Everyone agrees that Terry Francona is a great manager, as he is routinely ranked in the top five among current managers. Tito connects with players, expertly manages a bullpen, and, most importantly, wins. The Indians have never had a losing record with Tito at the helm, and it’s hard to argue against two World Series rings.
Francona, however, has one major flaw: he’s terrible at replay challenges. It’s not that he has a bad success rate, he’s overturned 54.1% of the plays he’s challenged in the two years of manager initiated instant replay, slightly above the manager average of 53.6%. His rate of challenges, however, is a lot lower than other managers’ rates, only challenging 61 plays in those two years, putting him 30th out of 39 in challenges per year for all managers.
Why is his rate important? The only penalty for an unsuccessful challenge is losing a challenge, but after the seventh inning umpires can initiate instant replay reviews on their own, which they generally do because they want to get the call right. So really, the penalty is only for, at most, five innings. Therefore, managers should be quick to pull the trigger to use their challenge, as the reward certainly outweighs the cost.
Thus, when ranking how effective managers have been at using their challenges, three numbers can be used: success rate, total number of challenges, and number of correct challenges (basically a combination of the other two). For each of the 39 managers over the past two years, these numbers were calculated on a per year basis and then standardized so a manager who is exactly average in a certain category would receive a rating of 0 in that category. These ratings were added together and the managers were ranked. Francona was 31st with a combined score of -1.652, and he was 20th out of the 26 current managers who worked last year. He was barely above average in success rate, and well below average in total challenges and correct challenges.
Perhaps Francona is just picking his spots, waiting for pivotal moments to use his challenge. As he told MLB.com before the 2014 season, “I think the goal of this [challenge system] is to not change the game, but to change the calls that can alter the outcome of the game.”
However, only 31 of his 61 total challenges, about half, came when the Indians’ win expectancy (according to Fangraphs) was between 25 and 75% on the previous play. The other 30 came when the game was basically locked up (of course, there’s no sure things in baseball, but a greater than 75% chance is pretty solid). Tito may think he is choosing important times, but in reality, he is only half the time.
One stat Francona does have going for him is his success rate on challenges when the game is close, which comes in at 61.3%. At least when the game is closer and Tito opts to challenge a call, he has a better shot of getting it right.
The next time you see a questionable call go against the Indians and see Francona stand on the dugout steps, waiting for approval to use his challenge, anticipate that he won’t go out. And even if he does, there’s only a 50-50 chance the call will be changed.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer