The finalists for the AL Manager of the Year Award include managers from two playoff teams who played in the same division along with a manager of a non-playoff team. Meanwhile, neither manager of the teams with the two best records in the league was among the finalists.
The three finalists for AL Manager of the Year are Jeff Banister of the Rangers, A.J. Hinch of the Astros, and Paul Molitor of the Twins. Let’s see how they stack up:
Another confounding factor is how much we can attribute a team’s success to the manager. The Texas Rangers won 88 games this year. How many of those wins should be attributed to their manager, Jeff Banister? One way to look at the manager’s impact is by looking at the team’s improvement from the previous year. In this case, Banister’s Rangers won 21 more games in 2015 than they had in 2014. Of course, we can’t attribute all 21 wins to Banister.
Another way to look at a manager’s effect might be to compare the team’s Pythagorean record to their actual record. The Pythagorean record is created by comparing a team’s runs scored and runs allowed to produce an expected winning percentage. Banister’s Rangers had a Pythagorean (or expected) record of 83-79 but actually went 88-74. Should Banister get some credit for these five “extra” wins?
Often, a team’s success or failure in a season will depend on how well they do in games decided by one run. The Rangers were 27-22 in one-run games this year, which closely matched their overall record. The Houston Astros, on the other hand, were 21-29 in one-run games. Based on their winning percentage in games decided by more than one run (.580), the Astros “should” have been 29-21 in one-run games. Should Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch take some of the blame for the team’s ugly record in one-run games?
These are questions baseball analysts still haven’t answered. When it comes to naming the Manager of the Year, it is much more about subjective evidence than objective evidence.
Based on pre-season projections from eight different sources (including Sports Illustrated, Fangraphs, and Baseball Prospectus), the Texas Rangers were expected to finish in last place in the AL West, with an average projection of 75 wins. The Rangers were coming off an injury-riddled 2014 season that saw them finish in the basement of their division with just 67 wins. Longtime manager Ron Washington had been fired during the season after more than seven years at the helm. Jeff Banister was hired in the off-season.
Things were ugly for the Rangers even before the season started. The team lost starting pitcher Yu Darvish and the expected starter at second base, Jurickson Profar, to injuries that would cost them the season. Darvish was a particularly costly blow. When healthy, he is one of the top starting pitchers in baseball. After roughly one month of the season, the Rangers were 8-16 and already 9 ½ games out of first place. They went 17-9 over the next few weeks and hit the .500 mark on May 30th.
The Rangers were not particularly good over June and July, going 24-27 during this stretch, and entered August with a record of 50-52. They had moved up to 3rd place but were still seven games out of first. Then came August and September, during which the Rangers went 36-20 and took over first place for good. They ended up winning the AL West by two games.
Of the three finalists for the AL Manager of the Year Award, Jeff Banister’s Rangers had the greatest improvement in wins from 2014 to 2015, at plus-21. They did this despite not having their ace, Yu Darvish, and getting a sub-par season at the plate from Adrian Beltre. Based on Steamer pre-season projections, the Rangers were expected to score 4.3 runs per game. They actually scored 4.6 runs per game, so their offense was the main driver in their improved record.
The Rangers’ run-differential predicted a final record of 83-79 but the team actually went 88-74. Their winning percentage in one-run games almost perfectly matched their winning percentage in games decided by two or more runs, so they didn’t necessarily get lucky in close games. That leaves sequencing as a likely factor for some of their success.
Even though we don’t really know for sure how much to credit a manager for a team’s success, I expect Banister will get the award this year. His team had the greatest improvement from last season and was the only team managed by one of the three finalists to win their division.
Like Banister, Hinch was a first-year manager in 2015. Hinch’s Astros were coming off a 70-92 season, which was actually a tremendous improvement from the previous year, when they were 51-111. Before that, the team had won 55 and 56 games, so they had an ugly three-year stretch from 2011 to 2013 during which they went 162-324, for a winning percentage of .333.
The Astros’ 70-win season in 2014 was a precursor of things to come but most experts didn’t think success would happen as soon as it did. The Astros were expected to win around 75 games and compete with the Rangers for fourth place in the AL West. They did compete with the Rangers this year, but it was for first place as both teams greatly exceeded expectations.
The Astros came out of the gate strong, winning 15 of their first 22 games. They took over the division lead on April 19th and continued to lead for all of May and June. A six-game losing streak in early July temporarily cost them the division lead, but they were back in first place by the end of the month. They peaked on August 31st with a record of 73-59.
September was not good to the Astros. They started they month by winning just four of their first 16 games and were caught and passed by the Rangers. They finished out September and October by going 9-5 but couldn’t catch the Rangers and had to settle for the second wild card spot.
A.J. Hinch led the Astros to 16 more wins than they had in 2014. The team scored 52 more runs than pre-season projections expected and allowed 94 fewer runs, which was a major part of their success. When it comes to their Pythagorean record, though, the Astros greatly underperformed. The team’s runs scored and runs allowed suggested they were a 93-win team rather than the 86 wins they actually had. An ugly record in one-run games was a big part of the problem. Just by being named a finalist for this award, it appears the baseball writers do not blame Hinch for the team underperforming the record their run differential would expect.
Before this season, the last time the Minnesota Twins were relevant was in 2010, when they won the AL Central with 94 wins. From 2011 to 2014, the Twins won an average of 66 games per year and never finished higher than fourth. This ugly stretch of years was enough to get longtime Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire fired after 13 seasons. The previous manager for the Twins, Tom Kelly, held the job for more than 15 years.
Paul Molitor was hired by the Twins to improve the fortunes of a team that won 70 games in 2014. The early returns are favorable, as the Twins went 83-79 in their first year under Molitor, an improvement of 13 games.
The Twins got off to a slow start, going 9-12 through their first 21 games. Then they reeled off a record of 21-7 and moved into first place by the end of May, which was shocking to everyone, probably including the good people of Minnesota. Their division lead was short-lived, though, lasting a little more than a week.
The Twins peaked with a record of 32-21 after their win on June 4th. From that point on, the Twins were 51-58, which included losing four of their last five games when they were still in the hunt for a wild card spot. In fact, much of the Twins’ success in 2015 can be attributed to one good month of May, when they were 20-7. Other than May, the Twins were 63-72. This shouldn’t take away from the overall year the Twins had, but it’s interesting to note that this great stretch of play was really the crux of their success.
Coming into the season, the Twins were projected to score 669 runs by Steamer. They ended up scoring 697 runs. Good production from some young players helped them on offense, particularly Rookie of the Year finalist Miguel Sano, along with fellow rookie Eddie Rosario. The Twins also outperformed their projected runs allowed by 19 runs. By scoring 697 runs and allowing 700, the Twins run differential pegged them as a .500 team. They actually went 83-79, slightly above .500. Their record in one-run games was 21-20, very close to .500.
Paul Molitor guided a young Twins team to the brink of a playoff spot. They were one of the most-improved teams in the American League, which is why Molitor is a finalist for this award.
Who I would vote for: Jeff Banister, Texas Rangers.