Joe Girardi has managed two teams over the last 11 seasons and made the playoffs in six of them, won a World Series and nearly 1,000 games.
That got him fired from his job with the Yankees after this year’s playoffs because in the relationship between a general manager and the manager, it’s the former who usually has all the power.
Girardi is not a finalist for the Manager of the Year awards which will be announced Tuesday, which is good if only because the manager of the year shouldn’t have committed the blunder of the year, which Girardi did when he neglected to go to replay in Game 2 of the divisional series against the Indians.
The Yankees won the series anyway, which should have granted Girardi a reprieve but didn’t.
Girardi doesn’t deserve to be a finalist this year because the Yankees’ had the eighth-best record with the second-best run differential; he’s a good manager, now unemployed, who’s had better seasons.
But the Royals’ Ned Yost does deserve to be. He managed a mediocre Royals team, which was 24th in offense and 20th in pitching, into contention and almost reached .500. How long can we hold batting Alcides Escobar leadoff against him?
So does the Brewers’ Craig Counsell, whose team improved by 13 games, but didn’t play in the NL West, which was apparently a qualification for the honor this year, since all three finalists did. So does Andy Green, who did manage in the NL West, and kept the Padres out of last place despite perhaps the most inexperienced roster in MLB.
Of the last 20 managers of the year, all of their teams won 90 games but for Texas’ Jeff Banister in 2015, whose Rangers won the AL West with 88. (Jim Tracy was 74-42 after taking over for Clint Hurdle in 2009; four years later, Hurdle was manager of the year for the Pirates and Tracy was one year out of a job.)
The last, and only, manager of the year with a losing record was Girardi, who was honored for winning 78 games with the Marlins and bringing some normalcy to the franchise’s chaos. Somehow he managed 10 years in New York, won 95 games or more four years in a row and was never honored; in fact, no Yankee has been Manager of the Year since Joe Torre in 1998 even though the team has won 95 games or more 11 times since.
The award typically goes to the non-Yankee manager whose team wins the most games, or nearly did, which defeats the purpose of the award. Those are often the teams with the biggest payrolls and the best players and are the easiest to manage.
Terry Francona has won the award two of the last four seasons, and is a finalist again after the Indians won 102 games. He’s a good manager, even if he has a weird crush on Trevor Bauer and had a fatal preference for Bryan Shaw over Dan Otero in Game 7 of the 2016 Series.
But did Francona do a better job managing the Indians, who were sixth in runs scored and first in pitching, to 102 wins than Andy Green did managing the Padres, who were 30th in runs scored and 22nd in pitching, to 71 wins?
The Indians outscored their opponents by 254 runs; they should have won 108 games by that gap. The Padres were outscored by an MLB-worst 221 runs; they should have won 59. Francona managed a veteran team which had come within a game of winning the 2016 World Series; Green managed the third-youngest team in MLB which carried three Rule 5 picks for most of the season.
Which manager did the better job? The three NL finalists are three NL West managers, and somehow the guy who might have done the best job of all of them isn’t one.
The criteria is vague and subjective for Manager of the Year. There’s no MAR for manager’s above replacement value, so the voting often reverts to antiquated measures.
All six finalists — Francona, World Series champion A.J. Hinch and Minnesota’s Paul Molitor in the AL; the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, Arizona’s Torey Lovullo and Colorado’s Bud Black — had teams with winning records, and they come from teams that had six of the best 11 records. Quite a coincidence.
Roberts and Francona won last year — their teams won 91 and 94 games respectively last year — and the only repeat winner ever was Bobby Cox with the Braves in 2004-5. (Cox won the award four times for two teams, which from here, is all you need to know about what it’s worth. Ask Matt Williams, who was Manager of the Year with the Nationals in 2014 and unemployed after the next season).
If I had a vote from the finalists, it would be for Molitor in the AL and Lovullo. Molitor’s Twins improved by 26 games (not sure how much he is to blame for them doing 24 games worse the year before) despite a pitching staff that was 19th in ERA and an injury that sidelined Miguel Sano, who hit 28 homers, for the last six weeks. If the postseason counted, Hinch would have a stronger case, given how often he bucked convention with his bullpen, and somehow won the Series after benching his closer.
Lovullo’s Diamondbacks improved by 24 games, had the fifth-best run differential in MLB and battered the 104-win Dodgers six straight times down the stretch. They were swept in the playoffs because the wild-card game did what it’s supposed to: Arizona’s pitching staff, taxed by Colorado, never recovered. Even more impressively for Lovullo, the franchise rebounded from the morass of the Dave Stewart as GM days.
Still, it’s too bad and unfair that Counsell, Green or Yost, who might have done the best jobs, aren’t options.