Apparently Russ Nixon was a better manager than we thought

An interesting name appears within this FiveThirtyEight piece about the irrelevance of most MLB managers:

It turns out that Cox is one of the few managers of all time who could lead his players to unexpected performances year after year. Over the course of his career, Cox’s teams outperformed expectations by 3.1 wins per 162 games on average, sometimes exceeding their projected talent level by as much as 10 wins.

Nearly every other manager of the last 30 years — 172 overall — was, statistically speaking, indistinguishable from average. They either didn’t manage for long enough or didn’t separate themselves from the pack while they were still filling out lineup cards. Cox is one of only six managers since 1986 — Russ Nixon, Tony LaRussa, Davey Johnson, Billy Martin and Earl Weaver — who we can say with confidence actually affected the performance of the players he was managing more than the average manager.

I assume that’s a typo, considering Nixon‘s .400 winning percentage as a manager with the Braves and Reds (231-347). If not, it certainly merits explanation.

Could it be that Nixon’s teams were even worse than their record? Did the ’89 Braves’ 63-97 record actually exceed expectations?

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3 comments

  1. “only six managers. . . actually affected the performance of the players [they] were managing more than the average manager. . .” Are we sure that Nixon’s effect was a positive one? I read the article, and I did not see anything that explicitly said that all of these managers had a positive effect. Could this have been a “two-tailed” hypothesis?

  2. I thought about that possibility, but he would be the only one mentioned as having a negative affect, and I don’t recall Nixon being incompetent by any means. But, looking back at the ’89 team, you may have a point, one would could expose some flaws in 538’s data. That was a veteran-laden squad, with several guys past their prime: D. Evans, Jody Davis, Murph … If their declines were measured against the totality of their careers, then yes, their drop-offs were precipitous. But that would be extremely unfair to Nixon, since they were all trending downward. (Lonnie, on the other hand, came back from the scrap heap to post a .948 OPS).

    The pitchers, meanwhile, were pretty decent: Glavine and Smoltz had their first solid years while Derek Lilliquist, a rookie, never pitched better, at least as a starter. Hell, even Marty Clary (3.15 ERA in 100-plus innings) pitched well.

    So now I’m really confused, though I’m fairly confident Nixon was neither one of the 6 best managers or the very worst. He wasn’t even the worst Braves manager — Eddie Haas owns that title, hands-down.

  3. I always liked Russ’ combative attitude toward the umps and other loudmouth managers.

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