IBWAA AL Manager of the Year Ballot – Buck Showalter
This was a fun year in the American League where we saw the managers who were presumed to be among the best in the sport get the most out of their team’s talent and put their team in position to go to the postseason. When you’re picking between the best managers in the sport, and they all did tremendous jobs, you are really picking nits in ranking them. With that said here’s my nit picking ballot:
1st – Buck Showalter
Could you possibly imagine where this Orioles team would be right now if they had just a league average starting staff? It’s incredible to think about how far the Orioles have gone when Chris Tillman and his career 4.13 ERA and 1.310 WHIP is far and away your team’s ace. The question is how did the Orioles do it?
For starters (pun intended), Showalter uses his bullpen masterfully, probably better than anyone else in the sport. When you have no starting pitcher who averages six innings a game, you are going to have to be masterful if you are going to give your team any chance to win a game. Showalter not only was able to put his relievers in the right position to get outs, he was also able to keep most of them healthy over the course of a full season. And yes, it certainly helped that Zach Britton had one of the great seasons a closer has ever had. Still, he’s just one guy that pitches one inning for a bullpen that routinely had to pitch over three innings a game.
Showalter also got the most out of his flawed power bats. Mark Trumbo was signed to be the right fielder, and he hit 46 homers. Pedro Alvarez was the primary DH. With Showalter shielding him from left-handed pitching for most of the year, Alvarez would hit 22 homers.
It also helps that Showalter has two of the best young players in the game in Adam Jones and Manny Machado. Even in what has been Jones’ “worst” season, he still hit 28 homers. Machado had an underappreciated year where he was not only his usual MVP level, Gold Glove caliber third baseman, he also had to handle going to shortstop when J.J. Hardy went down for an extended time due to injury. Couple that with Showalter navigating the issue of Hyun Soo Kim arguably not being ready to start the season, refusing a demotion to the minors, Showalter handled the situation well. He not only eased Kim into the season, but he also got a tremendous season out of him.
Arguably, Showalters is the best manager in the game, and he proved it once again this season. For that, he is my selection for AL Manager of the Year.
2nd – Jeff Bannister
When a team has a +8 run differential, the team is expected to go 82-80. The Texas Rangers would go 95-67 while running away with the AL West. A big part of the reason why is Bannister who, in his second year as a manager, has established himself as one of the best managers in the game.
Bannister had a lot on his plate this season, including but not limited to the run differential. He was helping Ian Desmond convert from a shortstop to an All Star center fielder. He had Rougned Odor, who has shown himself to be an incredibly gifted player, but also as we saw with him punching Jose Bautista, he can be a hot head. There was the demise and sudden retirement of Prince Fielder. There were tough waters to navigate surrounding Yu Darvish, who was returning from Tommy John surgery, and his brother being convicted in Japan for illegal gambling. The Rangers also entered the season without a good catching or first base option. High priced outfielder Shin-Soo Choo would miss most of the year with injuries leaving the team without a good left fielding option either.
The reason this all worked was the Rangers had a good starting rotation led by Cole Hamels and a no-name very underrated bullpen that included the reclamation project of all reclamation projects in Matt Bush, and first time closer, Sam Dyson, who had a breakout season. There were also great seasons by Mostly, this worked because Bannister is a great manager that put his players in the best spots to succeed.
Because this team had more pitching, especially starting pitching, Bannister is barely ranked below Showalter.
3rd – Terry Francona
Heading into the 2016 season, the Indians were largely constructed like the 2015 Mets. They were a team built on young pitching with a highly questionable offense. In order for it all to work, the team would need its manager to do a great job. Francona did.
Again, the one thing everyone knew the Indians had to start the season was starting pitching, and boy did they pitch. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar each had an ERA+ of 122 or better. Fact is, when Trevor Bauer is your fourth best starting pitcher, you know your starting staff is loaded. Ultimately, it was this staff that separated Showalter and Francona in my mind in terms of casting the vote for Manager of the Year. Still, that does not mean Francona had an easy job this season.
He lost his starting catcher Yan Gomes for the season before the All Star Break. He lost his best outfielder Michael Brantley, in the beginning of May. He had an offense that was too reliant on the rejuvenation of Mike Napoli (he hi (he would be released t 34 homers) and Juan Uribe (released on August 5th). The team also desperately needed Carlos Santana‘s power to return (it did). Couple that with a middle infield of Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez showing he can offensively handle a corner infield spot, and some smoke and mirror, the Indians generated a sufficient amount of offense to match their starting pitching. Francona goes a long way in much of this happening and that is why he deserves Manager of the Year consideration.
As he frankly had smoother sailing than Showalter and Bannister during the regular season, he gets ranked just below the other two. Frankly, if you came up with a different permutation of these three managers, no one could definitively say you were wrong.