All six finalists for the the managers of the year awards to be announced Tuesday made the playoffs. Which begs a question: If making the postseason is a prerequisite, then why isn’t how they managed once they got there allowed to be considered?
All the awards are based on regular-season performance, which is sensible for players, but not as much for managers since that’s when what they really do counts, and you can’t be a finalist. It’s like determining a student’s final grade based on homeworks and quizzes but excluding the final exam.
The answer is because the Baseball Writers Association of America says so. Maybe they need the time to count the votes; if so, we can assume they’re also tabulating those outstanding precincts in California where votes are still being counted a week after Election Day. A Molina could have done it quicker.
In the four seasons previous to this one, 22 of the 24 finalists have made the postseason (Minnesota’s Paul Molitor in 2015 and the White Sox’s Robin Ventura in 2012 are the exceptions). Of the 20 managers who were finalists from 2012-15, four were subsequently fired (Dusty Baker by the Reds, Matt Williams by the Nationals, Don Mattingly by the Dodgers and Fredi Gonzalez by the Braves) and two opted not to return (Ventura and Davey Johnson).
The bias against managers who didn’t have players good enough to make the playoffs eliminated some good candidates again in 2016.
- Pete Mackanin’s Phillies won 71 games, more than seven teams, despite being last in MLB in run differential (-186). He had a young starting pitching staff limited by innings and injuries, a bad bullpen (its 5.05 ERA ranked 28th in MLB) and a $25 million carry-on in Ryan Howard, who batted .196. If Howard had been one of Donald Trump’s contractors, Trump wouldn’t have paid him because he didn’t like his work, and who could blame him? But somehow Mackanin got 25 homers from Howard, or just 12 fewer than his entire outfield.
- Joe Girardi’s Yankees won six more games than they lost even though they were outscored by 22 runs. That’s not easy, but it’s the third time in the last four years Girardi’s Yankees have won more games than they lost despite scoring fewer runs than their opponents. That’s a trend even if the voters for this award don’t realize it — not once in those three years has Girardi even been a finalist. That tells you all you need to know about the validity of the award (as if Williams winning in 2014 wasn’t enough). Nominating Journey for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame made more sense. Girardi, with an assist from rookie Gary Sanchez, got the Yankees back in a playoff race his own management had given up on.
Those would have been my two choices, but apparently there’s more of a correlation between games won and votes won since voters can’t be bothered to discern who did more with less, which is supposed to be the essence of good managing.
There’s nothing wrong with any of the six finalists that were chosen, not even the Nationals’ Dusty Baker, who’s been a favorite target here in the past but did a commendable job this year once he stopped believing his own cliches about closer Jonathan Papelbon. It helps when your mediocre centerfielder (Ben Revere) gets hurt and you’re forced to replace him with Rookie of the Year runner-up Trea Turner.
The first finalist eliminated from consideration is Baltimore’s Buck Showalter, for his amnesia attack in the wild-card game. Showalter forgot he had the best reliever in MLB in his bullpen and lost a wild-card game in which he never used him. You can be sure others were watching because before long closers Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman were entering in the seventh inning (it probably didn’t hurt that Jansen and Chapman are free agents).
Too bad for Buck, because he did a yeoman job in the regular season, winning 89 games with a team that was seventh in the AL in offense and 10th in pitching and outscored opponents by just 29 runs. Not that there was a lot for Buck to do, besides checking messages on his phone, while waiting for the Orioles to hit one of their MLB-leading 253 home runs.
Terry Francona will probably win the AL award, and it’s not a bad choice, though it helps to add Andrew Miller in July to the AL’s second-best pitching staff. Francona did his best managing in the postseason, revising bullpen usage to get a decimated starting staff within a game of a World Series title.
Jeff Banister, the manager whose surname is most likely to be misspelled here, did a better job before the postseason, winning the most games in the AL (95) with a pitching staff that ranked 13th in the AL and a run differential (+8) that ranked eighth in the AL and 15th in MLB. Banister was last year’s manager of the Year, but whatever he does from April-September has yet to carry over into October: the Rangers blew a 2-0 ALDS lead last year and were swept out this year by the wild-card winner.
The NL is a toss-up, but of the three finalists — Baker, the Cubs’ Joe Maddon and the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts — here’s a vote for Roberts. His team was eight games behind when Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers lost at Pittsburgh on June 26; by the time he started again almost 11 weeks later, the Dodgers were four games ahead. The Dodgers made up 12 games without the best pitcher in baseball and with only two starts in that span from midseason acquisition Rich Hill. The Dodgers won 91 games despite a run differential (+87) that was just more than half of the Nats and a third of the Cubs.
Plus they scared the bejeezus out of the Cubs in the NLCS, too. That’s got to be worth something.