And The Award Goes to... Manager of the Year Edition
Last night the BWAA gave out the first award of their week long trophy giveaway. WHY IS THIS A WEEK LONG?! ARE WE SERIOUS ABOUT THIS? COME ON. These awards need to happen sooner rather than later, but they can't take a whole week. Yesterday as I'm waiting to here if Neil Walker takes his Qualifying Offer (THANK YOU NEIL, YOU GODDAMN PRINCE) I got a notification reminding me that the Rookie of the Year was going to be announced later in the evening. We're in the middle of some important stuff in regards to shaping the offseason and we're gonna stretch out this award presentation for a whole week? Get out of here with that nonsense.
Let's take a look at our nominees!
1) JEFF BANNISTER - Texas Rangers
Jeff Bannister won the AL Manager of the Year in 2015. His win last year was mainly due to the Rangers turn around and their run through the playoffs, where they fell in the ALDS to Toronto. 2016 was a lot more of the same for Jeff and the Rangers. Made it to the playoffs, lost to Toronto in the ALDS, but what this year they had the best record in the AL. Not an easy thing to do in the American League, but an easier thing to do when you play in the AL West. Going into the playoffs, Bannister had this award all but locked up. It seemed a no-brainer. However, you cannot get swept by Toronto and get out scored by 10 runs in three games. That's not how you win awards. Toronto has been a roadblock for Texas these last two years, but this year they stop Bannister from taking home some hardware.
2) TERRY FRANCONA - Cleveland Indians
When Terry Francona was released from the Red Sox in 2011 a lot of Sox fans saw the move as a shift away from complacency. It had been four years since the last World Series win, but more so it has been after a string of tough postseason losses. The writing was on the wall for Tito once the Sox started spending money on any player that would bring them closer to the Fall Classic. The end of Terry's tenure at Fenway saw the Sox bring in Adrian Gonzalez, Adrian Beltre, Carl Crawford and others. All large contracts with large expectations. So who gets blamed when those players don't play up to their expectations? The Manager. So Tito gets the axe in Beantown, as does Bobby Valentine who only lasted a year. Enter John Farrell who wins a World Series in his first year.
What makes Terry Francona very attractive as a winner for AL Manager of the Year is what made Jeff Bannister a winner last year. Tito turned around an Indians team who won 13 more games than they did in 2015, but also won the very difficult AL Central. Tito also should be credited with the resurgence of Mike Napoli who had a hitting renaissance. The main thing he brings to the table is having the balls to manage his bullpen the way he did during the postseason. Tito was not afraid of using his best pitchers when he needed them, something we'll see in the playoffs from here on out.
3) BUCK SHOWALTER - Baltimore Orioles
Buck Showalter has no fucking chance.
Will Win: Terry Francona
Should Win: Terry Francona
REALLLY FUCKING CLOSE: Jeff Bannister
This is Terry's award to lose. His track record, plus his managerial skills in the playoffs creates a strong case. What's makes it even stronger is the idea that this is just the surface of what Terry can do with this team. A good manager inspires his players to get the best out of them, but a great manager inspires a city and gets them excited about how well their guys are doing.
1) DUSTY BAKER - Washington Nationals
Let me start by saying this: No matter who the Nationals hired this offseason, that person would have been nominated for this award. Dusty Baker is here because of how absolutely terrible Matt Williams was last year. Plain and Simple. Let's take a look at Dusty Baker real quick. The last team that Dusty managed to make it to the playoffs was the Cincinnati Reds. He made it there twice, in 2012 and 2013, with two Reds teams that were loaded with potential, pitching and power. However, there wasn't much in the way of managing coming from Dusty Baker. That's evident in how the Red's have a very similar team 4 years later, but never seemed to grow. So let's look at Baker's Nationals. One of the issues Matt Williams ran into was not meeting very reasonable expectations. The Nationals have a ridiculously talented team. The additions of Daniel Murphy, Mark Melancon, plus a healthy Stephen Strasburg and the call up of the INSANE Trea Turner, they were way better in 2016. They had all the tools to dominate the league. All theyneeded was a manager who wouldn't get in the way. The Nationals Front Office created a GM's dream team and one that a manager's fingerprints can only mess with. Baker has the laid back forward thinking attitude, the perfect one for the Nats. Any other year, Baker would win this award just for turning this team around, but really, I think he held them back.
How? Let's loot at two people, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. When the Nationals came to the Citi Field for the first time this year, my girlfriend and I decided to go. Before our Mets fandom went full boar, the Nats were a team we enjoyed, in fact I had seen two Nats games before I had ever been to Citi Field. FUCKED UP. ANYWAY, we went to the game and I gave Daniel Murphy a standing ovation. Murphy was a important Mets player in that he united the fans in a "what the fuck is happening?" way and also a "WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING?" way. For Washington Daniel Murphy was an incredible signing and on Wednesday, there's a ver good chance he wins the NL MVP. No one wanted a guy who went off in last years playoffs, the Nats signed him and got a guy who hit .347 and drove in 104 runs.
