Friday, November 29, 2013

2013 Connie Mack Award

Every year, the BBA (Baseball Bloggers Alliance) selects noteworthy individuals in the game to win end of the year awards.  There are a number of different awards given away by the BBA.  You can find a list of the awards and my picks for each on my ballot here.  I was waiting for the BBA and Major League Baseball to announce their awards before I posted my breakdowns so I could compare them.  But it has happened, and without further ado I present my breakdown explaining my choices for the Connie Mack Award, which is comparable to the Manager of the Year.

Let’s start with the easy one.  In the National League I gave the award to Pittsburgh Pirates manager, Clint Hurdle.  The Pirates, as everyone knows, finally broke into the ranks of the winning, finishing with their first season with more wins than loses in about 20 years.  They also made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1992.  They locked up the first wildcard slot and beat the Reds to win their first playoff series since 1992 as well.  So this was a huge year for them.  They’ve been improving each year over the last three seasons, but this was the year they finally broke through.  Ever since Clint Hurdle took over (in time for the 2011 season) the Pirates have improved their winning percentage and win total.  As a team, they gave up almost 100 fewer runs, improving their run differential to +57.  So this guy, since he’s been there, has clearly improved this team.  He’s made them better.  He’s made them believe.  And while the last two seasons has seen this young team falter and fall apart in the second half, he was finally able to turn that around and give this city a winning season and some playoff baseball.  So while Don Mattingly did some fine work turning around what looked like a lost season in LA, and Mike Matheny and Fredi Gonzalez guided their teams to the postseason as well, this is easily Hurdle’s award.  He changed the culture in Pittsburgh over his years there, and helped this team overcome their final demon and drastically improve from last year to this year.  All you had to do was watch the playoff games in Pittsburgh to see how this fan-base was re-born.  And with the talent on this young team, Hurdle has now got group of winners ready to compete each year.

The AL award was tougher to pick.  There were a few names to consider.  Joe Maddon always does an incredible job with young talent and limited resources.  Bob Melvin had similar circumstances to Maddon and did a nice job in Oakland for the second straight year, winning the division.  Jim Leyland guided his team easily to the playoffs, in a season where the expectations were through the roof for the Tigers.  Not an easy thing to do.  Even more impressive, in my opinion, was the job Joe Girardi did in New York with that mess.  The injuries piled up and the team turned to subpar youngsters and has-beens to keep them competitive.  And to finish a season over 500 with weak players and no farm system to back him up is truly impressive, especially in the biggest media market with an insatiable sports news market and some of the most intense, expectant and irrational fans in America.  Joe Girardi truly did a phenomenal job.  But he comes in third on my list.  I really was stuck between two candidates:  Terry Francona in Cleveland and John Farrell in Boston. 

Francona was out of baseball last year, after Boston fell apart at the end of the 2011 season.  They continued to languish under the misguided tutelage of Bobby Valentine.  But Francona was labeled as the scapegoat when the team fell short of the playoffs and then the Boston media widely circulated that the clubhouse was a caustic environment filled with beer and fried chicken on game days.  In order to keep the fans behind the players (all of whom couldn’t be traded) and the front office, Francona was the one who was blamed and he was let go.  After a year in the broadcast booth, he was the most sought after managerial candidate and he went to the Cleveland Indians and turned their fortunes around.  He helped this team move from fourth place to second and gain 24 wins.  Their run differential went from -178 to +83.  And they did all this with a subpar group of starters and new offensive players.  Francona was instrumental in signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, and those players combined with Kipnis, Santana, Cabrera and the rest of them fought hard to take the first wildcard slot.  They won 10 straight games to end the season and made the playoffs without a single pitcher notching 15 wins.  They were all good with ERAs under 4, but no ace with a sub 3 ERA to lead them.  It was an impressive turnaround for a team with no expectations and a lot of new faces.  Francona was the glue that held them together and turned them into winners.  And the year Francona left Boston, they were a mess and last year before Francona, this team was a mess.  So it’s obvious that Terry Francona is not a beneficiary of an over-abundance of talent.  But while he did an incredible job, I had one manager just edge him out.

And that was Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell.  The Red Sox went from worst to first this year in Farrell’s first season managing in Beantown.  The former Red Sox pitching coach got some managing experience in Toronto before the firing of Francona and Valentine.  Farrell came in and stopped the backslide of this proud franchise.  After the last minute crash in 2011 and the destructive, poisoned season of 2012, they needed to change things.  Ben Cherington, who took over as GM for Theo Epstein in 2012, shipped off a lot of the “problem” players at the end of 2012 and then brought in high character guys to re-invent this clubhouse.  Not sure how much that did.  But I do know that Farrell’s return helped these former All Star pitchers find their way back to relevance.  They were lost without Farrell’s tutelage, and with his return, Lester and Buccholz found their All Star forms.  On paper, worst to first looks better than Cleveland’s fourth to second, but that’s not the only reason I went with Farrell.  The Red Sox play in Boston, one of the most intense media markets that demands success from their baseball team.  The city expected this team to be better, despite their last place finish.  And Farrell helped this club get there.  The World Series title is nice too, though my ballot was in before the playoffs were completed so that didn’t enter into my thinking.  So while Francona was impressive, and other coaches were as well, I think Farrell taking the Red Sox from worst to first in an intense media market with expectations and a rabid fan base earned him this award.

The BBA agreed with me and gave their awards to the same men I chose. You can find their breakdown here.  The official Manager of the Year Award, given by the BBWAA, was a little different with Hurdle taking home the NL hardware, but Terry Francona taking home the AL award. I liked Farrell better, but I’m okay with Francona notching the win also.

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