Wednesday, November 13, 2013

AL Manager Of The Year: The Right Guy Won

Okay, Red Sox Nation, enough drama for one day. You can climb down off the ledge. Again.

Cleveland’s Terry Francona edged out Red Sox skipper John Farrell for American League Manager of the Year on Tuesday in a close vote. Francona and Farrell both took their teams from 90-plus losses in 2012 to 90-plus wins in 2013. Both managed their teams to the playoffs, with Francona’s Tribe earning an American League wild card and Farrell’s Red Sox winning their third World Series championship in the last 10 years. Both were deserving candidates for Manager of the Year.

Listen to the folks in Boston, however, and you’d think that by giving the award to Francona, MLB and the Baseball Writers Association of America were conspiring to take back the World Series trophy and ship it to Cleveland. One Boston writer went so far as to offer the vote as evidence of media bias against large-market teams. Seriously. To those of us who don’t live in the Northeast and have had the Yankees and Red Sox shoved down our throats the last 15 years by, you know, the media, this came as a bit of a surprise.

If you think giving the award to Francona was such a travesty, take this simple test. Look at Cleveland’s roster, especially the everyday players, and then look at the Indians’ 92-70 won-lost record. It doesn’t add up. That roster just screams 81-81. Take a look at the stats. Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley led Cleveland in batting at .284. Nick Swisher (22) and Carlos Santana (20) were the only Indians hitters with 20 or more home runs. Kipnis led the Tribe with 86 runs and 84 RBIs. For you statheads out there, only Santana (832) and Kipnis (818) cracked the 800 OPS barrier.

The Tribe’s best player, Kipnis, has fewer than 1,300 career at-bats with a .270 career average and a 773 career OPS. The Red Sox arguably had five players in their everyday lineup better than that. With no stars pulling the wagon, the Indians still finished sixth in MLB and fourth in the American League with 745 runs scored. Clearly the sum in Cleveland was much greater than the individual parts, and that’s usually the work of the manager.

Compared to what Francona had available, the Red Sox’ everyday lineup looked like an MVP ballot. Start with three elite-level players in David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury. Ortiz is a Hall-of-Fame candidate right now, and Pedroia is on a Hall-of-Fame track to this point in his career. When healthy, Ellsbury is among the best leadoff hitters and center fielders in the game. Cleveland hasn’t had a player of that caliber since Jim Thome left following the 2002 season.

Ortiz (30 and 103) and Mike Napoli (23 and 92) hit more home runs and drove in more runs than anyone on Cleveland’s roster. Ortiz (.309), Daniel Nava (.303), Pedroia (.301), Ellsbury (.298) and Shane Victorino (.294) all hit for a higher average than anyone in Cleveland’s lineup. Four Red Sox hitters — Ortiz (959), Napoli (842), Victorino (801) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (804) — had an OPS in excess of 800. As a team, Boston led Cleveland in OPS by a whopping 795 to 737. Boston was the only team in baseball to score more than 800 runs, scoring 853 times. That’s 108 more runs than the Indians scored. Compare the two everyday lineups and the Red Sox are better at every position on the field except left field and maybe catcher.

Above and beyond the rosters, Francona took over an Indians team that was genuinely bad, with 93 or more losses in three of the previous four seasons, no major league-ready talent in the farm system, and a payroll that annually ranks in the lower half of the league. Yes, the Red Sox lost 94 games and finished last in the AL East in 2012, but they were hardly a doormat. The Sox averaged 93 wins a year, made the playoffs three times and won a World Series in the five years from 2007-11. Boston’s farm system is one of the jewels of MLB, and they have financial resources that only the Yankees and Dodgers can match.

What torpedoed the Red Sox in 2012 was bad chemistry and the toxic managing of Bobby Valentine. Compounding things, several bad contracts had stretched the payroll to the breaking point and stood in the way of a quick rebuild. Farrell was still in Toronto when general manager Ben Cherington cleared the payroll by unloading the contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford on the Dodgers. Farrell was still in Toronto when Cherington fired Valentine. And while Farrell no doubt had major input, it still was Cherington who went 7-for-7 in free-agent signings last winter, and that wouldn’t have happened had Cherington not made that deal with the Dodgers. For that matter, it was Cherington who traded infielder Mike Aviles to Toronto for Farrell in the first place. Cherington was named MLB Executive of the Year for a reason.

Farrell deserves full credit for the great chemistry the Red Sox enjoyed in 2013. He did a masterful job of restoring the broken trust in the Boston clubhouse, but thanks to Cherington’s offseason magic, Farrell took over a team that was ready to win big again. Yes, all the preseason magazines picked the Red Sox to finish last in the division, but so what? They also picked the Royals to win the AL Central and the Blue Jays to go undefeated. What do they know?

Yes, the Red Sox played in the American League East, the best and deepest division in the league. Yes, the media scrutiny in Boston can create considerable extra pressure on a team and manager. In the end, however, it seems clear from here that Francona did more with less and deserved to win the award. Period. The Red Sox still have the World Series trophy. Which do you think the Indians would rather have?

No comments:

Post a Comment