Making the Manager of the Year Award more interesting

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Possible alternative headlines to get more clicks:

  • Why Ryan Braun should be suspended again
  • New findings on why Miguel Cabrera is better than Mike Trout
  • The Tigers should trade Max Scherzer … to the Marlins

Alas, editors who think they know better discourage "outright deception." So the headline was about how to make the Manager of the Year Award more interesting because that's what the article is actually about. You clicked because you sneezed or something. Sorry about that.

But it's a weird thing, this Manager of the Year Award. It's usually given to the manager who manages a) a surprising, worst-to-first kind of team, or b) a team like the 2001 Mariners that completely lapped the field. That's it, that's the calculus. It's usually pretty easy to predict. Clint Hurdle is going to win in the National League, and either Terry Francona or John Farrell is going to win in the American League.

Did those guys do the best managing job this year, though? No idea. Seems what Bob Melvin did this year with the A's was even more impressive than what he did last year, but he isn't even in the conversation this year. The A's didn't surprise anyone, so Melvin didn't do the best managing job in the majors. Or something. If only the A's were worse last year, then Melvin would have managed better this year! It's so simple.

In the 30-year history of the award, only one under-.500 manager has ever won it: Joe Girardi with the Marlins in 2006. You're telling me that, out of 60 possible seasons (30 in the AL, 30 in the NL), the best managing job was done by a manager with a losing record only once? That makes no sense. If one manager turns a 100-loss team into an 85-loss team, doesn't that make him better than the manager who turns an 85-win team into a 95-win team?

We'll never know precisely how to make those kind of assumptions, of course, but it's not implausible for the best managing job to come for a team that doesn't sniff the playoffs. But those managers never get considered. Here's the breakdown of the Managers of the Year:

44 first-place finishes
13 second-place finishes
3 third-place finishes
1 fourth-place finish

I understand the point is to win baseball games, so this isn't too surprising. But buried in those seasons is a manager who took a rookie with crushed confidence and turned him into a regular. Or a manager who lost four starting pitchers and three starting position players to injury, but still made his team think they had the same shot of winning every night. Or a manager who was given an improbable team of disparate personalities, yet managed to keep the baking soda away from the vinegar and gain the respect for everyone.

Instead?

Step A: Look at teams in playoff race
Step B: Look at preseason predictions
Step C: Adjust accordingly

As such, the award is boring. And there isn't a fix. The award is voted on by the writers who are in the clubhouse every night. They see the on-field stuff just like we do, but they also see behind the curtain. That makes them more qualified than the average citizen. But none of them spend an equal amount of time in every clubhouse, so while they have more information, they still have wildly incomplete information.

What's the alternative? Players voting? Same problem, but with even more inability to separate bias from analysis. Some combination of players and writers? Don't see how that would make for better results.

I have a perfect-world solution, but nothing more. In a more perfect world, one journalist would pick the award. Maybe it would be a J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner, or maybe it would be a future winner. Regardless, it would be the job of one writer to spend two months researching this danged thing. He or she would go full Studs Turkel, getting the oral history of the season in question from players, bench coaches, and broadcasters.

He or she would also dig into the stats, the specific games, the anecdotes, and the arguments for and against before adjudicating. And when the whole project is complete, we would all get treated months later to a kick-butt 15,000-word feature in Sports Illustrated or the New Yorker or the BBWAA's rad online website on the 'net. It doesn't matter where, just as long as we got to read it. Here is the Manager of the Year. Here what he did. Here is what elevated him above everyone else trying to do the same job.

Oh, man, I would read that. Probably disagree with it often, too. But I would be interested. It would feel more meticulously researched, at least. It would feel more important. Certainly more interesting. And maybe, just maybe, it would be more fair, too.

That's obviously a wildly unrealistic solution that will never, ever happen. Just spitballin'. As is, though, Clint Hurdle is going to win the Manager of the Year. Why? The Pirates were bad last year, but they were good this year. How much did Hurdle have to do with that? Look, the Pirates were bad last year, but they were good this year. What did he do differently to avoid a second-half collapse this year? Listen, pal, I don't think you understand, but I'm trying to tell you the Pirates were bad last year, but they were good this year.

Hurdle might very well be the most deserving Manager of the Year candidate this year. He might be the most deserving candidate of all time. But I have no idea how to figure that out other than win-loss records and a few other indicators. The voters have more information, but not as much as anyone would like about all 15 candidates in either league. As such, no one really cares about the Manager of the Year. If you can remember who won it five years ago, your prize is that you can remember who won it five years ago.

It's a shame. This would be an awesome award to care about. There's just no realistic way to vote on it without the tyranny of first-to-worst and win-loss records. There's no one to blame. It's just the way it is and always will be.

But let me tell you something about all you pinheads who use "WAR" to trick yourself into believing Mike Trout is better than Miguel Cabrera …

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