The results are in. Terry Francona is your American League Manager of the Year. Congratulations to him! He’s probably an excellent manager. I actually had a vote for the AL version of the award, and, well, I probably screwed it up. One part of the screw up was on me, and I’ll eat my crow. But here’s my excuse: I didn’t have the most important part of the year at my disposal when I made my vote.
That vote was based on their rankings in the statistics that hoped to judge how well a manager used his best relievers, introduced flexibility into his bullpen plan, optimized his lineup to feature his best hitters, and avoided bunting with non-pitchers. By placing best or second best in everything but lineup optimization, Farrell jumped to the top.
If Francona had ended up second instead of third, I might have given the Indians manager some credit for overcoming more adversity, but instead Showalter came in second. His team outproduced expectations, and did so on sub-$100m payroll.
At the time, I felt that Showalter did a good job of using his relievers well. He had faith in Mychal Givens and Brad Brach, at least, and he didn’t screw up his lineups, and his players love battling for him. Additionally, the Indians and Red Sox were both supposed to be good going into the season — they were projected to top their respective divisions.
What other non-statistical peripherals should I have considered at the time? I could have moved Francona and Showalter around, but I didn’t think I had a compelling reason. And Farrel was still first.
I did have a reason to move Francona, though, and I even referenced it in the piece, so obviously some of the blame is on me. “The Indians have been better at moving the pieces around once they got the right pieces,” I wrote, and even Francona would admit that he couldn’t do what he did with Andrew Miller until he had Andrew Miller, and even that extreme usage we saw in the playoffs was more possible in the playoffs.
As much as I wanted to give Francona credit for his usage of Miller, I felt that I was doing so based on a month-plus of sample. I hadn’t seen Francona’s masterful work in the postseason, or Showalter’s refusal to use Zach Britton in a winner-take-all game (which he admits to regretting), and so I would have just been giving Francona an award for not making Miller the closer when he already had Cody Allen in place.
And so we turn to a possible flaw in the process. We’re asked to turn in our vote on the manager of the year before a single post-season game is played, and that cuts us off from perhaps the most important sample we could have.
The postseason is different from the regular season, but it also is different in a way that allows the manager to really shine. When everyone is watching every play, and there is no tomorrow, we see how flexible and fast-moving the managers can be. That’s when Francona showed he would use only his best relievers in the biggest moments, trust role players like Coco Crisp, Brandon Guyer, and Lonnie Chisenhall to do their best in key moments, and ride Corey Kluber as much as he could.
In any case, it’s more information, and it looks like important information in the case of the manager. And yet there’s that time frame: “Voters submit their ballots before the start of the postseason.”
When it comes to the player awards, it makes a lot of sense to limit it to the postseason. It would be unfair to limit the best pitcher and best hitter awards to only the players that make the postseason, and extending the deadline on the vote would probably lead to those sorts of outcomes. More than it already does.
Does that same argument hold for managers? Not quite. We almost always give the best manager award to teams going to the postseason — only six times out of 68 have we given it to a manager outside the top two spots. In today’s baseball, with more postseason berths, you might say that only Joe Girardi, who won with a fourth-place Marlins team that had a losing record, would have lost out if we moved the manager vote until after the postseason.
The award is going to managers that will make the postseason anyway, and the postseason provides us voters with more information before making our choice. Seems like a no-brainer when set against the convenience of having all the votes due on one day.