The three finalists for the NL Manager of the Year Award include the managers of two division winners and a wild card entry. St. Louis Cardinals’ Mike Matheny piloted the team with the best record in baseball, while the Cubs’ Joe Maddon was at the helm of the team with the third-best record in the game. The Mets’ Terry Collins led the team to the division title over a heavily favored Washington Nationals squad. Here are the numbers for each of the three finalists:
Coming in to the 2015 season, Terry Collins had been at the helm of the New York Mets during the four previous mediocre seasons. In his first four years with the team, Collins guided the Mets to 77, 74, 74, and 79 wins. With a strong group of young pitchers ready to contribute this year, the Mets were projected for an average of 81 wins in the preseason, but not given much of a chance to beat out the Washington Nationals for the NL East title.
The Mets got off to a good start, going 15-8 in April, but wallowed in a muck of mediocrity through May, June, and July, as they went 38-42 over those three months. At the July 31 trade deadline, the Mets were in second place, two games behind the Nationals. After an earlier trade for outfielder Carlos Gomez fell through, the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers.
The arrival of Cespedes changed everything. The Mets had been one of the worst-hitting teams in baseball prior to Cespedes’ arrival, but they immediately started to hit. Cespedes hit .311/.349/.592 in his first 23 games with the team, while scoring 18 runs, hitting 7 homers, and driving in 21. The Mets went 20-8 in August and 16-11 in September. They finished seven games ahead of the Nationals and secured the second seed in the NL playoffs. It was the first time the Mets made the postseason since 2006.
Most experts did not expect the Mets to compete with the Nationals for the NL East title, let alone win the division by seven games. The Mets were expected to be a .500 team. Instead, they won nine more games than their average preseason projection and 11 more games than they won in 2014. Based on their runs scored and allowed, the Mets had an expected record of 89-73, so the team finished one game better than their run differential predicted.
With a terrific farm system starting to produce major league caliber players, the Cubs went out and hired Joe Maddon to guide the team before this season. Maddon had previously done good work as the manager of the low-budget Tampa Bay Rays, but was given an opportunity to work for a team that could spend some money when he joined the Cubs. With the Rays, Maddon was twice named AL Manager of the Year, including the 2008 season when the Rays made it to the World Series.
As good as their minor league prospects were, the Cubs weren’t expected to do what they did 2015. This was a team that had slowly improved from 61 to 66 to 73 wins in the three previous seasons. Preseason expectations were for about 83 wins from the Cubs, which was good enough to be in the mix for the wild card, but not a sure-fire playoff team.
The Cubs were an above average team over the first four months of the season. Heading into August, they were in third place in the NL Central with a record of 55-47. The streaking Cardinals were 10 ½ games up on the Cubs in the division, but the Cubs were in the mix for one of the wild card spots.
From August 1st through the end of the season, the Cubs had the second best record in baseball, with only the Toronto Blue Jays being better. The Cubs went 41-18 down the stretch. They couldn’t catch the Cardinals for the division title, or the Pirates for the first wild card, but easily secured the second wild card and improved on their win total from 2014 by a whopping 24 games. That 24-game improvement from 2014 to 2015 is the best for any of the six Manager of the Year Award candidates.
Not only did Joe Maddon guide the Cubs to a 24-game improvement over last year, he also led the team to seven more wins than their run differential would suggest. Based on their runs scored and allowed, the Cubs were a 90-win team. They won 97 games. This +7 difference was tops for any of the finalists for this award.
Unlike Collins and Maddon, Mike Matheny took over as manager of a team that had been successful for many years. The year before Matheny became manager of the Cardinals, they won the World Series under longtime manager Tony La Russa. In Matheny’s first three years as manager, the Cardinals twice lost the National League Championship series and once lost the World Series. They averaged almost 92 wins in those seasons and Matheny finished 5th, 4th, and 4th in the Manager of the Year Award voting.
This year, the Cardinals were again expected to win the NL Central with a predicted win-loss record of 89-73. They greatly exceeded expectations by winning 100 games, the most in baseball.
The Cardinals started the year by winning 20 of their first 26 games and had a 6 ½ game lead in the NL Central by early May. They never relinquished their first place standing at any point for the remainder of the season. They were 56-33 in the first half and 44-29 in the second half and had a winning record in every month except the three regular season games they played in October, when they were 0-3.
The Cardinals increased their win total by 10 from last season and exceeded their projected win total by 11. They also won four more games than their run differential would expect. The key to the team’s success was a pitching staff that allowed 81 fewer runs than projected by Steamer prior to the season.
Mike Matheny seems to get overlooked because he took over a team that was already good. Still, the Cardinals won more games than any other team in baseball, so Matheny should get some credit for that.
Who I would vote for: I would vote for Joe Maddon. His team had the greatest improvement from last season, the biggest increase in wins compared to their preseason projection, and the most wins above what their run differential would expect. Maddon did a great job of using good, young players in situations that would help them succeed.