Awards Watch: Who will take home the Manager of the Year award?
One award down, three to go. Monday night saw the Baseball Writers Association of America honor Jose Abreu and Jacob deGrom as the American and National League Rookies of the Year, respectively. Tuesday brings the Managers of the Year, with the Cy Young award winners on Wednesday and Most Valuable Player honorees announced on Thursday.
Of the six player-award races that I've been following all season in Awards Watch, those for the American League Cy Young and National League MVP are by far the most difficult to call. That won't stop me from trying, however, as I attempt to extend my perfect 24-for-24 record in predicting the winners since the start of Awards Watch in 2010. I will have full reactions to each night's results, but before that, a quick preview of each award and the finalists who are in the running. Up today: the one award of the week that I don't track during the season, Manager of the Year.
Note: Finalists are listed in alphabetical order. Voting for each award was submitted at the conclusion of the regular season and before the start of the postseason.
American League Finalists
Mike Scioscia, Angels
Team results: 98-64 (.605), first place in AL West (best record in baseball)
Buck Showalter, Orioles
Team results: 96-66 (.593), first place in AL East
Ned Yost, Royals
Team results: 89-73 (.549), second place in AL Central, won AL pennant
The Manager of the Year award typically goes to the skipper whose team exceeded expectations most significantly, either by improving by the most wins relative to the previous season, or by winning without key players or despite an otherwise unimpressive roster. In terms of improvements relative to 2013, Scioscia's Angels jumped up by 20 wins, Showalter's Orioles by 11 and Yost's Royals by three. Scioscia had to overcome a lousy bullpen (fixed midseason by general manager Jerry Dipoto), as well as another disappointing, injury-shortened season from outfielder Josh Hamilton and the loss of his ace, Garrett Richards, in mid-August.
Showalter, however, lost his All-Star catcher, Matt Wieters, after May 10; got just half a season from arguably his best player, third baseman Manny Machado, due to a pair of knee injuries; and saw 2013 MVP candidate Chris Davis hit just .196 before his season was ended by an amphetamine suspension on Sept. 11. Showalter also had to win despite the team's big off-season rotation addition (Ubaldo Jimenez, who went 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA) and had to fix the bullpen himself, which he did by installing failed starter Zach Britton as his closer at the end of May.
The Royals' bullpen, meanwhile, was the team's strength all year long, and Yost rode his trio of late-game relievers -- Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland -- to a wild-card berth, capped off by a 41-23 finish to the regular season.
Who will win: Showalter
Who should win: Showalter
Why would anyone not vote for him?
They shouldn't, but Yost's Royals did make the postseason for the first time in 29 years (their October success is no factor in the voting, which is conducted after the regular season, as is the case for all these awards), and Scioscia will get points for piloting his team to the best record in baseball.
National League Finalists
Bruce Bochy, Giants
Team results: 88-74 (.543), second place in NL West, won World Series
Clint Hurdle, Pirates
Team results: 88-74 (.543), second place in NL Central
Matt Williams, Nationals
Team results: 96-66 (.593), first place NL East (best record in NL)
Bochy's Giants improved by 12 games, while Williams' Nationals upped their record by 10 games in his rookie season after taking over from Davey Johnson as manager. Hurdle's Pirates actually won six fewer games than in 2013. Still, this would appear to be between Hurdle and Bochy, as Washington was expected to win and did so in what proved to be the league's weakest division. Williams does get credit, however, for navigating a late-season closer change and injuries to outfielder Bryce Harper, catcher Wilson Ramos and third baseman-turned-leftfielder Ryan Zimmerman
Hurdle had the least impressive roster of the three finalists, with glaring holes at first base and in rightfield and an unimpressive rotation. He also had to contend with effectively losing his closer, Jason Grilli, and third baseman, Pedro Alvarez, to poor performance and injury, and losing would-be ace Gerrit Cole to a pair of lengthy disabled list stays. Despite all that, Pittsburgh managed to recover from a poor start to surge to the top of the wild-card race. Hurdle won this award last year, which could actually work against him this time around.
As mentioned above, voters had to cast their ballots before Bochy led San Francisco to its third World Series title in the past five years, but they did watch him get his team back to the playoffs. Bochy did so in part despite significant injuries to Brandon Belt, Matt Cain, Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, the last of whom appeared in just five games, leaving a sizable hole at second base that took the team much of the year to fill. Bochy also managed his club to the postseason in spite of another lousy year from Tim Linecum, who finally lost his rotation spot, and even though he had to to switch closers in late June. Given all of that, the voters likely realized that Bochy was overdue for his first Manager of the Year award as skipper of the Giants. (He won the award in 1996 with the Padres.)
Who will win: Bochy
Who should win: Hurdle
Hurdle had a weaker team in a tougher division than his fellow finalists. The other four teams in the NL Central won 321 games with a .495 winning percentage. The four non-Giants teams in the NL West won 290 games with a .455 winning percentage. And the other four teams in the NL East won 308 games with a .475 winning percentage. Given that primary competition and the obstacles listed above, the Pirates' 88 wins were more impressive, to me, than the Giants' 88. That Pittsburgh went 4-2 against San Francisco during the regular season doesn't hurt, either.