IBWAA NL Manager of the Year Ballot – Dave Roberts
This was a strange year in the National League Manager of the Year race. All the teams that were supposed to be contenders were actually contenders despite most of those teams suffering brutal injuries.
That Nationals lost Stephen Strasburg for a good part of the year and will likely not have him in the postseason. The Mets lost Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, David Wright, and Lucas Duda for a good portion of the season. At one point, the Dodgers entire starting projected rotation was on the disabled list with the most crushing blow being a Clayton Kershaw trip to the disabled list. The Cardinals have had their shortstops, Jhonny Peralta and Aledmys Diaz, on the disabled list with injuries, and they lost their closer Trevor Rosenthal. Even the Cubs suffered a huge injury with Kyle Schwarber going down with a torn ACL. With these teams overcoming those injuries, it could be quite difficult to determine who was actually the best manager in the National League this season. Taking all that into consideration, here is my ballot:
1st Place – Dave Roberts
A large part of his award goes to Roberts because of what he did despite his team being the most injured team in all of baseball. By the first week of the season, he lost two members of his starting rotation with Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu. He would also lose important bullpen arms in Carlos Frias, Yimi Garcia, and Chris Hatcher for the year. He’d also deal with the most dramatic injury of all when Kershaw went down with a back injury.
When Kershaw made his last start before heading to the disabled list, the Dodgers were 41-36, eight games behind the Giants in the West and a game behind the Marlins for the second Wild Card. From that point forward, the Dodgers have the second best record in baseball. They have won the NL West for the second year in a row, and they seem poised to make a deep run in the postseason.
That’s not the only reason why Roberts is the Manager of the Year. He’s also capably handled a number of tricky situations that would have the potential to flummox other managers and potentially poison some clubhouses. He had to get Howie Kendrick to accept being a utility player and eventually an outfielder. He had to get one last great season out of Chase Utley. He would pull rookie Ross Stripling while he had a no-hitter going because it was the best thing for the young player’s career and the Dodgers’ future.
Clearly, Roberts has been unafraid to make the tough decisions. He had control of the clubhouse. He avoided near disaster, and he led his team from eight games back to win the NL West. That’s Manager of the Year material.
2nd – Joe Maddon
In reality, any other year this award would go to Maddon. Maddon has established himself as the best manager in the game.
Maddon was handed a roster that was easily a World Series favorite, and he delivered during the regular season. Not only did he get another great season from Jake Arrieta, but he also got better years from Jon Lester and John Lackey. By the way, somehow he got a Cy Young caliber season out of Kyle Hendricks.
We also saw Maddon play mad scientist like he loves to do. When Schwarber went down, Maddon took his budding superstar Kris Bryant and turned him into a Ben Zobrist type of player. It probably helped Bryant that he had the actual Zobrist on the team to give him some pointers. Additionally, never one to stay at the status quo, Maddon experimented using multiple relievers on the field.
On June 28th, Maddon would actually play Spencer Patton and Travis Wood in the outfield in a 15 inning game against the Reds. It actually worked out well for the Cubs. Patton started the 14th inning on the mound and Wood in left field. When Jay Bruce came up to bat, Maddon would switch them around to get Bruce out. After the Bruce at bat, Maddon switched them back so Patton could get Adam Duvall out. This was reminiscent of the 1986 game where Davey Johnson was forced to shift Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell between left field and the pitcher’s mound due to a Ray Knight ejection leaving the Mets without another position player. However, Maddon wasn’t forced into the decision. There wasn’t an injury or an ejection. Rather, Maddon did it because he simply believed it gave the Cubs the best chance to win the game.
That is the type of progressive thinking that has made Maddon the best manager in the game, and it has helped the Cubs to a 100 win season with the best record in baseball. If not for the terrific season Roberts had, Maddon would have won this quite easily.
3rd – Dusty Baker
Last year, the Nationals were done in by a toxic clubhouse and a terrible manager in Matt Williams. In the offseason, the Nationals did what they had to do in firing Williams, and then they had to settle on Baker as their manager.
Baker has always been a curious case. He has never been a favorite of the Sabermetrically inclined. He makes curious in-game decisions (hello Russ Ortiz), and he has a tendency to over rely on veterans over young players that are probably better and can do more to help the team win. Despite all of that, Baker has won wherever he has gone. He has brought the Giants, Cubs, Reds, and now the Nationals to the postseason. The reason is Baker is a manager that gets the most out of his players.
It wasn’t easy for him this year. Bryce Harper had a down year, Jonathan Papelbon wouldn’t last the season as either the closer or as a National, and Ben Revere would show he was not capable of being the center fielder for a good team. Worse yet, Strasburg went down with injury despite Baker actually being someone careful with his young pitcher. So how’d he do it. Well, he got career years from Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos. In a sign of growth, Baker trusted a young player in Trea Turner to not only play everyday, but also to play out of position. Mostly, Baker was Baker.
Overall, it is clear that Baker has some innate ability to get his teams to play well. He did that again this year in turning around a Nationals team that fell apart last year to a team that comfortably won the NL East.
Honorable Mention – Terry Collins
By no means did Collins have a strong year this year. You can point to the injuries, but he did do a lot to exacerbate them by playing players who he knew was injured. He had a year where he messed around with Michael Conforto‘s development and threatened the career of Jim Henderson by abusing his surgically repaired shoulder for a “must-win” game in April. Furthermore, he flat out abused the arms of Hansel Robles, Addison Reed, and Jeurys Familia. So no, Collins is not deserving of the award.
However, he is deserving of an honorable mention with the class and dignity he comported himself in the aftermath of Jose Fernandez‘s death. He made sure his team was there to console the Marlins, and he prepared his team to win games when some of his own players were devastated by Fernandez’s death. This was one of the many acts of kindness Collins has shown as the Mets manager, and it should be highlighted.