My National League Manager of the Year Ballot

As a BBWAA member, I was privileged to be asked to vote on two awards this year; the NL Manager of the Year and the Most Valuable Player. As you just saw on MLB Network, Matt Williams was just named the winner, with Clint Hurdle finishing second and Bruce Bochy rounding out the top three. Below, I’ll list my ballot, as well as explain my line of thinking in how I approached the voting.

Before I get to the ballot, I feel like it’s necessary to state that, during the entire process, I felt a bit unqualified for the job. Evaluating player performance is tricky enough even with all the amount of information we have about their performance; with managers, we’re basically just guessing. We can speculate about things that we think matter, but we don’t really have much objective data to support these thoughts.

Often, we judge our opinions of a manager’s quality based on how well their in-game strategy lines up with the public research, but measuring a manager by how often he bunts or how he sets his line-up is like measuring a catcher solely based on how well he controls the running game. It matters, and there’s a point at which you’re too poor at that specific skill to qualify for the pool of candidates, but in-game strategy isn’t even a manager’s primary responsibility. And it’s pretty much the only thing we see.

So, in determining my vote for Manager of the Year, I honestly didn’t put a lot of weight on in-game strategy. Instead, I tried to focus on the leader-of-men part of the job, looking for candidates whose teams overcame some legitimate adversity, or who succeeded in accomplishing a difficult task. Isolating a manager’s impact on these results is near impossible from the information we have available, so I focused less on trying to figure out exactly how much they mattered, and looked for places where it seems reasonable to assume that another manager might not have been able to do as much with what they were given.

That said, there’s plenty of room for reasonable disagreements with my approach and my results. Feel free to think my picks are terrible. I won’t push back much, as they might be terrible. Maybe in 20 or 50 years, we’ll have a way to evaluate a manager’s impact, and we’ll learn that I got this all wrong. I tried not to, but I went in to the process knowing that evaluating the performance of a manager from our perspective is very difficult, and I don’t think I figured out the secret during the process.

So, with that caveat in place, on to my ballot.

1. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates

I will readily admit that it is possible that I’m giving Hurdle credit for an organizational strength that he is not directly responsible for, and it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that other teams have integrated their systems between the front office and the field staff as well as the Pirates have without being so public about it. But it’s been hard to not notice how the Pirates renaissance has coincided with the team empowering their analysts to impact the players and coaching staff in a way that seems uncommon.

How many managers in baseball would not only allow a baseball operations analyst to travel with the team, but would encourage his coaches to lean heavily on that source of information, without feeling like the front office was trying to undercut his authority? It seems — again, with our limited perspective as outsiders — like the flow of information is not as smooth in most organizations as it is in Pittsburgh, and Hurdle deserves credit for helping foster an atmosphere of acceptance towards ideas that might have failed with someone else in place.

And I think we can see how this acceptance can manifest itself on the field for the team. The team has consistently managed to turn other team’s rejects into core pieces — Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, and Edinson Volquez among the more notable success cases — and have mixed-and-matched role players into effective job-shares that helped the team perform above what you’d expect given the individual players in place. The team’s emphasis on combining defensive shifting with an extreme groundball pitching staff has paid dividends as well, and that’s one area of in-game strategy that appears to potentially make a real difference.

So, from my perspective, Clint Hurdle is the National League manager who has extracted more than expected from his players, and has helped develop an atmosphere where information can be utilized most effectively. And that’s why he got my vote.

2. Mike Redmond, Miami Marlins

The Marlins were supposed to be terrible; our preseason projections had them as the third worst team in baseball, ahead of only the the Twins and Astros. And that was with Jose Fernandez, who ended up blowing out his arm in May. If you subtract 25 starts from Fernandez’s projections, the Marlins probably would have projected as something like the very worst team in baseball.

And yet, they almost finished at .500. A team that relied heavily on Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones won 77 games. Yes, having Giancarlo Stanton around certainly helped, and the team has a solid young base of talent, but I don’t think there’s any question that the Marlins overachieved this year, especially when you factor in Fernandez’s injury. Perhaps I’m moving into cliche territory, but it seems like it would have been quite easy for a team that wasn’t expected to compete to just fold their tents in May when Fernandez went down, but they played .456 baseball after he got injured, better than even the projections had them at with a healthy #1 starter.

Maybe the credit should go to the front office for collecting young players like Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, but in a day and age where teams like the Red Sox are openly talking about the trap of trying to win with too many young players at once, the Marlins rode a team of inexperienced youngsters to a very strong season. I can’t prove that Redmond was why the Marlins were better than we expected, but his team’s performance even without Fernandez is why he ranked second on my ballot.

3. Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers

This was the toughest pick on the ballot for me, as I waffled between Mattingly and Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who I think is pretty clearly the better in-game strategist and will likely go down as one of the best managers of his time. But I went with Mattingly for two reasons:

1. He was handed a very difficult roster to manage, especially with his glut of outfielders. Balancing four guys who wanted to play everyday, three of whom were among the highest paid outfielders in the game, was maybe the most difficult juggling act any manager had to deal with this season. And that’s without even factoring in Yasiel Puig’s personality, which could be generously described as polarizing.

And yet, Mattingly found a way to not only keep all four somewhat happy, but he stood his ground when Matt Kemp tried to push his way back into center field, and helped Kemp transition to left field. It was a situation that easily could have backfired and perhaps ended with the Dodgers forced to sell low on their former franchise center fielder, but Mattingly was able to appease Kemp enough to let him have a huge second half, and re-establish much of his value to the team.

2. The Dodgers managed to get significant contributions from their role players, even the ones who didn’t cost much. While it’s easy to talk about the team’s lavish payroll, the Dodgers got a combined +9 WAR from Dee Gordon, Justin Turner, and Scott Van Slyke, and they don’t win the NL West without those guys playing a significant role. On a team laden with big time talent, getting great performances from the other guys on the team is what actually made the Dodgers the best team in the NL West this year.

That isn’t to say that Bochy didn’t do a great job with the Giants. I easily could have voted for him, and even had him as high as second on an earlier iteration of my ballot. Keep in mind that the voting took place at the end of the regular season, so I’d already cast my ballot when Bochy magnificently managed his team to another World Series title. With an extra month to consider, I probably would have bumped Bochy up a spot or two, and he’s certainly worthy of the credit he’s been given for guiding the Giants.

But Don Mattingly’s ability to win with a difficult roster to handle deserves recognition as well, and his ability to keep things afloat in a situation that could have gone quite badly earned him the final spot on my ballot.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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8 years ago

The guy who gave Kevin Frandsen more PAs in the 2 spot than Bryce Harper just won manager of the year. What a joke.

Well-Beered Englishman
8 years ago
Reply to  ncb

When was the last time that a Manager of the Year gave us a high-profile, nationally-broadcast, in-the-spotlight example of the worst possible managing?

Well-Beered Englishman
8 years ago

P.S. I would have voted for Redmond

8 years ago
Reply to  ncb

But he looks like a manager. And that’s what matters.

Managers should have square jaws. They should have more hair on their chests than on their heads. Managers must never, ever smile, unless it’s a righteous smirk in response to a really stupid question by a reporter who does not have the acumen to vote for postseason awards.

Above all, managers must have that piercing glare – the same sort of glowering look in the eyes that Mike Webster had before his brain turned to oatmeal and he started eating out of garbage cans. It’s the glare that tells a rich, spoiled glory boy that there are no routine outs, only routine ball players.

That glare is worth – EASILY – one-eighth of one-quarter of a win a season.