Can we predict the Manager of the Year?

Leon Halip

No. But we tried!

Warning: This post contains research accumulated by a writer who isn't sure what to do with it. Proceed at your own risk.

Over the past couple of years, I've enjoyed running several jokes into the ground. One of them is pretending the Manager of the Year Award is actually called "The Manager of the Team that Most Exceeded Expectations Award." The theory goes that a manager on a team that wildly exceeds expectations can kick back and play Free Cell all season for all the writers care. If a team is supposed to be bad, and they're good, why that manager is the Manager of the Year!

But is that too cynical? Is there a way to put substance behind the joke? I went through Baseball Prospectus' preseason predictions to check the expectations of every team since 2000. I used BP because a) I knew where to find them, and b) they did a consensus pick, tallying up all their writers. I gave each team a point for where they finished in the standings, and I gave them inverse points for where they were predicted to finish. For example, if the Braves were predicted to finish first, they'd get a point for that, and if they actually finished first, they'd get five points for that. The idea is to get a stratification that looks like this:

Good teams predicted to have a bad season
Good teams predicted to have a good season
Bad teams predicted to have a bad season
Bad teams predicted to have a good season

Is that sound methodology? I don't know. I make knock-knock jokes around here. But it seemed to work for my purposes. Below are the findings; the second column lists the leaders in surprise points (with postseason teams denoted with an asterisk). Oh, and a team's in bold if its manager won the award ...

NL
Year Most Surprising
Surprise points! Manager of the Year Surprise points!
2000 Marlins, 3rd
Brewers, 3rd
Giants, 1st*
8 Dusty Baker, Giants* 8 (1st)
2001 Phillies, 1st* 9 Larry Bowa, Phillies* 9 (1st)
2002 Expos, 2nd
D-Backs, 1st*
Dodgers, 3rd
8 Tony La Russa, Cardinals* 7 (T-4th)
2003 Marlins, 1st* 9 Jack McKeon, Marlins* 9 (1st)
2004 Dodgers, 1st* 9 Bobby Cox, Braves* 7 (T-3)
2005 Astros, 2nd
D-backs, 2nd
8 Bobby Cox, Braves* 7 (T-3)
2006 Reds, 3rd 8 Joe Girardi, Marlins 7 (T-2)
2007 Rockies, 2nd* 9 Bob Melvin, D-Backs* 7 (T-2)
2008 Phillies, 1st*
Marlins, 3rd
Astros, 3rd
8 Lou Pinella, Cubs* 6 (T-5)
2009 Rockies, 2nd*
Cardinals, 1st*
Phillies, 1st*
Marlins, 2nd
8 Jim Tracy, Rockies* 8 (T-1)
2010

Giants, 1st*
Padres, 2nd
Reds, 1st*

9 Bud Black, Padres 9 (T-1)
2011 D-Backs, 1st* 10 Kirk Gibson, D-backs* 10 (1)

AL
Year Most Surprising
Surprise points! Manager of the Year
Surprise points!
2000 White Sox, 1st*
Tigers, 3rd
Mariners, 2nd
7 Jerry Manuel, White Sox* 7 (T-1)
2001 Twins, 2nd 9 Lou Piniella, Mariners* 8 (2)
2002 Angels, 1st* 9 Mike Scioscia, Angels* 9 (1)
2003 Mariners, 2nd 8 Tony Peña, Royals 7 (T-2)
2004 Angels, 1st*
Rangers, 2nd
Indians, 3rd
Tigers, 4th
White Sox, 2nd
7 Buck Showalter, Rangers 7 (T-1)
2005 White Sox, 1st* 9 Ozzie Guillen, White Sox* 9 (1)
2006 Twins, 1st*
Tigers, 2nd*
8 Jim Leyland, Tigers* 8 (T-1)
2007 Mariners, 2nd 9 Eric Wedge, Indians* 6 (T-3)
2008 Rangers, 2nd 9 Joe Maddon, Rays* 8 (T-2)
2009 Rangers, 2nd 8 Mike Scioscia, Angels* 7 (T-2)
2010 Rays, 1st*
7 Ron Gardenhire, Twins* 6 (T-4)
2011 Tigers, 1st*
Indians, 2nd
Angels, 2nd
8 Joe Maddon, Rays* 7 (T-4)


Findings:

  • Preseason expectations don't correlate quite as well as I expected;
  • There aren't a ton of bonus points given to teams expected to finish last who crawl up to third,
  • unless you manage the Royals;
  • If there isn't a runaway surprise team, the award usually goes to a division-winning legacy manager;
  • A better way to do this would be to use winning percentages, but consensus predictions aren't going to include a team's expected record;
  • Only twice did a manager get a "9" on these rankings, make the playoffs, and fail to win the Manager of the Year Award: Clint Hurdle of the 2007 Rockies, and Jim Tracy of the 2004 Dodgers;
  • Side effects of voting for Clint Hurdle or Jim Tracy for Manager of the Year may include nausea, back pain, swelling, dizziness, and divorce;
  • Except Tracy won it in 2009?
  • None of this makes sense.

My goal was to find a simple algorithm that would predict the Manager of the Year. I failed. It often goes to a manager who commanded the most surprising team (seven out of 12 NL seasons, five out of 12 AL seasons), but that doesn't factor in the future Hall of Famers like Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox, nor does it take into account the teams that were supposed to be horrible, but finished over .500 (2003 Royals, 2004 Rangers, 2006 Marlins).

FYI: If you trust this method -- and you shouldn't! -- Oakland's Bob Melvin and Washington's Davey Johnson should win this year.

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