I’ve heard tell that the Baseball Bloggers Alliance may come out of hibernation to vote on our annual awards. Having already covered my MVP (or “Stan Musial”) and Cy Young (“Walter Johnson”) picks, I thought I’d chime in with some great managers, rookies, and relievers.
American League Connie Mack Award
As unqualified as I may be to vote on awards based on quantifiable achivements, I’m certainly less qualified to opine about managerial performances. So to complete my Connie Mack ballot, I’ll use a method similar to last year’s. I’ll compare each team’s overall rank in W-L record to the ranking I assigned them earlier this year when I ranked World Series contenders and give the award to the man at the helm of the team that most exceeded my expectations.
1. Terry Francona, Indians
2. Bob Melvin, A’s
3. John Farrell, Red Sox
I ranked the Indians 23rd, based on a whole lot of question marks in the rotation and an offense that didn’t look as opposing as it would turn out to be. Those question marks- notably Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir- pitched like it was 2007, and younger pitchers- Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar- matured quickly. I don’t know how much credit Francona deserves for this, but I’m happy to give this award to an old friend.
While I’ve come to appreciate their enviable depth, it still surprises me when the A’s run off a long winning streak with no great players on either side of the ball. Josh Donaldson broke out this year, and Bartolo Colon pitched like it was 2002, but I think Melvin deserves a lot of credit for exploiting platoon advantages and making the most of his deep bench.
I had the Red Sox as the 13th most likely world champs, not a huge stretch, but I had three teams they left in their dust- Toronto, Tampa, and New York- 9th, 11th, and 12th, respectively. I thought the Sox might be good, but I never envisioned the best record in the game.
At the bottom of this list would be Robin Ventura, who steered a White Sox team with a very solid pitching staff dangerously close to 100 losses, and John Gibbons, who probably shouldn’t take all of the blame for his GM’s misread (and mine) of a lot of the talent on the market.
National League Connie Mack Award
1. Clint Hurdle, Pirates
2. Mike Matheny, Cardinals
3. Bud Black, Padres
Poring over numbers at fangraphs to help guide last night’s playoff preview, I realized that the Pirates are pretty good. They also won a lot of games beyond their talent level. Aside from likely MVP Andrew Mccutchen, no Pirates player- hitter or pitcher- was worth more than Starling Marte’s 4.6 fWAR. In contrast, the Tigers had four players worth over 5 WAR, with a fifth at 4.5, and won one fewer game than the Pirates. This was a solid defensive team with an excellent bullpen. Split the credit between the GM, the Manager, and the players as you see fit. I’ll give this one to Clint.
It’s hard to say the Cardinals were surprising, as they always seem to win 90 games. I probably should have assumed that Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha would blossom under Yadier Molina’s tutelage and the whole team would bat .100 points higher with runners in scoring position than with the bases empty. Don’t they always?
I had to check to see if Black was still managing the Padres. I probably thought about the Padres less than any other team this year. At least they didn’t have the fourth-worst record in baseball, as I predicted they would.
At the other end, I didn’t see the Giants as a great team, but given their similarity to last year’s champs, I didn’t see 86 losses either. And let’s not talk about where I picked the Nationals.
American League Willie Mays Award
This one goes to the best rookie. Fangraphs tells me that the five most valuable rookie pitchers and the five most valuable rookie position players in baseball all played in the senior circuit, so we’ll dispense with the lame award first.
1. Wil Myers, Rays
2. Jose Iglesias, Red Sox/Tigers
3. Martin Perez, Rangers
Myers hit .295/.353/.482 with 13 homers in 89 games for the Rays. He looks like he might be a disaster on defense, but he’ll hit, and no other AL rookie suggested that he could, so I guess we’re done here. Iglesias isn’t as good a hitter or as mediocre a fielder as his first-year numbers indicate, but he means a lot to the otherwise-defensively-challenged Tigers. Perez had a 3.55 ERA for the Rangers, who needed him after Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch failed to impress early in the season.
National League Willie Mays Award
1. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
2. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
3. Hyun-jin Ryu, Dodgers
Lots of great rookies in the NL, including starters Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, and Gerrit Cole, and defensive standouts Nolan Arenado, Juan Lagares, and AJ Pollock, but this award comes down to Puig’s .319/.391/534 line and highlight-reel presence that seemed to ignite the sleepy Dodgers vs. Fernandez’s consistent excellence. I’m not sure we’ll see another rookie pitcher throw 172 2/3 innings with a 2.19 ERA for a while, so I’m giving this to Fernandez. If I tiebreaker were necessary, I’d call on the home run Fernandez hit in his last at-bat before being shut down in mid-September. He’s a star.
American League Goose Gossage Award
This one’s almost as tough to pick as the manager award, since ERA doesn’t mean much to a reliever, and relievers earn more WAR by pitching more innings- certainly a valuable commodity, but typically more of a manager’s decision than a reflection of a pitcher’s talent. Fortunately, one guy stood out in each league.
1. Koji Uehara, Red Sox
2. Greg Holland, Royals
3. Joe Nathan, Rangers
…and, I pluck them straight from the fWAR list. Most of us agree by now that the closer’s role is hugely overrated, but if there was one chink in the Red Sox armor early in the season, it was a failure to protect ninth-inning leads, as Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were both ineffective before being shut down with injuries. Koji effortlessly transitioned from shut-down middle reliever to shut-down closer (it’s basically the same job), setting some records along the way, adn the Red Sox were a freight train right through the summer. His 0.565 WHIP was the best ever for a pitcher who threw at least 50 innings. His 11.22 K/BB ratio was actually a step down from his 14.33 mark last year, but it led all pitchers in 2013.
Holland was amazing once again in Kansas City, this time as closer, striking out almost 14 batters per nine on his way to a 1.21 ERA in 67 innings. His 1.36 FIP led all major league relievers. Nathan gave up just two homers in compiling a 1.39 ERA over 64 2/3 innings.
National League Goose Gossage Award
1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
2. Mark Melancon, Pirates
3. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
Kimbrel took a step back from his otherworldly 2011 and 2012, but remined the best closer in the National League, giving up ten runs (nine earned) in 67 innings. He struck out 98 batters and walked 11, bringing his three-year totals to 341 K, 66 BB, and three times at the top of my Gossage Award list.
Kimbrel and Jansen are two of the NL’s triumvirate of relief flamethrowers. With Aroldis Chapman suffering some control problems this year, Melancon somehow thurst his way into that conversation, walking just eight batters in 71 innings to compile a 1.39 ERA and a 1.64 FIP. Jansen did it with power, finishing one strikeout behind Chapman’s NL-reliever-leading 112.