What Daniel Murphy also brought to the District is a potent offensive threat, one that effectively neutered Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman who both had their statistical worst years. This team wasn't built with an offensive threat like Daniel Murphy in mind, so as a manager you need to put your team in the best positions to succeed. The batting order for Washington was not great. Ryan Zimmerman was batting in the 5 spot well into June even as his batting average dipped below .200. Bryce Harper rarely moved from the 3rd or 4th spot when, with his speed and contact power, he's a perfect 2nd spot hitter in this lineup. There was no focal point for this order, no anchor, no real design. I place that on Dusty Baker's shoulders. You have to put your team in a position to get the best out of them. The lineup was a misstep. Dusty also mismanaged the bullpen, sometimes overusing one guy throughout the week only to have him shut down for the next. his worst move was keeping Max Scherzer in for one pitch in Game 5 of the NLDS. They lost that game by one run. WOOF.
Anyway, I don't think it's Dusty. This feels like a hat tip to the man who finally Made the Nationals Good Again. Nothing less, nothing more.
2)JOE MADDON - Chicago Cubs
JOE MADDON DID NOT SUCK THIS YEAR. He also didn't suck last year, but this year OH BOY he sucked the least. Joe Maddon was brought to Chicago to do one thing and one thing only: Win a World Series. Two years after he arrives at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon delivered. To be perfectly honest, if not for the Mets selling their souls to the devil, they might have won last year.
Winning the World Series in Chicago will play a huge factor in tonight's decision, but it shouldn't be the only reason Joe Maddon is nominated, and it's not. Joe Maddon has been a Baseball genius for a very long time, and this year was no exception. SIDENOTE: 99% Invisible is an incredible podcast and you should listen to their show, but they did an incredible piece on the shift, located here. Joe Maddon brought the shift back. It was him. Also a Joe Maddon move is playing two pitchers in an extra innings game and putting one of them in left field and switching off between matchups. This was the most amazing and brilliant move of the year, and it's just a sliver of the genius that is Joe Maddon. Look at how the Cubs handled bunts this year! Nuts. You can talk about Joe Maddon until your face turns blue and I think that over the course of history we will be talking about Maddon a lot. Maddon is a modern day Connie Mack, a New Millennium Casey Stengel, a Space Age Earl Weaver, he's got it all. He's the best manager in the game, and it's not even close.
3) DAVE ROBERTS - Los Angeles Dodgers
Dave Roberts had a magical year in Los Angeles. The Dodgers were finally free from the aggravating Don Mattingly style of management. Donny Baseball should be the poster boy for Robert Manfred's pace of play changes. Mattingly would try to put the game in his hands by controlling the clock, going to a pitcher for just one guy, and doing that multiple times in an inning. FUCK WAS IT ANNOYING, but he's in Miami now. Dave Roberts mans the ship in LA.
Dave Roberts faced some tough decisions early on in his First Season in Dodger Blue. In his first Major League Start, Ross Stirpling was throwing a no hitter. The 28 year old Pennsylvania native, had Tommy John Surgery the season before, was pitching into the 8th inning and had already thrown 100 pitches. Dave Roberts had to make a decision. Pull this kid who has yet to let up a hit, or keep him in and possibly do some damage. Dave Roberts pulled Stirpling. The batter after Stirpling was pulled hit a two run homer to tie the game and the Dodgers would lose the game in extra innings. This was the first week of Roberts' season, and he was already being tested.
The Dodgers team that plays in Dodger Stadium now is not an easy one to manage. There's a lot of moving pieces. Lots of guys are not producing at a consistent level, and the ones who are will go into DEEP slumps. It's a hard one to manage, but when you have a manager who puts his faith in you the way Dave Roberts does, you'll go places. The Dodgers almost went the distance in the NLCS with Chicago, but fell short. However, this is not the fruits of their labors coming to fruition, this is the beginning of Roberts tapping into the potential of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mattingly was the kind of manager who says "I know what you can do." Roberts is the kind of manager who says "Show me what you can do." That's what made the difference.
Will Win: Joe Maddon
Should Win: Dave Roberts
Joe Maddon broke a 71 year old curse and 108 year drought. That doesn't go unnoticed, you guys. Neither does the subtle lineup shifts and the locker room atmosphere changes. Dave Roberts had the ideal first year, but Joe Maddon and the Cubs finally climbed to the top of the hill.