Sunday Spotlight: Do Baseball Managers Matter?

FiveThirtyEight's Neil Paine and ESPN2's Keith Olbermann on the impact of baseball managers on a team's success.
3:00 | 03/30/14

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Transcript for Sunday Spotlight: Do Baseball Managers Matter?
Check out this baseball history unearthed this week at the university of south Carolina. Babe Ruth at bat against another hall of famer, Walter Johnson. Johnson wins this one. And there is Yankee legend, Lou Gehrig, second game in the lineup. The start of his incredible 2,130-game streak. There his right there. And this brings us to the "Sunday spotlight" on the brand new baseball season. ESPN's Keith olbermann with his take first. Ron Claiborne sat down with the gang at fivethirtyeight. A surprising theory, managers don't matter much. Reporter: Everyone knows the baseball manager is the leader of his team. Master strategist, field general, who decides such things as when to take the pitcher out. Carlos Martinez coming in. Reporter: When to bunt, when to steal a base. As the manager goes, so goes the team, right? Wrong. According to Neil Payne from fivethirtyeight who did a -- an exhaustive statistically analysis studying how players played under each manager and how they were expected to perform. His conclusion? Most managers had little effect on the game or the season. They don't make them play better or worse than the established baselines. Reporter: Crunching data going back to 1901, Payne figures the vast majority of managers is responsible for between two losses and two wins each season. Far fewer than a high-impact player. A babe Ruth or Willie mays, good for 11 or more wins per year at their peak. Payne did find expectations. Bobby cox of the Atlanta braves, and martin who was hired and fired four times as yankees manager. Few could match his strategic brilliance. Reporter: But the rest? Most that manage a thousand games are right around zero impact on average. Hasn't happened -- Reporter: Yet it's the manager who gets the credit when his team wins. The red sox are world champions. Reporter: And takes the heat, and usually gets fired, when they lose. So we ran it by former major league manager Manny acta, now an ESPN baseball analyst. It's not only managing inning by inning, it's what you do before and after the game. Reporter: He says there are too many things that managers do that just cannot be quantified. We are as good as the talent that is given us. But there are so many things that happen through the course of the season that you can't measure. Reporter: Do managers matter? Of course they do. I'm one of them, and I'm looking for a job. Reporter: For "This week," Ron Claiborne, ABC news, new York. And Keith olbermann from ESPN joins us. Thanks for coming. What do you think of the theory? It's nice that it's been 'em peerically approved. It's considered in a game a manager does almost nothing. A manager's responsibilities almost end when the first pitch is thrown. Let's talk about the new season. Just before the season begins, new penalties for drug violations inside the major leagues. Pretty harsh. But you say something is missed. The key ingredient, all the guys suspended last year in the biogenesis scandal, Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun and the others, they beat the system. And the biogenesis scandal resulted because of the unhappy employee and the narcing out of ten or 12 players who were suspended for 50 to 162 games. Is the fact they all passed the tests. The problem is you can literally increase the -- the punishments for first-time offenders, second-time offenders twice what the player's association agreed , and you are not necessarily increasing the disincentive to try. Because, again, if nobody had told on Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, they would have gotten away with juicing last year. What are you most excited about this season? The season. This is the one time of year, it's so cliche, that everybody is optimistic. Reasonable bleu optimistic. Even if they think their team is going to 30 and 132. There is something symbolic in the west and Florida and everywhere, that the season is starting. All of us survived the winter. Particularly in the northeast. Spring is here. You have spoken out about this, this is the first season of the instant replay challenge. How is it going to work out? A lot of bumps and inconsistencies. But I think we're going to be able to deal with those more easily than with completely blown calls with the 27th out of what would have been a perfect game if the umpire had gotten it right at first base. There's got to be a lot of refinement. But the whole idea we have not been using this technology when it's available, if the system is quick, has been ridiculous. Spring training showed they can get most of these things done in a minute and a half. Why not? The average argument with the manager. What does he do so the team thinks they have somebody on their side. That will be reduced. All that arguing time is now devoted to actually getting the play call right. You seem to be excited to do baseball again. Miss politics at all? Pol -- what was the word again? Thank you for bringing me in and remind me why I'm glad back doing sports. Thank you very much and we'll be right back.. Thank you very much and we'll be right back. Erline

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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