AL Manager of the Year

By Jason Wojciechowski on October 4, 2010 at 10:25 AM

I obviously don't have any award votes. Not only do I only write on the internet, but nobody reads this blog. I'm going to tell you my votes anyway, in a series of posts beginning today. The methodology will be about what you expect, heavy on advanced stats. In light of Colin Wyers' work on biases in batted ball data collection, however, I'm going to have to lean away from stats that rely on that data, like UZR and tRA/tERA, much as those stats would be excellent if we had solid data.

I'll begin with AL Manager of the Year. Nobody has ever satisfactorily come up with a way to define who should win this award. Most people go the "blood from stones" route and vote for who they think got their team to overperform the best. That seems silly to me because of the credit assignment problem: how much of Jim Thome's enormous year came because Ron Gardenhire is an awesome guy and how much because he just really likes mashin' taters?

In my attempt to be objective about this, I'm going to try to get at (though not terribly rigourously, I admit) the most important thing a manager can do: play his best players most often, and when it most matters. That means not sitting a good player because he's young, maximizing your best hitters' PAs by batting them high in the order, and putting your best bullpen pitchers in high-leverage situations.

That said, I hate sacrifice bunts, so I'm going to make that my first cut. The bottom five managers in sac bunts in the AL were Cito Gaston, Terry Francona, the Oriole triumvirate, Joe Girardi, and Manny Acta. I can't give AL Manager of the Year to Buck Showalter, and I'm not going to give it to someone who got fired, so I'll take the next guy on the list after I remove the Orioles: Ron Gardenhire.

First, here is a chart indicating each team's five best hitters by MLVr (from Baseball Prospectus), their total PA with the team, and how that PA ranks on that team. I know MLVr has deficiencies as compared to a Linear Weights-based offensive value metric, but it's the only published rate stat I know of that is expressed in runs. You can convert wOBA to runs very simply, of course, but I'd rather just copy and paste, and MLVr lets me do that. Since I'm just getting rough rankings here, I think that's reasonable.

TorontoBostonNew YorkClevelandMinnesota
Jose Bautista.351683 (1st)Kevin Youkilis.357435 (6th)Robbie Cano.310696 (3rd)Shin-soo Choo.255646 (1st)Justin Morneau.524348 (8th)
Vernon Wells.166646 (2nd)Adrian Beltre.296641 (2nd)Nick Swisher.215635 (4th)Carlos Santana.204192 (14th)Jim Thome.426340 (9th)
John Buck.111437 (7th)Jed Lowrie.248197 (11th)Marcus Thames.173237 (10th)Travis Hafner.151462 (3rd)Joe Mauer.256584 (4th)
Alex Gonzalez.077348 (9th)David Ortiz.219606 (3rd)Alex Rodriguez.165595 (5th)Russ Branyan.121190 (15th)Delmon Young.157613 (3rd)
Edwin Encarnacion.054367 (8th)Dustin Pedroia.179351 (9th)Mark Teixeira.158712 (2nd)Austin Kearns.074342 (7th)Danny Valenica.134322 (10th)

John Buck hit in the bottom half of the lineup all season. His numbers are low partially because he's a catcher, but he could have picked up a handful more plate appearances at the expense of Lyle Overbay, Fred Lewis, or Aaron Hill. Alex Gonzalez hit second a lot, but he also hit sixth behind Overbay quite a bit. And Edwin Encarnacion hit 7th, 8th, or 9th all year, when he wasn't injured.

Tito Francona had Marco Scutaro hitting leadoff all year, which is why the team leader in PAs is not on the above chart. Youkilis hit fourth before he got hurt, when he should have been hitting second or third, but his total PA still would have ended up second on the team if he hadn't been injured, so you can't complain too much. Beltre slowly moved up in the order from 6th to 5th to 4th to (occasionally) 3rd as the year went on, which seems fair given the uncertainty about how he'd end up hitting. At some point, though, you have to get over Victor Martinez (note: not on the chart above) batting third. Jed Lowrie should have been the every-day shortstop with Beltre blocking him at third and Pedroia at second.

Derek Jeter hit leadoff all season, but the rest of the chart looks pretty good. Marcus Thames isn't quite the pure lefty masher people think he is, but he's also not actually as good as he hit this year, so I won't come down on Girardi for not playing him over Swisher or Gardner or someone.

Cleveland traded away Branyan and Kearns. Choo hit second and third all year, which is well done.

It's possible that Jim Thome had the year he had precisely because Ron Gardenhire sat him so often, particularly against lefties (less than 100 PAs against them this year), but Jason Kubel DH'd far too often, and, more to the point, Thome never hit higher than fourth. Delmon Young spent the year hitting sixth and seventh while Orlando Hudson and Denard Span were basically magic-markered into the 1-2 spots.

How about bullpen usage? I'll look at SIERA (which I believe does not rely on any distinction between line drives and fly balls, though I'll be happy to be corrected if I'm wrong), leverage index (specifically, gmLI on Fangraphs, which measures the average leverage index when a pitcher is called into the game -- leverage index, so you know, is measured with a baseline of 1.00, so that an LI of 2.00 is twice as important as an average game situation, 0.50 is half as important, and so on), and innings pitched.

TorontoBostonNew YorkClevelandMinnesota
Scott Downs3.2861.31.49 Jonathan Papelbon3.3067.01.91 Joba Chamberlain3.1671.71.22 Justin Germano3.7035.30.90Matt Capps3.6127.01.68
Casey Janssen3.5868.70.57Daniel Bard3.4274.71.92Mariano Rivera3.4660.01.92Chris Perez3.8263.01.92Jesse Crain3.8568.01.31
Jason Frasor3.6363.71.21Scott Atchison4.3460.01.04David Robertson3.6661.31.20Tony Sipp4.0163.01.27Jon Rauch3.9057.71.40
Kevin Gregg4.00591.81Ramon Ramirez4.5142.30.92Kerry Wood3.8026.01.29Hector Ambriz4.3948.30.49Jose Mijares3.9532.71.19
David Purcey4.03340.65Hideki Okajima4.7746.01.33Boone Logan4.0040.01.06Rafael Perez4.4161.01.15Ron Mahay3.9634.00.67

Cito Gaston had two of his five best relievers pitching in mopup duty. Tito Francona did the best he could with a shitty bullpen, working Papelbon and Bard, his two best pitchers, in very high leverage situations. Joe Girardi didn't recognize what he had in Joba Chamberlain as bad luck sunk his ERA far below what it should have been. Acta should be flogged for Justin Germano's usage given that his entire bullpen, Germano included, wasn't exactly killing it. Ron Mahay could have used something more than garbage time, but that's small potatoes compared to some of the others on the list.

Maybe I could have found a better player-usage group if I'd not knocked managers out for bunting, especially since stathead favorite Joe Maddon was just outside the top five. I made my rules, though, and now Joe Maddon has to sleep in them.

I am uninspired, but I think I have to hold my nose at Marco Scutaro's usage and give my AL MotY vote to Tito Francona. He had an injury-ravaged team right in the hunt in the toughest division in baseball, only one person on the team was caught stealing more than once (Marco Scutaro, five SBs in nine tries), he leaned hard on his two good relievers, and he stuffed as much chew as any single human being has ever stuffed into his cheek. Here's for Tito.