We looked at MLB manager Bruce Bochy and his overrated status a long time ago on this blog, and now that he’s retired, the book is closed on his final numbers. The 2020 MLB season may not start any time soon, but this seems like a good time to do this analysis nonetheless.
Not to be repetitive from that July 2018 piece, but Bochy finished his career with mediocre overall numbers as a regular-season manager: a .497 winning percentage, including losing records at both stops in his career, San Diego (951-975) and San Francisco (1052-1054).
He averaged a third-place finish in his career, the entirety of it spent in the National League West, a division made up of five teams. That is the very definition of average. Bochy managed the Padres to four Octobers in 12 seasons and the Giants to four Octobers in 13 seasons.
He won just a single Manager of the Year award, coming in his second season in San Diego (1996). Bochy hardly fits the profile of anyone outstanding at his job, in truth. The only time Bochy ever got his team to consecutive postseasons was in San Diego during the 2005 and 2006 regular seasons, when the Padres won a weak NL West with 82 and 88 wins, respectively.
Despite having regular Top-10 payrolls in San Francisco, Bochy—for all his alleged brilliance—couldn’t get the Giants into the postseason in consecutive years, ever. Meanwhile, the S.F. main rival in Los Angeles somehow has managed to make seven straight postseasons.
Literally, the only saving grace for Bochy has been the anomaly of October short series: This is where the .497 manager suddenly became a .679 manager in San Francisco, after being a mere .333 manager in his San Diego postseasons.
By any notion, that is anomaly—not a norm at all. Did Bochy suddenly get smarter in the postseason? Did his players suddenly get better? These are unanswerable questions, really, even though logic dictates the answer to both is no.
Catfish Hunter once famously said that the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass every day. Evidently, the sun in foggy San Francisco, however, did shine on the same dog’s ass quite frequently in October.
Bochy spent 4,032 regular-season games in a MLB dugout as a very average manager; he spent just 48 postseason games in San Francisco’s October dugout winning three World Series.
Why would any sane expert value those 48 postseason games over the 4,032 regular-season games when assessing Bochy’s career? Especially when considering that in the other 29 October games Bochy managed, his record was terrible, it’s clear those 48 games represent a distinct anomaly in the overall picture.
The Giants won 34 of those 48 postseason games in 2010, 2012, and 2014, while the rest of Bochy’s postseason appearances with San Diego (1996, 1998, 2005, 2006) and San Francisco (2016) combined produced just a 10-19 mark.
This begs the obvious question(s): Did Bochy suddenly learn how to win in the postseason in 2010 and then forget the secret to his success by 2016? Of course, that isn’t the case.
While we would expect any manager to learn and grow with experience, Bochy was a completely hit-or-miss manager in October: Four times his team lost in the Divisional Series, and four times his team made it to the World Series.
That all-or-nothing pattern adds to the notion that his postseason success had no formula, especially when you examine the overall regular-season quality of his postseason teams with their subsequent October performance, using Baseball-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System (SRS):
- 1996: 7th-best regular-season team, lost to the 10th-best team via sweep
- 1998: 5th-best regular-season team, beat 3rd-best and 2nd-best teams in NL playoffs before losing best team in World Series via sweep
- 2005: 23rd-best regular-season team, lost to 6th-best team via sweep
- 2006: 14th-best regular-season team, lost to 20th-best team in four games
- 2010: 6th-best regular-season team, beat 7th-best, 3rd-best, and 8th-best teams to win World Series
- 2012: 13th-best regular-season team, beat 12th-best, 9th-best, and 8th-best teams to win World Series
- 2014: 11th-best regular-season team, beat 10th-best, 4th-best, 16th-best, and 9th-best teams to win World Series
- 2016: 9th-best regular-season team, beat 14th-best team in wild-card game and lost to best team in four games
What we see above is this: One great October in San Diego where the team beat better teams—and not much else. The dominoes surely fell right for the Giants in 2010, 2012, and 2014, where each World Series title was won against an average of teams ranked between 8th and 9th in the regular season, while S.F. itself averaged 10th best in those years.
Not once did those Giants teams that won the World Series have to face anything better than the 3rd-best regular-season team. In fact, of the 10 postseason matchups required to win those championships, San Francisco faced 8 teams ranked between 7th and 16th during the regular season.
It’s easy to see Bochy’s best managerial effort in the postseason actually came in 1998 with the Padres, even though he clearly “choked” as a manager in the 1996 and 2006 postseasons, readily losing to inferior teams.
The San Francisco teams generally benefitted from the best regular-season teams losing before the Giants ever had to face them. That may be the secret to Bochy’s postseason “magic” in the City by the Bay: mere luck.
Luck evens out over the course of a 162-game regular season, which is why those 4,032 games in his managerial career against the balanced array of teams on the schedule tell us a lot more than a mere 48 games in October championship runs, mostly played against teams that weren’t even close to being the best teams from the regular season as one might expect to happen in the playoffs.
Bochy may be the most overrated MLB manager in recent times, even though some basic analysis demonstrates just exactly how and why he was able to achieve what he did in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
Back in 1975, “Spaceman” Bill Lee said this of his Boston Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson: “Darrell’s been falling out of trees and landing on his feet all season.”
That pretty much defines Bruce Bochy’s postseason success with the San Francisco Giants in 2010, 2012, and 2014, in truth, and it should be near impossible to convince a wise person otherwise, all things above considered.