- These six skippers all lead their teams to the postseason, with five winning a division title, but which two should be crowned the league's best?
It's difficult to recall a season where so many of baseball's major awards seemed so up in the air. Even with last Monday's announcement of the league’s top three finalists for the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year awards, most of the elections carry a fair bit of suspense as to who will take home the trophy. Which players are the favorites in each league for each award? What follows here is a handy one-stop guide to the proceedings, which began yesterday with the announcement of the American and National League Rookies of the Year—the Tigers' Michael Fulmer and the Dodgers' Corey Seager, respectively—and continue today with the naming of each league's Manager of the Year.
With the thrilling seven-game World Series between the Cubs and Indians still in mind, it's important to remember that the balloting for all of these awards was completed by the end of the regular season, so candidates such as Corey Kluber, Kris Bryant, Jon Lester, Joe Maddon and Terry Francona won't receive extra credit for their October heroics. For each award, two BBWAA-affiliated writers from each city in the league cast their votes. The candidates are listed alphabetically.
AL Manager of the Year
Jeff Banister, Rangers
95–67, won AL West
Despite myriad injuries—particularly in the rotation, where Yu Darvish, Colby Lewis and Derek Holland combined for just 56 starts—Banister did enough mixing and matching with his lineups to guide the Rangers to their second division title in as many years (he also won this award last year). The Rangers outscored their opponents by just eight runs (765 to 757) en route to an 82–80 Pythagorean record but finished with the AL's highest win total thanks to a record-setting .766 winning percentage in one-run games (36–11). That owes at least something to Banister’s tactical acumen and handling of a remade bullpen that was a disaster before the All-Star break.
Terry Francona, Indians
94–67, won AL Central
Again, the postseason doesn't count here, but Francona spent the entire year managing around the injuries (Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) and PED suspensions (Abe Almonte and Marlon Byrd) of key players. Continuing his ongoing harmony with Cleveland's analytically-minded front office, he put his remaining players in the best position to succeed by getting them the platoon advantage more often than any team in baseball (batters 70%, pitchers 54%) and showcasing Andrew Miller's bullpen flexibility even before October rolled around.
Buck Showalter, Orioles
89–73, second place in AL wild card
Showalter's failure to get Zach Britton into the AL wild-card game will continue to haunt him, but that happened after the ballots were sent off. Showalter's handling of his bullpen during the regular season helped to overcome one of the league's shakiest rotations (Baltimore's 4.72 ERA ranked 13th), guiding a team that Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system projected for 72 wins to its third postseason appearance in five years. Showalter has already won this award three times—with the Yankees (1994), Rangers (2004) and Orioles ('14)—and with another, he'll tie Maddon (more on him below) and Hall of Famers Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa for the most in the history of the award, which to be fair dates back only to 1983.
NL Manager of the Year
Dusty Baker, Nationals
95–67, won NL East
Another three-time award winner (1993, '97 and 2000 with the Giants), Baker turned out to be the perfect antidote to predecessor Matt Williams as a players manager who connected with his talented squad where his predecessor had alienated it to the point of underachievement. Although never compared to Casey Stengel in his tactical vision, Baker managed around several lineup sinkholes, injuries to Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg (and others) and the rapid decline of closer Jonathan Papelbon, becoming the third skipper to lead the team to a division title in five years.
Joe Maddon, Cubs
103–58, won NL Central
The historic drought-busting doesn't count here, but Maddon helped the heavily-favored Cubs—fresh off their first postseason appearance in seven years and a trio of major free-agent acquisitions—"embrace the target" and live up to the preseason hype. Taking advantage of the cultivated positional flexibility of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras, he mixed and matched all year, piloting the Cubs to the majors' highest winning percentage (.640) since 2004 and keeping his players fresh for October.
Dave Roberts, Dodgers
91–71, won NL West
Roberts fared exceptionally well for a first-year skipper, meshing with the Dodgers' analytically-inclined front office to work around a slew of injuries, particularly in the rotation, to deliver the team's fourth straight NL West title. On the field, he was particularly adept in handling the bullpen to offset the limitations of the 15 starters he used; he made a record 607 pitching changes and was fearless even in pulling pitchers from no-hit bids (which he did twice). Off the field, he kept a more harmonious clubhouse than predecessor Don Mattingly, at least judging by the absence of leaks and drama.
All six skippers under consideration did great jobs in their own rights, guiding their teams through obstacles either to exceed modest expectations or to live up to the loftiest ones. The AL's three candidates are the last three winners of the award, and with no repeat winner since 2005 (Cox), the bet here is that Francona gets a well-earned nod. In the NL, Maddon's ability to keep the Cubs focused from wire to wire while spending the season as powerhouses rather than underdogs should garner him his fourth award (2008 and '11 with the Rays and last year with Chicago being the others).