Bruce Bochy is a loser.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration. He’s a three-time champion, an accomplishment just nine others have done, and there’s a lot of reasons why he managed for 25 years.
However, he has a losing record, even when you factor in his 77 postseason games, which is where his success comes from. Bochy left the game after the 2019 season, after piloting the Giants to 77 wins and third place in the National League West. Gabe Kapler, who replaced Bochy, kept the Giants in playoff contention until the final day in 2020, before turning the Giants into 100 game-winners, something Bochy never did, in just his second season in San Francisco.
While Bochy has been away just two years, the game has changed a lot. The Padres are a big reason for the shift in attitude. Fernando Tatis Jr. is the face of the bat flip, an art that was less common in Bochy’s era. His Giants often played traditional and gritty baseball, something that the Padres don’t seem likely to do. The Padres utilize an extreme 2-1-1 shift, where an infielder, usually Manny Machado, moves to shallow right field. The shift has expanded dramatically as in the last two years as well. In 2019, 10 of the 30 teams used a shift more than 30% of the time, while 17 squads shifted above that rate in 2021. While the Padres shift at a below-average rate, the 2-1-1 shift is a change that the 66-year-old Bochy might not be ready for. The last manager to manage his team in a World Series who was over 60 was Joe Maddon in 2016, and the last to win one at 66 or older was in 2011 when the 66-year-old Tony La Russa led the Cardinals to the title.
Another issue with Bochy is the fact that while he’s elite in the postseason, going 44-33 and 36-17 in San Francisco, he’s not good at getting there. In his 25 seasons at the helm of the Padres and Giants, he led eight teams to the playoffs. As both the total teams in the MLB and the playoffs expanded, there was a 29% chance of a team making the playoffs from 1995-2019, when Bochy managed. He took 32% of his squads to the postseason, though the 82-win 2005 Padres are among the worst teams to ever win a division. Bochy’s average division finish is 3.0, which is exactly average. In the last two major league seasons, no team made the playoffs winning less than 89 games, and Bochy won more than 88 games just four times in 25 seasons.
Now while the Padres need help just to reach the playoffs, the core team is undoubtedly strong enough (Tatis Jr+Machado+Jake Cronenworth is worth the 3rd most WAR of any three-player trio in the major leagues), and less injured pitchers might be what it takes to get San Diego into October, which is where Bochy shines.
In Bochy’s eight playoff runs, he’s been knocked out in the National League Division Series (NLDS) four times, he was swept in the 1998 World Series, and he won the 2010, 2012, and 2014 titles. His four NLDS exits are nothing special, being swept twice and losing in game four twice. The Giants scored three ninth-inning runs in New York to win the 2016 wild card game, but they hardly troubled the eventual World Series-winning Cubs in the NLDS. In Bochy’s only World Series run in San Diego, the Padres won 98 games, the most Bochy’s ever won in a season, but they still were only the third-best team in the National League. They knocked off the Astros and Braves but were handily beaten by the unstoppable Yankees, a team many consider to be one of the best of all time. After the 2006 season, the Padres let Bochy go, choosing Bud Black for 2007, who won one more game than Bochy did in 2006. The final accomplishment of note for Bochy’s tenure in San Diego was winning the 1996 manager of the year, the only time he’s been awarded recognized as the manager of the year.
In San Francisco, Bochy’s three World Series titles came from teams that won 94, 92, and 88 games, none of which were good enough for the top seed in the National League. From 2001-2019 the average number of games won by the World Series champion was 95.47, which means that all three World Series-winning teams managed by Bochy were below average, at least when it comes to world champions.
The 2010 Giants were the fourth seed, but due to it being before the playoff expansion, they advanced straight to the NLDS. The Giants knocked off the top-seeded Braves in four games, all of which were decided by one run. They then beat the second-seeded Phillies, but the Phillies actually outscored the Giants 20-19 across the six games. Three of the four Giants wins came by one run, advancing Bochy to his second World Series. The Giants easily handled the Rangers in five games, scoring three seventh-inning runs to win the final game of the series 3-1.
In 2012, the Giants were the third seed, which set them up in a five-game series with Cincinnati. The Reds won the first two games of the series in San Francisco, but the Giants won three straight games in Cincinnati, including a ten-inning affair, sending them to the National League Championship Series (NLCS). The Giants won three more elimination games against the Cardinals, coming from 3-1 down to advance to the World Series. San Francisco swept the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, winning Bochy’s second title.
The 2014 World Series run started with a win in the wild card game, beating the Pirates in Pittsburgh. The Giants won three more one-run games in the NLDS against the Nationals, including an 18 inning affair that the Giants won in Washington. San Francisco took down the Cardinals again before winning a seven-game series with the Kansas City Royals. The heroics of Madison Bumgarner, who had a 0.43 ERA in 21 innings. Bumgarner had a 92.06% cWPA (Championship Win Probability Added) in the series. A 100% cWPA would mean that Bumgarner had won an entire World Series by himself, so the Giants were hugely helped by Bumgarner. Bochy did trust in his ace, a move that likely won them the championship.
Across the three championship runs, the Giants won eight elimination games and went 13-3 in one-run games, something that hugely helped the Giants. Bochy isn’t a bad manager, but there were many breaks that went the exact right way that allowed Bochy to get his three rings. Many teams have had success with managers in their forties, as the Dodgers, Astros, Red Sox, and Nationals have all won titles with younger managers. In contrast, the Giants and Rays, who look likely to be the top seeds in their respective leagues, have managers in their forties as well. Going young is the answer for the Padres, and it is crucial they do not let Bochy’s recent title runs skew their judgment.