The Washington Nationals won 96 games, most in the National League, and outscored opponents by 131 runs, most in the National League. And the manager, Matt Williams, was named the best in the National League. Coincidence?
The Nationals were third in the NL in runs scored and first in ERA and somehow, someway, Williams managed them to a division title. Will miracles never cease?
“He did a good job — first-year manager,” said Jayson Werth as the team celebrated its playoff berth in September, according to the Washington Post. “He was given a good team … and he didn’t screw it up.”
Maybe Werth was being facetious, and maybe not. Maybe he applied more insightful analysis to Williams than did than the baseball writers who awarded Williams its Manager of the Year Tuesday.
It used to be that the writers would check the wins column or winning percentage and give the Cy Young Award to the pitcher with the most or the highest. Which explains Pete Vuckovich. Or Lamarr Hoyt. And almost Ron Bryant.
This year they apparently applied the same logic, or lack thereof, to the Manager of the Year Award, treating it as some kind of team achievement award. It would be nice to know exactly what the 18 writers who voted Williams first thought he did to deserve such high regard. Start Stephen Strasburg on opening day? Bat Jayson Werth third? What unorthodox move did he make? What impact did he have? Do the writers really think that the just-fired Cubs manager Rick Renteria would have won considerably less games with the Nats than Williams? Or that Williams would have won considerably more had he been managing Renteria’s Cubs?
I have no such objection with AL winner Buck Showalter, who lost two of his best players (Matt Wieters and Manny Machado) to injury, who lost power hitter Chris Davis to a 50-game suspension, who made Zach Britton a closer and got more saves (49) out of him than he had made appearances (48) in his first three seasons and whose bottom of the order was often catcher Caleb Joseph (.618 OPS) and Jonathan Schoop (.598).
Somehow Showalter’s Orioles won 96 games, second-most in the AL and tied for third-most in MLB, despite being third in the league in run differential and sixth in runs scored.
The NL winner should have been St. Louis’ Mike Matheny, whose team was 10th in the NL in runs scored and eighth in ERA, yet had a greater margin in relation to .500 (18 games over) than it did in run differential (+16). Joe Girardi, who managed the Yankees to 84 wins despite being outscored by 31 runs, deserved more than a single AL vote.
Williams’ Nats had adversities, too, but considering they included injuries to Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos, that was no surprise. The disabled list is to them what time shares are to vacationeers — a place they spend a month of every summer. There’s no 3 a.m. phone call announcing their injuries, but a 4 p.m. group email.
Williams’ most notable regular season moment was his confrontation with Bryce Harper, and it’s possible to argue he messed that up, benching his young star, self-absorbed as he may be, for not running hard while recovering from a sore leg. Properly chided, Harper hustled his way on to the disabled list for two months, tearing a ligament in his thumb in an 11-1 game.
The Washington Post says all is well between the two and Williams was invited to Harper’s offseason wedding. No word on what the manager will do if Harper dogs it going down the aisle.
Williams probably wouldn’t have won if the voting had included the postseason. Maybe it should, if only for managers, because that’s when they do their most important work. Judging a manager by the regular season only is like a restaurant reviewer making his decision after the appetizer.
Maybe you shouldn’t be able to win Manager of the Year just from the postseason, but you should be able to lose it. How many of those 18 writers who voted Williams first would have done so after the Nationals lost in the NLDS to the Giants, a team they outperformed by eight games in the regular season (and could only use its best pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, once; ironically, that was the only game the Nationals won).
Two Williams decisions contributed to the defeat: he took Jordan Zimmermann out of Game 2 and he brought Aaron Barrett into Game 4. Williams deserves a pass for the first, because if Buster Posey had homered (unlikely given his powerless postseason) Williams would have been asked just as viciously why he left Zimmermann in. The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell said it was “a choice,” and that’s true, albeit the wrong one.
Bringing Barrett into Game 4 was a choice, too, and a forseeably bad one. Williams brought a wild rookie into an elimination game, and you didn’t have to be clairvoyant to see he might throw a wild pitch that was the final run of the Nats’ season.
Williams was a rookie in 2014, and it doesn’t mean he won’t get better. Maybe next time he brings in Tyler Clippard instead of Barrett, or he leaves Zimmermann in. Maybe next time Barrett fans Hunter Pence and the Nats win in five. Players improve. Managers do, too.
But let’s not bestow honors unless they’re earned. Like Barrett’s wild pitch, it defeats the purpose.
Cy Young Award
Clayton Kershaw will win the Cy Young Award unanimously Wednesday, and he should, although he might have lost a few votes to what the New York Times’ Upshot called recency bias if we included the postseason.
But Madison Bumgarner isn’t a finalist, leaving Adam Wainwright and Johnny Cueto to fight for second.
It’s the first of a busy couple of days for Kershaw, who will follow it up with the MVP on Thursday. That one won’t be unanimous.
The AL will be closer, but Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, who once won a Cy Young with a 13-12 record, will win his second. Cleveland’s Corey Kluber is worthy, but Hernandez had a better ERA (2.14-2.44) and OPS against (.546-.624), although Hernandez’s ballpark and defense were more favorable to pitchers, which explains Kluber’s edge in WAR (7.4-6.8).
The third finalist is Chris Sale, who spent about a month on the DL and only made 27 starts. It may be true that a large part of the secret to life is just showing up, but when you only need to do so every fifth day and don’t for about seven of them, that counts against you.
Unless you’re Kershaw.