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Reacting to Managerial Changes

   by Scott Spreitzer - 06/22/2008

We’ve just had three managerial changes in Major League baseball in recent days. That made this the IDEAL time to talk about handicapping games right after changes in leadership.

As a general rule, you should expect a team to improve after firing its manager:

*The players may have stopped listening to the former manager, and will play enthusiastically for the new guy.

*Whenever the axe starts falling, people start worrying about their own jobs. Of course, players are guaranteed their money. But they don’t want to be benched because of bad performance. Many players who had been “slumpingâ€쳌 suddenly develop a new sense of urgency about their contributions.

*New managers aren’t afraid to make changes that help the team. There’s no loyalty to guys for what they may have done in past seasons. If you’re not producing now, the new manager will replace you with somebody who’s going to produce. So, whether an underachiever fixes his own problems, or gets benched, improvement comes from that spot in the lineup.

*Sometimes teams go through bad spells because of rotten luck. When that regresses to the mean, they start winning again. That would have happened even without the managerial change. You’ll find that many mid-season changes come when teams were losing more often than they should have because of some bad luck. The new manager benefits from the changes in fortune.

It’s very hard to make a losing team worse. The preponderance of influences will lead to a turnaround in performance. Seattle wasn’t just a losing team. They were a HORRIBLE team. I think changes in management there will lead to significantly improved play. As handicappers, we should practically just start their season over and handicap the Mariners based ONLY on what’s happened since the new man took over.

With Toronto and the NY Mets, we have a different situation. In both cases, we’re talking about teams who were hovering around the .500 mark for impatient ownership that had higher expectations. It actually IS possible to screw that up because the teams weren’t really that bad to begin with. Making changes may create a crisis in confidence that leads to a stunning collapse.

The ranges of volatility:

*Changing leadership on a .500 team could be exactly what it takes to get a lazy team to kick things up a notch and start winning.

*Changing leadership on a .500 team could infuriate the players who think the decision-makers overreacted. If the prior manager was popular with the players, the team could go right in the tank.

I think the NY Mets were overdue to get a kick in the pants. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start to play like the contenders they were supposed to be. Toronto is in a killer division (AL East), and really doesn’t have the resources to compete with Boston and New York, or the young talent of Tampa Bay. It’s hard to see a sudden surge from the Jays given their competition. The smell of panic might actually drive the team in the opposite direction.

As handicappers, we have to outline expectations based on our read of the situation. But then we also have to watch the situation develop very closely. These are significant windows of opportunity that are likely to catch the betting markets napping. If a team does get hot and start to surge, it will take the lines a few weeks to catch up. If a team does fall off the map because the players are in some sort of revolt, it will take a few weeks to account for this new direction as well. Betting lines are based on “perceptionsâ€쳌 of teams. It takes a little time for perceptions to catch up with reality when something dramatic happens in the middle of the season.

I strongly encourage you to keep track of Seattle, Toronto, and the NY Mets separately from your normal handicapping research. If another manager gets fired before the All-Star Break, do the same with that team. Force yourself to pay very close attention to what’s happening on a daily basis with franchises in transition. I’ve already circled the names of about ten key “underachieversâ€쳌 in the lineups who I will be monitoring statistically. If these guys do play with a new sense of urgency, they’ll be lighting up the scoreboard the next few weeks. If not,

I want to see what their replacements do.

The great thing about sports handicapping is that reality keeps changing the playing field! Oddsmakers and the general public have to react without any real certainty about what’s going to happen. If you can stay ahead of them on the learning curve, you can grind out a profit until the lines catch up. In a sport like baseball, that can be as long as a couple of months.

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