9:30 PM Eastern
Both Manager of the Year Awards will be handed out Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 pm Eastern, and while one nod is as easy to predict as Justin Verlander winning the A.L. Cy Young was, the other is much more difficult.
I can’t really make any arguments for who I think should win the Manager of the Year award, because it’s pretty much impossible to determine a manager’s exact impact on his team.
Sure, stories are told and sonnets are written about the great rah-rah speeches, the brilliant tactical minds, the one word here and one move there that turns defeat into victory, but for the most part all that stuff is a giant load of crap.
Managers are only as good as the players they have, and there’s far more a manager can do to lose a game than he can do to win one. Ultimately, it’s out of his control. A manager can make the absolute correct tactical decision and the player he chooses to use can fail to execute. A manager can make the completely wrong tactical decision, but the player he chooses to use can get the job done. It happens all the time. All he can really do is make the best decision that’s available to him at the time and let the chips fall where they may.
No voter has enough exposure to the day-in, day-out nuances of any particular manager other than the one he or she covers on a regular basis, so really what a Manager of the Year Award comes down to is two things:
-A team exceeding expectations in a given season, and
Picking the National League Award winner is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s going to be Kirk Gibson of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Much like the 2010 San Diego Padres, the 2011 DBacks were expected to be awful and to finish well back of the pack in the extremely mediocre N.L. West. Arizona shocked the baseball world, winning the West by a healthy eight games over the defending World Series champions, finishing with 94 victories, third-best in the league.
The Padres’ Bud Black won it last year, Gibson – in his first full season as a big-league skipper – will win it this year.
The American League is a much tougher call, because there was no team that seriously exceeded expectations for the entirety of the season.
The Cleveland Indians burst out of the gate at 30-15, and held a share of the A.L. Central lead as late as July 20th, but they wound up under .500 (though just barely) and 15 games behind the division-winning Tigers. Still, Manny Acta will get some serious consideration for “guiding” the Tribe to an 80-win season and for having them in the race as long as they were.
The Texas Rangers shook off the loss of free agent Cliff Lee and won the A.L. West for the second straight year, dusting the Angels by ten games. And Ron Washington earned a lot of fans with his trip to the World Series last season (all votes were in before this year’s playoffs).
But I believe the Tampa Bay Rays take the cake. They certainly exceeded my expectations of them this season, but they made the playoffs more because of the Red Sox’ historical collapse than because of how good a team they were. It’s difficult to say that the defending A.L. East champion winning the wild card is a surprise achievement, but it really was.
Not only did the Rays lose Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena in the off-season, they also traded away top-flight starter Matt Garza and lost their entire bullpen. That would be the bullpen that in 2010 led the American League in ERA, saves, opponents’ batting average, K/BB ratio and was second in opponents’ OPS – they lost everyone.
Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Randy Choate and Chad Qualls. All gone, leading to a complete overhaul of the relief corps.
The Rays started the year 0-6, but were over .500 by April 27th and never dipped below again. They didn’t set the world on fire, but they were in position to take advantage of the greatest September collapse in baseball history, going 17-9 over the season’s final month to make up ten games on the Red Sox.
Add to all of that the fact that Rays’ skipper Joe Maddon has the reputation of being a master motivator and brilliant tactician (who got more credit for Dan Johnson’s homer with two out in the bottom of the 9th on the last day of the regular season – Johnson or Maddon?), as well as being an absolutely incredible guy to whom to talk and with whom to deal, and you have your winner.
For the second time in four years, Maddon will be the A.L. Manager of the Year.
Tomorrow – the N.L. Cy Young!
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Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome.