Bobby Cox: An Examination

Bobby Cox has been at the helm of the Atlanta Braves since their run began in 1991. Is he the sole reason for the Braves great success? Andrew Bare analyzes.

In my column last week on the Braves clinching the division, I wrote this:

"Bobby Cox has now won division championships with teams that had great starters and bad bullpens to go with decent offenses, good starters and great bullpens with horrid offenses, great starters, bad bullpens, and solid offenses, and finally, this year, a team with mediocre starters, a poor bullpen, and a phenomenal offense. There are only so many permutations, and I'm pretty sure Bobby has won with all of them. Bobby Cox knows what he's doing."

But does he? How big a role has Bobby played in the Braves success? I don't way to say that was a statement I wrote with little thought, for I did give the idea some consideration. But I didn't investigate it in a way that would hold up to the standards of even the laziest of journalists or scholars. Furthermore, I think it's a question worth looking at in more detail.

First, some background. I decided to look at Bobby's current tenure with the Braves, starting with 1991. He took over part-way through the 1990 season, but for the purposes of this column, it would be best to look at full seasons. Also, a more comprehensive analysis would examine his years in Toronto and his first tour of duty in Atlanta. But if we're trying to answer the question: "How much of the Braves run in the 90s is due to Bobby Cox?" it's best to look only at that run.

Now, in trying to gauge Bobby's influence, I've decided to look at the 91-02 Braves' Pythagorean Records. For those of you who paid attention in high school geometry, you probably have some idea of what a Pythagorean Record might be. But or those of us who spent our time in math class wondering what those two parallel lines after all the numbers were, it could use some explaining. From the BaseballReference.com FAQ:

"Pythagorean winning percentage is an estimate of a team's winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed. Developed by Bill James, it can tell you when teams were a bit lucky or unlucky. It is calculated by:
               (Runs Scored)^1.83
---------------------------------------------------------
 (Runs Scored)^1.83 +  (Runs Allowed)^1.83

The traditional formula uses an exponent of two, but this has proven to be a little more accurate."


Basically, it attempts to tell you what a team's record SHOULD be, given their Runs Scored/Allowed. A team with a record different than their Pythagorean Record probably was a little lucky/unlucky.

Here's where Cox comes in. If a team consistently over/underperforms their Pythagorean Record, it might be something other than luck. One school of thought suggests that we can use a team's actual performance, contrasted with their expected performance, to evaluate the quality of a manager.

Now I should note that's a somewhat controversial idea in the sabrmetric school of thought. Further, the idea of a Pythagorean Record is rejected by a number of people. For those reasons, it wouldn't be wise to look at this "analysis" as anything other than a moderately interesting exercise, not that anybody looks to me for the final word on anything.

1991 Atlanta Braves:
Runs Scored: 749
Runs Allowed: 644
Expected W/L Record: 92-70
Actual W/L Record: 94-68
Difference: +2

1992 Atlanta Braves:
Runs Scored: 682
Runs Allowed: 569
Expected W/L Record: 94-68
Actual W/L Record: 98-64
Difference: +4

1993 Atlanta Braves:
Runs Scored: 767
Runs Allowed: 559
Expected W/L Record: 104-58
Actual W/L Record: 104-58
Difference: Even

1994 Atlanta Braves (Strike Year):
Runs Scored: 542
Runs Allowed: 448
Expected W/L Record: 67-47
Actual W/L Record: 68-46
Difference: +1

1995 Atlanta Braves: (Strike Shortened Year)
Runs Scored: 645
Runs Allowed: 540
Expected W/L Record: 84-60
Actual W/L Record: 90-54
Difference: +6

1996 Atlanta Braves:
Runs Scored: 773
Runs Allowed: 648
Expected W/L Record: 94-68
Actual W/L Record: 96-66
Difference: +2

1997 Atlanta Braves:
Runs Scored: 791
Runs Allowed: 581
Expected W/L Record: 103-59
Actual W/L Record: 101-61
Difference: -2

1998 Atlanta Braves:
Runs Scored: 826
Runs Allowed: 581
Expected W/L Record: 106-56
Actual W/L Record: 106-56
Difference: Even

1999 Atlanta Braves:
Runs Scored: 840 Runs
Runs Allowed: 661
Expected W/L Record: 98-64
Actual W/L Record: 103-59
Difference: +5

2000 Atlanta Braves:
Runs Scored: 810
Runs Allowed: 714
Expected W/l Record: 90-72
Actual W/L Record: 95-67
Difference: +5

2001 Atlanta Braves:
Runs Scored: 729
Runs Allowed: 643
Expected W/L Record: 90-72
Actual W/L Record: 88-74
Difference: -2

2002 Atlanta Braves:
Runs Scored: 708
Runs Allowed: 565
Expected W/L Record: 96-64
Actual W/L Record: 101-59
Difference: +5

Total Difference: + 26 Games

A reader can draw from those numbers whatever he or she wants to draw from them. I feel that I was in sound territory with my original pronouncement. Over this run, Bobby Cox's teams have been 26 games better than they "should" be. He has only 2 seasons where his teams underperformed their Pythagorean Record. I don't know if Bobby Cox is a Hall of Fame manager. But I'm getting close to thinking that.

Andrew Bare can be reached at AndrewBare29@hotmail.com

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