Is MLB’s Manager of the Year award broken?
Here’s one mark of a great and interesting writer: You often disagree with him, but even while disagreeing you’re looking at the subject from a different angle, and changing your mind at least a little.
For me, that’s what makes Joe Posnanski so great. He’s super-opinionated (or seems that way) and I’m not, so I rarely jump with both feet aboard whichever train he’s pulling down the tracks. But I don’t believe I’ve ever read a single thing he’s written and not felt smarter afterward. Which is the highest praise I know how to give.
Case in point: Joe’s latest, about the Manager of the Year awards. With math!
Since 1983, there have been 67 Managers of the Year — it’s an odd numbers because there was a tie one year. When you eliminate the busted 1994 season (as you always should do — that season was a complete waste) you are down to 65 managers of the year.
OK, here’s the stat — how many of those 65 managers got ZERO VOTES for manager of the year the following season? I’m not talking about zero first-place votes. I’m talking zero votes, none, nada, not even a third-place vote from a hometown scribe.
You ready for it?
Forty-five of the 65 — that’s 69 percent if you are scoring at home — got zero votes the next year. Those include both of 2014’s Managers of the Year — neither Baltimore’s Buck Showalter nor Washington’s Matt Williams got a single vote this year. In Williams’ case, that’s obvious since he was canned at the end of the year.
I appreciate when guys do math. Sure, I appreciate opinions. Especially Joe’s. But start me off with some math and you’ve basically got me on your side.
Anyway, Joe goes into some detail, but I’d like to skip ahead to his three ideas for fixing the award …
1. Vote on Manager of the Year after playoffs.
Nah, I don’t think so. The managers already get an award for this. The World Series ring. You ask the voters to pick a Manager of the Year on the first Monday after the World Series and they’re going have exceptionally short memories. They’re going to vote for the guy who won, and they might vote against the guy who lost, since that guy probably just did something that seemed really dumb (at least after the fact). It’s just too soon.
2. Vote on Manager of the Year every two years.
Well now, this is interesting. I feel like the name of the award itself makes this a non-starter – Manager of the Years? Helmsman of the Biennial? Skipper Whose Work I Remember Reasonably Well? – but I’m not even sure I buy into the concept. I mean, are we looking for the most talented manager, or the one who did the best work in his particular circumstances?
And if the latter, don’t circumstances change? One year you might have a ridiculous number of injuries to worry about – this, by the way, was the argument Cardinals fans will make for Mike Matheny – and the next you might have a bunch of rookies to break in, or a few disgruntled veterans whose egos need soothing. Or all of the above!
Ideally, Manager of the Year voters would weigh all these things and more. But of course that’s an awful lot of work, and the voters get busy and stuff. Which means, maybe inevitably, that while the voters certainly take this non-paid job seriously, you can predict with great accuracy who will actually win the awards simply by comparing last year’s record to this year’s record, with extra credit for making the playoffs.
Hence, playoff managers Joe Maddon (+24) and Jeff Banister (+21) are this year’s Managers of the Year.
Ultimately, Ned Yost didn’t lose because the writers don’t think much of his tactical skills; he lost because the Royals were in the World Series last year. Paul Molitor didn’t lose because the writers weren’t impressed; he lost because Banister’s team was in the playoffs and Molitor’s wasn’t. Matheny lost because the Cardinals won 90 games last year. Et cetera. Every year, there are at least half-a-dozen fine candidates, but only two can win. And the complexities of the particular situations are far too expansive for anyone to say, with any confidence at all, that Mike Matheny managed better than Joe Maddon this year.
I’m sorry, but that just can’t be done. Hell, I’m not sure that Matheny managed better than Williams. I think he probably did. But would you bet your car (or bike) on it? I wouldn’t.
Posnanski was probably inspired largely by the American League balloting, in which Ned Yost finished sixth.
Sixth. In 2014, nobody expected much of the Royals, and they nearly won the World Series. In 2015, again – well, it’s not true that nobody expected much. What’s true is that the number-crunchers didn’t expect much. Leaving aside the World Series – which to Joe’s chagrin, doesn’t count – the Royals won 95 games during the regular season.
Here are the managers who finished ahead of Ned Yost in the balloting:
Jeff Banister (Rangers)
A.J. Hinch (Astros)
Paul Molitor (Twins)
John Gibbons (Blue Jays)
Joe Girardi (Yankees)
Of the 30 Manager of the Year voters, six ranked Yost among the three best (or most effective) managers in the league; he got one second-place vote, and five third-place votes.
I wish I could second-guess the voters, but it’s way too late for that. In the wake of the World’s Championship, of course Yost is going to seem like a tremendously effective manager. Honestly, looking at these six guys, I have no idea how I would have ranked them before the playoffs began. Except I think Bannister and Hinch both would have made my top three. Which means I basically agree with the voters.
Well, that’s more than I expected to write about Joe’s second suggestion. Which I appreciate in principle, but not so much in practice. His third suggestion:
3. Try to open our minds about managers.
Yes! Now we’re really getting somewhere. I must quibble, though, with how Joe gets there. “Right now,” he writes, “we tend to look at managers one way, and only one way. We grade them by the strategic moves they make. But managers have different skills. This has always been true.”
Right. They do. But while we might generally look at managers in only that way, in specific cases we don’t. Did Banister win because the voters were impressed with his moves? I kinda doubt it. I kinda doubt if more than five or six of the 17 voters who had Banister first on their ballots could cite even a single specific extraordinary move he made this year. He won the award because, again, his team improved by 21 wins and made the playoffs.
Joe’s right: We should be more sophisticated, more wholistic in the way we think about managers. But thinking’s actually difficult, and thinking in a wholistic way about five or six or seven different managers would actually be quite difficult.
So, I think the Manager of the Year award is just going to be what it’s been. And I think Yost will wipe away his tears with that big dazzling ring.