The unveiling of the FanSided end-of-season MLB awards began today as Call to the Pen’s Blaine Blontz released the results of our Manager of the Year voting. The Tampa Bay Rays’ Joe Maddon took home the honor of the American League’s top skipper, followed by the Detroit Tigers’ Jim Leyland and the Cleveland Indians’ own Manny Acta. Meanwhile, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Kirk Gibson came out on top in the National League, with the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ron Ronicke and the Philadelphia Philles’ Charlie Manuel as the top runner-ups. For full breakdowns of the voting, I strongly recommend checking out Blaine’s posts (AL, NL).
In the past, I’ve been a very outspoken opponent of anonymity for these kinds of awards—getting to vote for the BBWAA is a privilege, not a right, and given that the people who cast their ballots all write about baseball for a living, they should be willing and they should definitely be able to publicly explain and defend their choices. So it’s only fair that I be upfront in revealing and explaining how I cast my ballot.
Before I do, though, I think it’s important to disclose that I find Manager of the Year to be by far the hardest honor to award objectively. There’s no way to quantify the impact of dugout leadership, so unless there’s a public rift in the clubhouse (in which case the skipper in question probably isn’t a MoY candidate) all we have to work with are in-game strategy and retroactive association—i.e., giving it to the manager whose team most beats expectation, a fairly unsatisfactory post hoc, ergo propter hoc (“after it, therefore because of it”) argument. So my decision was largely subjective and based on opinions I can’t fully substantiate, just because that’s the nature of the beast.
1. Manny Acta, Indians. Call me a homer or a biased fan. Maybe it’s true—at the very least, I certainly know more about his managing style and strategy than I do about any other skipper in the league. But I don’t think it affects my judgment of these kinds of things that much (then again, does anyone?), and I’m going with Acta because I truly think he was the league’s top manager this year.
I’ve been one of Acta’s most consistent critics this year. Holding Chris Perez for save situations even when they aren’t the most important in the game, calling for sacrifice bunts at improper times, sticking with Orlando Cabrera as the starting second baseman and putting him high in the batting order at that—he’s not perfect. Far from it.
And yet, you can’t overlook the amount of good he did for the Tribe this year. He provided leadership to a team full of youngsters and struggling veterans who surprised the league by competing for most of the year while maintaining a clubhouse that never had any major problems. He’ll be at least indirectly punished in the voting for the Indians’ late-season swoon—if they’d made the playoffs Acta would have run away with this award—but if you’re going to debit him for the second half, you’ve got to credit him for the first.
2. Buck Showalter, Orioles. Remember what I said about how Manager of the Year votes are based largely on je ne sais quoi‘s? I can’t cite a particular case of Showalter’s managerial expertise this year, but he’s an extremely well-respected baseball man who is continuously overlooked by nature of running a rebuilding team. There’s no question he deserved to be the MoY last year, and while he doesn’t have a prayer of winning the actual award in 2011, he’s at least worthy of consideration.
3. Joe Maddon, Rays. It is absolutely no surprise to me that Maddon won this award, and I fully expect him to win the real one as well. But while Maddon has certainly done a good job at the helm of the Rays this year, I didn’t name him at the top of my ballot because I don’t think the credit should go to him so much as it should to GM Andrew Friedman. I picked the Rays as the AL’s most surprising team before the season (and the Diamondbacks in the NL—hold your applause) despite the departures of Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, and much of the bullpen because the team replaced them with comparable, yet cheaper internal promotions and low-risk additions. That was Friedman’s work, not Maddon’s.
A few thoughts on Jim Leyland: Since I didn’t vote for the No. 2 finisher, I think it’s appropriate for me to explain why. I can’t speak personally to the impact Leyland has made on his clubhouse, but I had no problem leaving him off by ballot because of his mediocre grasp of game theory. The playoffs had no impact on my choice, but Leyland’s decisions in the ALDS illustrate this quite well: hitting Don Kelly second and then making him try to bunt Austin Jackson over, refusing to even consider using Justin Verlander in an elimination game, citing a high batting average (with no walks and little power) that Ramon Santiago had in a few at-bats against CC Sabathia a few years ago as justification for putting him second in the lineup—he may be a strong leader and a good clubhouse man, but as a strategist he leaves something to be desired.