Matt Williams was the NL Manager of the Year in 2014; 12 months later he’s not even a manager.
That tells you all you need to know about the relevance of the Manager of the Year awards to be announced later Tuesday and the length of the grace period it grants. One year the Nationals won 96 games in part because of Williams and he was honored, and the next they won 83 games in part because of him, and he was fired. Maybe he can make better decisions in the third-base coaching box next year than he did in the dugout. And maybe the next Nationals manager will get a better team to manage, like the one Williams had in 2014.
The awards for managers, which precede Wednesday’s Cy Young Awards, are like the last warmup pitch before the game begins. Most fans are more interested in where the least of this year’s free agent class, say Chris Capuano, is going than who the top managers are.
Managers of the Year are to MLB’s awards week what Sound Editing is to the Oscars. By Friday, no one will remember but the winner. Dusty Baker has won it twice; Bobby Cox thrice, or twice more than he won the World Series.
Ned Yost won the World Series this year, and did so with Alcides Escobar batting leadoff the whole postseason. Escobar has a lifetime .298 on-base percentage, and predictably, didn’t walk the entire postseason. But he batted .328, scored 13 runs in 16 games and had a .356 OBP thanks to three hit by pitches.
Dumb luck on Yost’s part? Or brilliant managing in knowing his players?
There’s an anecdote in Jim Bouton’s Ball Four where Tigers first baseman Norm Cash says, “Mayo Smith has got to be the dumbest manager in baseball.”
Maybe he was. But Cash said so in 1969, a year after Smith moved his Gold Glove centerfielder, Mickey Stanley, to shortstop for the World Series, benched his.135-hitting shortstop Ray Oyler and beat the Cardinals in seven games when their Gold Glove centerfielder, Curt Flood, misplayed a line drive into a triple to break a scoreless tie in Game 7.
Brilliant move? Smith gets credit for one, even though Stanley had five singles, a triple and two walks in 30 plate appearances, batted .214 and didn’t knock in a single run in the Series.
Stanley had a .552 OPS for the Series, which was better than Oyler’s .399 for the season (1968 might have been the Year of the Pitcher, but every year was when Oyler batted; his .135/.213/.186 ’68 slash wasn’t that far off his .179/.258/.251 career totals).
History credits Smith with guts and guile; Norm Cash portrayed him as timid and ignorant. As with most managers, the truth is probably somehwere in between.
On to the awards.
- AL Manager of the Year: Most of us probably couldn’t pick out Jeff Banister from the writers who voted for him, but he somehow won 88 games with a pitching staff which ranked 13th in the AL and 23rd in MLB. Twelve pitchers started games for the Rangers, and most of them weren’t good. Rangers’ starters had a 4.32 ERA, which ranked 21st in MLB and would have been worse without the acquisition of Cole Hamels. The Rangers were nine games back on July 20 and eight back as late as Aug. 2, and didn’t occupy first place until Sept. 15. Yet, they came within nine outs and some shoddy infield play of making the ALCS. Some of that was with the help of finalist A.J. Hinch, whose Astros might have outperformed their youth but underperformed their run differential by seven games, according to baseball-reference.com’s Pythagorean formula. A collapsing bullpen helped, though you can blame or absolve Hinch as you wish. The third finalist, Paul Molitor, won 83 games with the Twins, which didn’t seem possible at the start of the season.
- NL Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle can’t win it because he’s not a finalist, even though he should be, given the 98 games the Pirates won. Two of the finalists are Mike Matheny, whose Cardinals won 100, and Joe Maddon, whose Cubs won 97. The NL had some bad teams this year — five teams won fewer than 70 games — and the Prates had losing records against two of them (Brewers and Reds). Maybe if the Pirates don’t go 17-21 vs. the Brewers and Reds, they win the NL Central. As with all managers, there’s a case to be made against Hurdle, too. The third finalist is the Mets’ Terry Collins, who looked better before the last two games of the World Series, even if the votes were cast before then. We can count it even if the voters couldn’t. A tentative vote for Matheny, who won the 100 despite some serious injuries and an offense that ranked 24th in MLB.