Soderholm-Difatte: Do managers make a difference in one-run games?

From SABR member Bryan Soderholm-Difatte at on March 19, 2015:

The argument for one-run games being a possible indicator of a manager’s skill and effectiveness in game-on-the-line circumstances is that these are the games where his decisions would have the most obvious impact, as suggested by several exciting games of the 2014 post-season mentioned in my previous article. The prevailing view among sabermetric analysts, however, is that it is misleading to evaluate any manager’s performance based on such indicators as his record in one-run games, which are decided as much by luck as a manager’s game-management skills. Inspired by Branch Rickey’s famous dictum, “Luck is the residue of design,” this Insight seeks to explore that issue.

As noted in my previous article, Nats’ manager Matt Williams’ decision to remove Jordan Zimmermann in a 1-0 game with the tying run on base but needing only one more out to even the division series blew up in his face; O’s manager Buck Showalter’s decision to put the potential winning run on base with the tying run on second, with only one out and his team just two outs away from advancing to the ALCS, proved a masterstroke; and Royals’ manager Ned Yost’s decision to use a starting pitcher instead of his go-to seventh-inning guy to protect a one-run lead in the sixth in the wild card game nearly cost KC the game and their ultimate road to the World Series.

Games decided by one-run are not simply low-scoring affairs, such as often associated with the Dead Ball Era, but also games decided by scores like 9-8, 8-7, and 7-6. Most are legitimately on the line in the late innings, even if some one-run games begin as blowouts and become close only because of frenetic comebacks that fall just short.

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Originally published: March 19, 2015. Last Updated: March 19, 2015.