The case for Francona to win AL Manager of Year

30 minutes ago

Being a good manager is more than just knowing when to go to your bullpen in a tight spot or when to put on that hit-and-run play in the seventh inning. That is certainly part of the job, but it’s also about building and maintaining relationships. It’s about pulling the right strings when injuries inevitably strike. It’s having the skills to take more than two dozen different personalities under one clubhouse roof and getting them to form a cohesive unit with one common goal: to win.

Each of these six managers did that in 2022, and that’s why they are finalists for the Manager of the Year Award in their respective leagues. Here’s a look at the case for each of the six nominees before the winners are announced Tuesday on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Terry Francona, Guardians

It can be hard to quantify just how much of an impact a manager is making on a team throughout a season, but for the Guardians in 2022, there was rarely a week that went by that a player didn’t credit Francona for their success.

It wasn’t a roster that was projected to win a lot of games. However, Francona knew Cleveland could pick up some wins if it was able to master the game of small ball. Although that approach is less enticing than the swing-for-the-fences style of play we’re used to seeing in today’s game, he went to his leaders, Jos? Ram?rez and Amed Rosario, and asked them to help set the tone that perfect baserunning and defense can lead to wins. From the early weeks of the season, his roster followed suit. The lineup collectively hit the second-fewest homers in the Majors (127, ahead of just the Tigers), but tied for sixth in average (.254) and owned the lowest strikeout percentage (18.2%).

While figuring out ways to win with the skillset his team provided, Francona was also navigating how to continue to develop baseball’s youngest roster at the same time as finding ways to win a division title. The club tied a franchise record (excluding the AL’s inaugural season of 1901) by having 17 players debut in a single season and the inexperience didn’t prevent them from winning 92 games. Only two other teams had at least 17 players make their big league debuts in 2022: The A’s (who went 60-102) and the Cubs (who went 74-88). — Mandy Bell

Brandon Hyde, Orioles

There has never been an AL manager to win this award with a team that finished lower than third in its division. The only time it’s happened at all was in 2006, when Joe Girardi won NL Manager of the Year and his Marlins finished fourth in the NL East at 78-84.

But there shouldn’t be any objections if Hyde receives the honor this season. After all, nobody expected the Orioles to go 83-79 in the challenging AL East, in which they finished fourth.

Over Hyde’s first three seasons, Baltimore went 131-218 while enduring tough rebuilding years. That included a 108-loss showing in his first year as skipper in 2019, as well as a 110-loss campaign in ’21.

Entering the 2022 season, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections had the O’s winning 61 games this year. FanGraphs gave them a 0.1 percent chance of reaching the postseason, the lowest odds of all 30 MLB teams.

Yet, Baltimore didn’t get eliminated from AL Wild Card contention until Sept. 30, five days before the end of the regular season. The Orioles finished only three games back of the Rays for the final AL postseason berth.

Hyde, who was already named this year’s Sporting News AL Manager of the Year, did a tremendous job leading a team filled with youngsters to more success than anybody could have predicted. In fact, the Orioles became only the second team in AL/NL history to finish .500 or better a year after losing 110-plus games. The other? The 1899 St. Louis Perfectos. — Jake Rill

Scott Servais, Mariners

Servais led the Mariners to 90 wins for the second straight year, joining Lou Piniella as the only managers in club history to do so, but it was the way he oversaw the Mariners that proved so impactful. The Mariners for the second straight year had a knack for winning close games, leading MLB with 34 wins in one-run contests while racking up 13 walk-off wins (which tied a franchise record) and 40 comeback wins (third in the AL). They were also 11-5 in extra innings, the AL’s best win percentage.

For an award that is so challenging to put statistical context to, these numbers underscore how Servais managed his roster — particularly the bullpen — late in games while walking a tightrope each night. The Mariners simply didn’t blow teams out, so their path to success required more tactics than most clubs from their manager.

After a slow start, with the Mariners 10 games under .500 on June 19 and their season spiraling, they went 61-33 the rest of the way for a .649 winning percentage that was second-best in the AL in that span. It also included a 14-game win streak from July 2-17.

Servais was the runner-up last year to the Rays’ Kevin Cash, who oversaw the team with the AL’s best record. After another strong showing, he deserves the honor this time around. — Daniel Kramer

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Dave Roberts, Dodgers

Roberts’ case might take a hit given the Dodgers were expected to be among the best teams in the Majors. But it’s also important to remember that only four other teams have won as many games during the regular season as the Dodgers did in ’22 with Roberts at the helm.

The Dodgers (and Roberts) benefit from having a superbly talented roster, but the ’22 team had to work around injuries to Walker Buehler, Blake Treinen, Tony Gonsolin and Clayton Kershaw. It wasn’t always easy, but the Dodgers still finished with the best record in baseball. — Juan Toribio

Buck Showalter, Mets

For a team that lacked stability and consistency despite talented rosters in recent seasons, Showalter was the antidote. Immediately upon his hiring, the veteran manager began making changes to the way the Mets operated their business, from on-field drills to the types of people employed by the organization. The result was the second-most successful season in franchise history: Showalter improved the Mets from a 77-win team in 2021 to a 101-win club this summer. Among Major League teams, only the Orioles improved more dramatically.

The criticisms of Showalter are two-fold. One, much of this year’s credit must also go to owner Steve Cohen (for approving a massive payroll increase) and general manager Billy Eppler (for acquiring the right players to engineer New York’s renaissance). Two, Showalter’s Mets faltered at the end, finishing in second in the NL East despite leading the division for nearly the entire summer. That proved to be their undoing when they subsequently lost a best-of-three Wild Card Series against the Padres.

Still, Manager of the Year is a regular-season award, and Showalter did as much as anyone could have asked in his first summer at the helm, helping the Mets navigate past significant injuries to Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer along the way. He also created a new standard of professionalism in Flushing that should continue to be the blueprint in future seasons. Under Showalter’s steady hand, the Mets expect to continue making noise on an annual basis. — Anthony DiComo

Brian Snitker, Braves

Snitker has enjoyed each of the Braves’ past five division titles, but the most satisfying was the most recent. The Braves entered June 10 1/2 games back in the NL East race and remained seven games behind the front-running Mets as late as Aug. 10. But Snitker’s steady hand kept the ship afloat and his team rewarded him with an incredible run over the season’s final four months.

The Braves went an MLB-best 78-34 from June 1 through the end of the season. That equates to a 112-win pace over 162 games. With this torrid run, the Braves caught the Mets, who were guided by Buck Showalter, one of this year’s three candidates for the NL Manager of the Year Award.

Showalter guided the Mets to 101 wins while benefiting from the game’s top payroll. The Braves spent about $80 million less than the Mets this past year but still proved to be the better team at the end. Atlanta lost four of five to New York in early August. But the Braves stayed the course and ended up sweeping the Mets during a three-game series during the regular season’s final weekend.

With the sweep, the Braves positioned themselves for a division title, which was claimed despite the fact Ozzie Albies missed more than half the season and Adam Duvall suffered a season-ending wrist injury near the end of July. Ronald Acu?a Jr. never got on a roll during his first season back from major knee surgery and Ian Anderson spent most of the season’s final two months at the Triple-A level. But with Snitker’s guidance, Atlanta celebrated yet another division title. — Mark Bowman