The U Files Case #20: The Art Howe Review Part I

The Mets made a splash before any trades were made or free agents signed this off-season. After a tumultuous mess of a season, the Mets announced the firing of Bobby Valentine immediately after the World Series. For weeks, the hot topic in New York was the Mets' quest for a new manager. Much speculation focused on Seattle's Lou Piniella. In the end, Piniella wound up managing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and the Mets inked second option Art Howe, formerly of the Oakland Athletics.

Naturally, of concern to Mets fans is the pedigree Art Howe brings. To make a study of Howe, I used one of the great resources online. Baseball-Reference.com is a great website. It's free, fast, and easy, and boasts a database of leagues, teams, players, and managers stretching back into the 1800's.

Art Howe has 12 years of managerial experience in the Major Leagues. He managed the Houston Astros to a 392-418 record from 1989 through 1993, and the Oakland Athletics to a 600-533 mark from 1996 through 2002. His reputation is based primarily on good work bringing young talent along. He is known as an easygoing guy and a player's manager.

The first tool I considered was Pythagorean won/lost record. This estimates the expected won/lost record of a team based on runs scored and runs allowed by the following formula:

(Runs Scored ^ 1.83)
(Runs Scored ^ 1.83 + Runs Allowed ^ 1.83)

This gives a decimal, which is the team's expected winning percentage. This multiplied by games played gives expected wins. The exponent 1.83 is used because it has proven to give the most reliable results. This tool generally nails down a team's record to within a handful of games. A difference of more than 4 wins either way between Pythagorean and actual won/lost record is an aberration.

The Pythagorean record of the Astros during Howe's tenure was 383-427. The Astros were 9 wins over their expected record over the 5 years Howe managed there. The Athletics sported an expected record of 596- 537 during Howe's reign, and won 4 more games than expected over the seven-year span.

Year

Team

Expected W-L

Actual W-L

Difference

1989

Astros

79-83

86-76

+7

1990

Astros

71-91

75-87

+4

1991

Astros

69-93

65-97

-4

1992

Astros

74-88

81-81

+7

1993

Astros

90-72

85-77

-5

1996

Athletics

78-84

78-84

0

1997

Athletics

65-97

65-97

0

1998

Athletics

76-86

74-88

-2

1999

Athletics

85-77

87-75

+2

2000

Athletics

92-69

91-70

-1

2001

Athletics

104-58

102-60

-2

2002

Athletics

96-66

103-59

+7



In twelve years, Howe managed as many lucky (won more than expected) as unlucky (won less than expected) teams, with 5 each. Twice his expected record matched his actual record exactly. The one thing that stands out is his apparent knack for managing teams that outwin their Pythagorean projection by a large margin. Three times in twelve years his team won 7 more games than expected.

Howe seems to have earned his reputation for developing young hitters. For the Astros Howe brought up a crop of hitters including Craig Biggio, Ken Caminiti, Jeff Bagwell, Luis Gonzalez, and Steve Finley. Biggio posted an OPS higher than the league average in two of his first three years. He also stole 21 bases in 24 attempts in his first full season. Bagwell was at least 38 percent above average in his first three years. Finley was above average in his second and third years. Gonzalez was above average in his first and third years, and seven percent below average in year two. Caminiti achieved a league average OPS in his third year.

For the Athletics, Howe managed emerging hitters that included Jason Giambi, Matt Stairs, Ben Grieve, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, and Terrence Long. Giambi was well above average in his first three years, climbing to an OPS 29 percent above league average in his third year. Stairs was at least 27 percent above average in his first three years. Grieve was at least 12 percent above league average in his first three full years. Tejada improved each year and posted an OPS 12 percent above average in his third year. Chavez improved from 6 percent below average in his first year to 18 percent above in his second year and 31 percent above average in year three. Long was average in his first two years and had a bad year in his third.

Batters changing managers generally improved under Art Howe. In his time with the Astros and Athletics, Howe managed 15 players who had at least 300 AB in the year before they came under Howe and at least 300 AB under Howe. Five of those players also had at least 300 AB in their second year under Howe. Nine of those players improved in their first year under Howe, and six had a worse year than the previous year. The average OPS of these 15 players was 7.6 percent above league average in 6739 AB in the year before they came to Howe. They created .13807 runs per AB (using the Runs Created statistic as listed at baseball-reference.com). In their first year under Howe, these 15 players posted an OPS 9.3 percent above league average in 7123 AB. In this year, they created .15014 runs per AB. Five players combined for 1961 AB in a second year under Howe. Their OPS was 12 percent above league average.

Art Howe is replacing a manager known for his use of the bench in Bobby Valentine. The statistics bear out that Valentine gave his bench more AB than Howe, but Howe got more out of his bench than Valentine did. Here I define the starting lineup as the set of players with the most AB at each position. The set of all other AB constitutes the bench. In six years managing the Mets, Valentine gave his bench 31.29 percent of his teams' AB. His bench produced 23.1 percent of the Mets' runs and created .1072 runs per AB. Howe gave his bench 29.56 percent of his team's AB in twelve years. In that time his bench produced 25.32 percent of his teams' runs and created 1.412 runs per AB. Valentine's lineup produced .1569 runs per AB, and Howe's lineup 1.704 runs per AB. Howe managed a better lineup than Valentine in his last few years in Oakland, but his bench on average came closer to the production of his lineup on a per AB basis. Howe's bench created a higher percentage of his team runs in a smaller percentage of its AB.

These results are not entirely conclusive, as Howe and Valentine managed different teams, however 12 years for Howe and 6 for Valentine as Mets manager are a large sample. In that time, a lot of good and bad hitters played for both managers and produced the averages presented here. This study indicates that Howe manages hitters well, particularly talented young hitters, and that he has managed his bench well. If the Mets are planning to bring up prospects Jose Reyes and David Wright in the next few years, Howe seems to be a good manager to do it under. In my next article I will examine how Howe manages pitchers.



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