MLB Managers simply cannot win. When they push the right buttons, analysts and fans alike will rain praise upon the player(s) that said manager plugged into a given scenario. However, when a major league manager makes a change that doesn’t work out, they are the ones who take ALL the blame.
It’s one of the most thankless jobs in all of sports.
With that being said, being a MLB Manager, in my opinion, is incredibly difficult and how much of an effect one can have on a certain team is truly under appreciated. Luckily though, we have the Manager of the Year award to give credit where credit is due. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at this year finalists for NL and AL Manager of the year.
I said back in July that the Oakland Athletics success may have been one of the stories in all of baseball this season. After three straight last place finishes in the fairly weak AL west, I, for one, was surprised Bob Melvin wasn’t on the hot seat coming into the season.
Yes, Melvin is well regarded as one of the best managers in the sport, having one two Managers of the year, one with the Diamondbacks in 2007 and one with the Athletics in 2012, but the stigma of three consecutive last place finishes is usually enough to get someone ousted in this game. Luckily for Oakland, they stuck with their man. The Athletics came out of absolutely nowhere this year and won 97 games and gave the powerhouse Astros a run for their money for the division crown.
Melvin was great, utilizing a tremendous bullpen and ending the season as the third best in the majors. He also knew how and when to switch around the lineup to implement the youthful hitters into the starting nine on a consistent basis.
Although it has no bearing on the voting for the award, the one knock on Melvin was his “Overmanaging” in the AL Wild Card Game, when he chose to start Liam Hendricks, a reliever with only 24 innings of work on the year, in the biggest game of the season. That one hiccup aside, Melvin pushed all the right buttons and took a team with zero expectations in March to one of the best teams in the American league.
Kevin Cash may be one of the most unconventional and smartest minds in the game.
Similar to the Athletics, The Rays were widely written off before the season began. They had traded the best player in the history of their franchise, Evan Longoria, to the Giants for scraps in the offseason. They also traded away Jake Odorizzi, Steven Souza Jr, and released Corey Dickerson, a man who had hit 27 home runs and was an all star the year before.
Everything was pointing in the wrong direction for 4th year manager. And things started out just as you’d expect, as the Rays were 4-13 in mid April. Then, the team got hot, won 8 games in a row, and never looked back. Cash said before the year that the Rays would only go with a four man rotation, and would use the fifth day as a “Bullpen day”, where a series of relievers would pitch the full game. The baseball world, myself included, laughed at this idea, thinking the arms in the pen would get worn out as the season went on due to being overworked. And yet, Cash had it right. The Rays were successful this season because of one reason, the reason they’re usually successful, pitching. I don’t know what the Rays do to pull good pitchers prospects out of their ass, but I need the Red Sox to get some of it. The Rays ranked 6th in the AL in terms of bullpen ERA and 2nd in the AL in team ERA. Yes, Blake snell has alot to do with that, but whatever.
Cash also made a group of nobodies into a competent offensive group. When guys like Joey Wendel, a 28 year old rookie, mind you, and Mallex Smith are your best players, you’d figure that team won about 70 games. But the Rays managed to win 90 games in a division that included the Red Sox and Yankees.
Kevin Cash deserves this award more than the man that won a goddamn World Series. Which brings us to…
Anyone who thinks that a managers clubhouse presence isn’t important needs to take a look and the 2018 Red Sox and what Alex Cora did this year.
The 2017, as well as the 2016, Boston Red Sox were good teams that sputtered into first–round playoff exits under the guide of John Farrell. Farrell was an old school, “do it by the book” type of manager who seemed like he couldn’t connect with his players. The front office ditched him two days after the team had been eliminated from the playoffs and hired rookie manager Alex Cora a little over a month later.
The change of age and philosophy most definitely had an effect on the team, as they went on the win 108 games, the most in franchise history, and go on to win the World Series, while never really being tested in the process. You can’t point to one specific part of Cora’s managerial style, like with Cash and Melvin, and say “He’s a genius for fixing X, Y, and Z.”
