My first vote for a Baseball Writers Association of America Award was for National League Manager of the Year, and I picked Dave Roberts of the Dodgers to win it, followed by Atlanta’s Brian Snitker second, and Buck Showalter of the Mets third.
Showalter won the award, which was announced Tuesday. Roberts finished second, and Snitker third.
I owe an explanation for my choices. But first, I needed to figure out just how to determine the best manager.
This is the 40th year of the BBWAA choosing a Manager of the Year in each league. There have been were 81 managers to win the award, including Joe Torre and Johnny Oates tying for American League honors in 1996.
Only ten of the 81 winning managers failed to reach the postseason. Nine of them led teams with massive year-over-year improvements, ranging from plus-13 wins (Buck Rodgers with the 1987 Expos) to plus-33 (Frank Robinson and the 1989 Orioles). The outlier here was Joe Girardi, who won in 2006 despite going 78-84, but while saddled with the burden of leading a post-fire-sale Marlins team.
Since the advent of the wild card game in 2012 through 2021, no manager that missed the playoffs won the award.
In the wild card era (since 1995), 17 Managers of the Year led teams with the best record in their league. Eighteen Managers of the Year saw improvements of at least 20 games over the previous year, including Showalter this year. Gabe Kapler might qualify for both groups in winning the 2021 award for the 107-win Giants, after San Francisco was 29-31 the year before, if you want to extrapolate 2020 records for sake of comparison.
Eighteen more Managers of the Year from 1995-2021 won in their first full year on the job.
Sometimes the Manager of the Year award comes down to which manager outperformed the preseason predictions, which throws another wrinkle into the calculus.
“It’s so hard to define. If you look at our situation and our expectations, you could argue Dave [Roberts] was supposed to win this many games,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said in September. “But also, the job he’s done has been incredible, with how many guys that have gone down. Keeping the ship going in the right direction in the face of adversity should merit a lot of points.”
The Dodgers lost ace Walker Buehler in June after only 12 starts, with an elbow injury that later required Tommy John surgery and flexor tendon repair. They still set a franchise record with 111 wins.
I asked Turner what Roberts did to keep the Dodgers going in that right direction.
“There’s no sweeping stuff under the rug,” Turner said. “When stuff isn’t done right, it gets addressed right away, and it doesn’t matter how many games we’re up or down, or what the situation is.”
Bob Melvin did a tremendous job keeping the Padres together without Fernando Tatis Jr., and avoided last year’s incredible pitching collapse down the stretch. Rob Thomson took over a 22-29 Phillies team and led them to the playoffs. He actually led Philadelphia to the World Series, but none of that factored into the voting, which was due before the start of the postseason.
Thomson’s record with the Phillies was 65-46 (.586), an impressive 95-win pace over a full season. But the three NL managers I picked all had better records during that time — Roberts’ Dodgers (.696), Snitker’s Braves (.694), and Showalter’s Mets (.600).
Showalter led a Mets team with an even higher payroll than the Dodgers, and guided them to a 24-win improvement in his first year with the team. Snitker followed up a World Series win with the Braves’ best regular season under his watch, and won a fifth consecutive division title.
All three of Roberts, Snitker, and Showalter outperformed lofty preseason expectations during the regular season. Any of them would have been a worthy choice to win the award, in my eyes.
I gave Snitker the nod over Showalter for the Braves tracking down the Mets to win the NL East, but they were battling for second and third on my ballot.
I picked Roberts because he had the highest expectations of all, and somehow surpassed them with 111 wins, the most by a National League team since 1906. That was too impressive an accomplishment to ignore.