The BBWAA will announce their selections for Manager of the Year later on this afternoon, which I guess means that it’s time for my annual rant about how inherently asinine this award is. Sure, in concept it makes sense to want to award the field general who had the best season, but in practice, the performance of a manager is such an ephemeral thing, at least in the positive direction, that voters have more or less abandoned any pretense of making an effort to objectively assess the question, instead opting to turn it into a de facto “surprise team of the year”* award instead. Which is fine by me, though maybe a touch demeaning to the organization who “wins,” but I wish we’d at least call it that and abandon the notion that we’re rewarding the manager for superior performance.
Consider the case of Buck Showlater, who’s probably the prohibitive favorite in the American League. What exactly is the case for him supposed to be? That the Orioles made the playoffs after 14 consecutive losing seasons? That everyone looked at the Orioles roster before the season and vastly underestimated what they were capable of? What does Showalter’s performance have to do with any of that? Where I’m sitting, it looks like most of what made Baltimore a surprise team should mostly be attributed to Dan Duquette’s machinations, or even to some additions made by previous general manager Andy MacPhail, while Showalter’s most notable managerial decision was slotting J.J. Hardy‘s .238/.282/.389 batting line into the second spot in the order every night. And don’t get me started on Robin Ventura, whose team pulled off the truly herculean feat of finishing second in their division, behind a disappointing preseason favorite and ahead of three 90 loss teams.
The most absurd element of the voting process of all, however, is the inescapable fact that the manager of the Yankees is deemed to be ineligible for the award. By any objective measure, Joe Girardi did a pretty impressive job this season in guiding his team to the league’s best record despite a huge number of injuries to key players, including losing five Opening Day starters for at least a month, plus being without Andy Pettitte and Michael Pineda as well. Yes, yes, Girardi has the benefit of the game’s largest payroll to support him, but that’s a lazy dismissal that’s losing whatever salience it might have had to begin with. Take away the money allocated to Alex Rodriguez (an aging shell of his Hall of Fame peak), Mariano Rivera (out for the vast majority of the season), and Mark Teixeira (who’s on a steady decline at this point in his career and also dealt with his own ailments for much of the season), and what sort of payroll are you left with, To say nothing of C.C. Sabathia, who made two separate trips to the 15 day disabled list this season?
I’m not saying Girardi is clearly the cut-and-0dreid winner or anything, indeed I didn’t even vote for him in our own end of the season voting here, but to more or less completely ignore what he did this season is a total travesty. You don’t need to look any further than the vaunted Red Sox or the trendy presesaon pick Blue Jays to see the sort of havoc that injuries can wreak on a team’s performance, but the Yankees managed to not only avoid a total collapse in the face of losing guys like Pineda and Rivera, they finished the year with more wins than anyone else in the American League. That’s a testament to the kind of season guys like Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and Hiroki Kuroda had, to be sure, but it also speaks to the work Girardi did in plugging the holes left behind, and massaging the bullpen into a strength despite having very little consistency outside of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson for all but the first month of the year. If the voters aren’t going to recognize that this year, then there’s no longer any question that it’s time to get rid of this award once and for all. E
*(Incidentally, has anyone else ever noticed the circular logic on display here? The media determines that a team like Baltimore or Oakland are awful before any games are played, and then when they do better than expected it’s chalked up to an amazing performance by their manager. The possibility that everyone was just wrong about their talent level in February/March is apparently not considered.)