Selecting one Major League manager over another is truly a subjective enterprise. How do you measure managers? I have tried over the course of this site’s history to try to figure out such a system. It does not work. I have looked at Pythagorean Win-Loss figures. I have looked at other models and methods of measuring a manager. Nothing solid comes from the exercises. How can John Farrell be a terrible manager in Toronto and then great in Boston? Were the Yankees lucky to win as many games with their talent or did Joe Girardi do a masterful job? There really is no way to quantify it. And yet, there is this award given to managers every year. So our job as baseball writers is to figure it out…somehow.
There are no shortage of candidates in the American League. You have the aforementioned Girardi and Farrell. You have Terry Francona, who, in his first year, got the Indians into the post season and won 92 games. You have Bob Melvin of the Oakland A’s. You have Joe Maddon and Ron Washington and Jim Leyland. All of these managers had teams that performed admirably and most at least gave their teams a shot at the post season.
I have pluses and minuses for each one. Jim Leyland, for example, refuses to join the 21st Century game and only finished a game above the Indians, a team they thrashed in head-to-head competition. Joe Girardi did seem to get the most out of his awful, injury-riddled and aging team. He is the master of bullpen manipulation. But at the same time, he stuck with guys too long like Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay. Some will argue that he had nobody else. There is always somebody else.
Francona’s team was terrible against the Tigers. Joe Maddon is the master of the metrics and for motivating his team (or so we are told). But he gets too cute at times and moves too many players around too often. Ron Washington gets criticized often for his love of the bunt and other on-field decisions. The Red Sox should have won even more than 97 games with their run differential. There are hardly clear-cut answers here. But somebody has to win.
I have boiled down my three choices to Terry Francona, John Farrell and Bob Melvin.
Melvin’s team, the A’s, proved that last year was not a fluke. They finished dead on with their run differential. They should have won 96 games and they won 96 games. They also had three awful teams in their division that they played nineteen times a piece in the Mariners, Angels and Astros.
Melvin got the nod last year because his team was considered a surprise. They were not a surprise this year. Does that rule him out? It shouldn’t. But again, I am rattled a bit by the competition in his division. Even the Rangers were not as strong as past years.
John Farrell certainly got rid of the bad mojo left behind by Bobby Valentine. With a few exceptions, his team performed brilliantly and stayed relatively healthy. He caught a break when his first two choices for closers came up lame and Uehara became the best relief pitcher in the American League. I cannot get beyond the fact that with the Red Sox scoring so much and pitching so well, their Pythagorean win-loss record was 100 wins and they won 97. And how could he go from being so terrible in Toronto to being so good in Boston?
There was that record against the Tigers. But Francona did finish one game behind the Tigers and won 92 games. According to their run differential, they should have won 90. So that is a plus. Then, Francona also had 38 games against the Twins and the White Sox which was a similar argument against Melvin.
But my choice comes down to Francona. Again, I would not argue if any of these guys won because it is so subjective. My final reason for picking Terry Francona is that he won 92 games despite an offense that finished eighth out of fifteen AL teams in OPS and seventh in pitching ERA. In other words, his team won with less talent than the Red Sox, the A’s and the Tigers. And unlike Farrell, Francona’s track record speaks for itself.
Here is my final (yes, subjective) list (I would fire the last six):