Manager of the Year: Farrell and Mattingly should win but only one of them will
Awards Week continues on Tuesday with the Manager of the Year awards, the winners of which will be announced live on MLB Network during a one-hour program starting at 6pm Eastern. This award is the only non-player honor being given out this week by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and typically goes to the skipper whose team most exceeded expectations. With the exception of Joe Girardi in his lone season as manager of the Marlins in 2006, it has always gone to a manager with a winning record. Here are the finalists in each league along with my take on who should and will win.
Note: As with the player awards, the voting for Manager of the Year is done at the conclusion of the regular season, so postseason results are irrelevant here. Finalists are listed in alphabetical order.
John Farrell, Red Sox
2013 results: 97-65 (.599), 1st place in AL East
Coming off a disastrous 93-loss season under Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox traded two major league players — infielder Mike Aviles and reliever David Carpenter — to the Blue Jays last October for Farrell, who had one year left on his contract with Toronto. Farrell, who had been Boston’s pitching coach under Terry Francona from 2007 to ’10, then oversaw a 28-win improvement as the Red Sox went from worst to first in the American League East.
The Sox posted their best run differential since their last championship season in 2007, won more games than in any season since 2004 and allowed fewer runs than in any non-strike season since 1973. They did all of that despite losing several key pitchers to injury: early-season ace Clay Buchholz, matchup lefty Andrew Miller and two closers — offseason addition Joel Hanrahan and his back-up, Andrew Bailey. Farrell also successfully navigated platoons, job shares and player turnover in leftfield and at third base.
Terry Francona, Indians
2013 results: 92-70 (.568), 2nd place in AL Central, wild card
Cleveland lost 94 games in 2012, its third 90-loss season in the previous four years, then hired Francona in hopes that he, along with key offseason additions like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, could return the Indians to respectability. Francona did just that, guiding his team to a 24-win improvement and its first 90-win season and playoff berth in six years.
Francona took last-chance veterans Scott Kazmir and Jason Giambi north with the team from camp, watched Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds play their way of the roster and had unexpected success with his starting rotation thanks to Kazmir, sophomores Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister and rebound seasons from Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson. He also made good use of sophomore catcher Yan Gomes, veteran outfielder Ryan Raburn, rookie reliever Cody Allen and, late in the season, rookie starter Danny Salazar. Most impressively, Cleveland went 20-5 over its final 25 games and won its last 10 to claim the top wild-card spot despite being in fifth place in that race at the conclusion of play on Sept. 2.
Bob Melvin, A’s
2013 results: 96-66 (.593), 1st place in AL West
Melvin won this award last year for leading Oakland to a 20-game improvement and a completely unexpected AL West title. In 2013, he guided the A’s to another division crown, winning two more games than in 2012.
That year, Melvin largely rebuilt his lineup on the fly, maximizing the value of his roster through heavy platooning. This season, many of his discoveries from ’12 — particularly Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss, who went from being veteran minor leaguers early last season to the team’s two most productive bats in 2013 — turned in strong full seasons, helping Oakland become a more consistent team that required less tinkering from its manager. Thus, Melvin is here for helping turn an underwhelming roster into a powerhouse that has now won 190 games and two division titles the past two seasons.
Who should win: Farrell
Who will win: Farrell
This should be a close race between Farrell and Francona. Ultimately the injuries Farrell had to deal with on his pitching staff and that staff’s stinginess despite those injuries breaks the tie for me. For the voters, the fact that Farrell oversaw the larger improvement and took the Red Sox from worst to first will likely be enough.
Fredi Gonzalez, Braves
2013 results: 96-66 (.593), 1st place in NL East
The Braves only improved by two games in 2013, but they won their division by 10 games. That success came despite the retirement of Chipper Jones, injuries to Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Tim Hudson, lefty Eric O’Flaherty and set-up ace Jonny Venters and awful seasons by B.J. Upton (.184/.268/.289) and Dan Uggla (.179/.309/.362). Gonzalez made good use of rookie catcher Evan Gattis, whom he continued to find at-bats for after McCann’s return, oversaw the maturation of a young rotation that included rookie Julio Teheran and later employed rookie Alex Wood as Hudson’s replacement, and his bullpen didn’t miss a beat thanks to sophomore lefty Luis Avilan and righty journeymen David Carpenter and Anthony Varvaro. Atlanta also had two impressive winning streaks, opening the season 12-1 and later winning 14 in a row as July turned into August.
Clint Hurdle, Pirates
2013 results: 94-68 (.580), 2nd place in NL Central, wild card
All Hurdle did in 2013 was manage the Pirates to their first winning season and playoff berth since 1992, ending 20 years of futility in Pittsburgh. The front office and pitching coach Ray Searage, who fixed Francisco Liriano, deserve the bulk of the praise for that. Still, after two consecutive seasons that saw Pittsburgh contend in July only to suffer brutal collapses down the stretch, Hurdle should be credited for not allowing the team to succumb to self-doubt this season, particularly as they were involved in a tight race with the Cardinals and Reds in the NL Central. Of course, Hurdle also skippered those two collapses, but it’s well established that the first thing required for a manager to win this award is low expectations.
Don Mattingly, Dodgers
2013 results: 92-70 (.568), 1st place in NL West
Mattingly had perhaps the most interesting season of any manager in baseball in 2013. The Dodgers loaded up their roster in late 2012 via in-season trades for Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett and the offseason signings of Zack Greinke and South Korean lefty Hyun-jin Ryu and thus arrived in 2013 as the favorites to win the NL West. At the conclusion of play on June 21, however, they were 30-42 and in last place, 9 1/2 games behind the Diamondbacks. Mattingly’s dismissal was reportedly imminent. However, from June 22 to Sept. 3, L.A., with Mattingly still at the helm, went 53-13 (.803) to surge into first place and went on to win the division by 11 games, the largest margin in baseball this season.
Along the way, Mattingly had plenty to cope with besides just rumors about his job security: injuries to starters Beckett, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly, who combined to go 1-7 with a 4.83 ERA in 15 starts; the awful performance of team-sanctioned closer Brandon League (5.30 ERA, 4.6 K/9), who was signed to a three-year, $22.5 million extension over the winter; extensive injuries to Ramirez and Matt Kemp, who combined for just 626 plate appearances; and the media circus surrounding — and occasionally erratic play of — superstar rookie Yasiel Puig.
Mattingly handled all of it with aplomb, proving particularly adept at using strategic days off and the occasional benching to help Puig break out of slumps and regain his focus. He restored Kenley Jansen to his rightful role as closer at the exact moment Los Angeles turned its season around. When handed Michael Young in August, he knew better than to use him to diminish Juan Uribe’s playing time at third. Mattingly’s in-game strategy wasn’t always ideal, but his unflappable calm and management of his roster and the personalities on it (including the late-season arrival of class clown Brian Wilson, who was highly effective on the mound without being much of a distraction off it) was key to the Dodgers’ perseverance and ultimate triumph.
Who should win: Mattingly
Who will win: Hurdle
One could make the argument that Gonzalez or Mattingly actually did a better job of managing this year, but there’s no way Hurdle is not going to be rewarded for overseeing the Pirates’ first winning season in 20 years. That said, I can’t help but be swayed by Mattingly’s ability to steer the team and himself out of what looked like a disastrous season in late June despite having the heat turned up under him early.