Maddon 2015. Let’s play ball!

The Cubs’ rebuilding efforts took a major step forward this week when the team came to terms on a contract with new manager Joe Maddon. Much like the hiring of Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations and Jed Hoyer as General Manager, the Maddon hiring shows that this team’s ownership is prepared to pay the price for success. Baseball executives, managers, players, and analysts universally recognize Maddon as one of the best, if not the best, manager in the game. With a calm demeanor, a strong understanding of sabermetrics, and a penchant for thinking outside of conventional norms, Maddon has gained the respect of the baseball community over the past decade. In making this bold move, the Cubs have signaled that they plan to compete now. Finally, the future is here.

Who is Joe Maddon?
Unlike most baseball managers, Joe Maddon never played major league baseball. His professional career consisted of four ignominious seasons as a back-up catcher in which he never surpassed A ball. After 31 years in the California/Anaheim Angels organization as a minor league manager, scout, and major league coach, Maddon was a finalist for the Boston Red Sox manager position in 2004. Epstein instead chose Terry Francona for the job and won two World Series championships. Two years later, Maddon received his big break when the Tampa bay Rays hired him to be their manager. Although he took over a woeful Rays’ team that had never won more than 70 games in a season in franchise history, Maddon managed the team to a .519 winning percentage during his time at the helm. Over the course of those nine years, Maddon won 61, 66, 97, 84, 96, 91, 90, 92, and 77 games respectively in the grueling American League East. More importantly, Maddon also guided the Rays to four playoff appearances during this time, including the 2008 World Series. In recognition of his on-field success, Maddon was twice named American League Manager of the Year and he finished in the top five of the voting on five occasions.

How does Joe Maddon compare to other Cubs’ managers?
While Joe Maddon won ninety or more games five times in six years with the Rays, the Cubs have won ninety or more games only five times since World War II. No Cubs’ manager since Frank Chance (1905-1912) can match Maddon’s 754 wins over a nine-year period. Similarly, only Charlie Grimm (14 years) and Cap Anson (19 years) have more victories as a Cubs’ manager. It goes without saying that over the last century, no Cubs’ manager has led the team to four playoff appearances. Maddon’s sustained success is unparalleled by Cubs’ standards.
Perhaps even more impressive than Maddon’s results over the past nine years is the improbability of his success given the Rays’ low payroll. During Maddon’s tenure as Rays’ manager, the team’s payroll averaged only 53 million dollars a year. Compared to the Cubs’ average payroll of 114 million dollars a season during this period or the New York Yankees annual 200 million dollar payroll, Maddon demonstrated the ability to beat seemingly more talented teams. Maddon relied on young players, role players, and strategic tactical advantages to overcome the clear payroll disparities that he faced.

Over the next few days, some will suggest that the Cubs acted imprudently by paying Maddon so much money or that replacing Rich Renteria represents an act of disloyalty. Despite these criticisms, reality dictates that the Cubs made the right choice. Faced with an opportunity to hire a highly successful, well regarded, playoff-experienced manager, the Cubs seized upon their good fortune. In doing so, the team improved its chances to win the World Series. As Epstein proclaimed at the team’s recent season ticket holder event, “here comes the thunder.” The 2015 season cannot come quickly enough.

Photo: Joe Maddon / Keith Allison / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Alteration: Cropped