Cora was given the keys to a ferrari and was told don’t crash it. And he didn’t. He had a spectacular team with a few holes, looking at you Sox second baseman and catchers, and knew how to mix and match certain players effectively. Perhaps the smartest thing he did was sit Mitch Moreland for most of the playoffs and played the matchup favorite, and healthy, Steve Pearce instead. The manner in which he chose to pitch hit with Moreland in situations with runners were on, an area of his game he thrived in all year, and then immediately pinch run him or sub him out to protect his bum ankle was also incredibly smart in the way that a basketball coach would draw up a play for a three point specialist to get open at the end of a game.
Cora is one of the rising stars in the managerial world, and he’s only one year done.
Craig Counsell, similar to Alex Cora, was gifted with an exceptionally strong team this year and, basically, all he had to do was not mess it up.
The fourth–year manager of the Brew Crew had finally gained some success the year before, finishing in second place to the Cubs in top heavy division in the NL Central. This year, the Brewers front office decided to go for broke and get the piece to build a real winner. Obviously, getting the likely NL MVP Christian Yelich, as well as Lorenzo Cain, will make your team a hell of a lot better, but Counsell did his best to leave his stamp on the Brewers season.
The Brewers ran the bases smart this season and stole a buttload of bases, good enough for 4th in the big leagues. The biggest part of the Brewers game, however, was their pitching. Counsell pulled excellent seasons out of guys like Jhoulys Chacin, Wade Miley, and Junior Guerra. Where the team thrived was with the bullpen. Counsell would repeatedly go to super reliever Josh Hader for multi–inning appearances, knowing that if the Brewers had a lead after 6 innings, the game was basically over. Pitchers like Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress, Corbin Burnes, Dan Jennings, and Joakim Soria made the end of the game for Counsell fairly easy for maneuver around.
Counsell is likely the man to hear his name called come award night, especially after the Brewers rally at the end of the season, winning 8 straight to overtake the Cubs in a game 163 to become the NL Central champions.
Bud Black is one of the best, and one of my favorite managers in baseball.
After 8 years with the Padres, a tenure that included the 2010 NL Manager of the year award and not much else, Black was cut loose by the friars in 2015. He would be hired by the Rockies after the 2016 season to be the team‘s new manager after the unsuccessful Walt Weiss era ended.
Black has the reputation of being of the best pitcher–friendly managers in baseball, so the move to an offensive–inclined team like the Rockies seemed suspect at first, but man, was it the right decision. The Rockies made the wild card game in Black’s first season at the helm, a season which saw him come in third in NL Manager of the year voting.
This year, Black continued to build upon the previous seasons success, but unfortunately came in second in NL West after losing to the Dodgers in a game 163. Similar to Counsell, Black used his high–powered offense to his advantage, while quietly building one of the stronger pitching groups in the NL, getting great seasons out of Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, and Tyler Anderson, all the while in the thin air of Coors Field. Blacks’ Rockies are likely only to get better, with an influx of young talent coming up through the pipeline very soon.
I’m a HUGE baseball guy, and even I didn’t know much about Brian Snitker coming into the 2018 season.
After replacing long time Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez in the middle of the 2016 season, Snitker didn’t give much for Braves fans to be hopeful about after terrible 2016 and 2017 campaigns. However, all that changed this year. Snitker successfully meshed the wave of young talent the Braves had been hoarding with the veteran core that had already been built. Likely rookie of the year Ronald Acuna, as well as guys like Ozzie Albies and Johan Camargo brought much–needed life to the team. When young star Dansby Swanson was injured at the end of the season, Snitker knew to plug in lightning rod, and my favorite player in baseball, Charlie Culberson at shortstop to keep things rolling (that wasn’t a particularly great move, I just wanted to say I love Charlie Culberson). Snitker took a Braves team, who most analysts said was still a few years away, and led them to a division crown over the Nationals and up and coming Phillies.
The Manager of the year is usually one of the most debated awards not named the MVP, so I’m looking forward to see which man takes home the hardware from each league.
*Photo: Harry How/ Getty Images