 WAR team should expect to win roughly 78 games. If their Pythagorean Record suggests 80 wins, then it suggests that team “overachieved” by 2 wins (note: this doesn’t necessarily show up in the final standings as Win/Loss records often fall victim to luck and circumstance). After subtracting Average from Expected, the league average is determined (simply the mean of the calculated figures). That mean is then subtracted from each team’s score to determine a normalized Wins Above Average. Having done so for the years 2011-2013 (my research currently goes back to 1999, but we’re specifically concerning ourselves with the Collins years here), I then added each year to get team totals over the three-year period. Looking at the chart, we see that the Mets have performed quite well:

Sep 29, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets manager

Terry Collins

(10) waves to the fans after a game at Citi Field. The Mets won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

(Chart shows results through 162 games and does not include last night’s game 163 between Texas and Tampa Bay.)

Terry sits comfortably toward the top, alongside better-regarded managers Mike Matheny* (whose Cardinals have outperformed their talent by a staggering 11.05 games this season) and Fredi Gonzalez. Not only that, but we can see that he’s been largely consistent in his three seasons. This is interesting as Terry has managed three largely different teams; only David Wright, Lucas Duda, and Daniel Murphy have played in 100 games in all three seasons offensively, only Jonathon Niese has made at least 20 starts each season (he, Dillon Gee, and R.A. Dickey are the only three to make more than 36 starts over the three yeats), and only Bobby Parnell has pitched at least 50 innings in relief each year. 

At this stage, Manager WAR is still a while from being a thing, and may not end up as one. And we don’t know how much of what I’ve defined as mWAA is actually the direct result of the manager. But the fact that the team has overachieved – on a consistent level – for all three years with Terry Collins at the helm is statistically significant. Though the methods may not be the same, this is exactly what Sandy Alderson was looking for when he said that his evaluation of the manager extended beyond wins and losses. What he saw was a skipper who consistently gets the most out of his players, who rallies his troops consistently and effectively, and is willing to buy into the system he’s working to implement.

Should Collins be able to do what he’s done with the competitive team he’s expected to be handed in 2014, the Mets could be in great shape to contend next year. While there may be bumps, and not all decisions will work out, the Mets appear to be better off in the long-run than many currently think.

So what do you think? Is Terry underrated? Overrated? Will his managing strengths translate to a more talented team? Let us know in the comments, and continue the discussion.

If you have any questions regarding methodology or about the mWAR process, please feel free to Tweet me @danhaefeli. As the research develops, I’ll continue to post my findings and any breakthroughs here on Rising Apple.

*Mike Matheny became manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 following the retirement of Tony LaRussa. However, in large part due to 2013, Matheny’s 2012-13 would rank third on the chart, behind Fredi Gonzalez and Terry Collins.

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