Francona edges Farrell for AL Manager of the Year; Hurdle wins in NL
For the second straight year, the vote for American League Manager of the Year was a squeaker. Just a year after Bob Melvin beat Buck Showalter by a mere eight points (out of a total of 252), Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians landed the first Manager of the Year award of his impressive career, beating his former pitching coach and current Red Sox manager John Farrell by 16 points with the same 16-12 gap in first-place votes that separated Melvin and Showalter a year ago. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle won the NL award by a far more comfortable margin over the Dodgers' Don Mattingly, picking up 25 of 30 total first place votes.
Both Francona and Farrell were in their first seasons with their current teams this past season, and both oversaw 24-plus-game improvements that resulted in their respective team's best finish since 2007, when the two franchises met in the American League Championship Series and both Francona and Farrell were in the Boston dugout. For the Red Sox, it was a 28-game swing that saw them go worst-to-first and win their first division title since '07 (their postseason run to the championship occurred after the votes for this award were cast). Cleveland's 24-game improvement saw the Indians reach the playoffs for the first time since that season. Both men had a strong case for the award, but the voters (or at least 17 of them, one of whom, the San Francisco Chronicle's Scott Ostler, had third-place finisher Bob Melvin of the A's first followed by Francona and Farrell) were more impressed by Francona.
Francona clearly changed the culture of the clubhouse in Cleveland, increasing expectations while fostering warmth and levity. While he benefited from the offseason additions of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn and the maturation of second baseman Jason Kipnis, he also took chances on non-roster invitees Scott Kazmir, Ryan Raburn and Jason Giambi and made good use of sophomore catcher Yan Gomes and rookie reliever Cody Allen. Along with pitching coach Mickey Callaway, Francona also got unexpectedly strong performances from everyone in his starting rotation.
As for Hurdle, his Pirates didn't just snap a 20-year losing streak, they won 94 games (a 15-win improvement over last year) and made the playoffs for the first time since 1992. That alone would likely have guaranteed Hurdle the award, but the Pirates had the additional baggage this season of having suffered late-season collapses in each of the last two campaigns after threatening to contend in July. That Pittsburgh found themselves in a similar position in the middle of this season with a tight race against the Cardinals and Reds down the stretch but avoided another collapse. That breakthrough was somewhat paradoxically credited to Hurdle as well, though he also oversaw the Bucs collapses each of the last two seasons and the Pirates were actually outscored over the final two months of this season. Mattingly, who I thought should have won the NL award, finished second in the National League voting but had just two first place votes compared to third-place finisher Fredi Gonzalez's three. The Cardinals' Mike Matheny was the only other NL skipper to receive votes, appearing on 11 ballots. Hurdle was the only manager in either league to appear on all 30 ballots as both Francona and Farrell each appeared on just 28. Every AL manager whose team had a winning record received at least one vote in the American League voting.