Awards week preview (cont.)
To Be Announced: Thursday, Nov. 17
Expected Winner: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (21-5, 248 Ks, 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 4.59 K/BB, 5 CG, 2 SHO)
Deserving Winner: Kershaw
The pitching triple crown (league leads in wins, strikeouts, and ERA) has been won just 11 times since the creation of the Cy Young award in 1956, and every single time, the pitcher who won the it also won the Cy Young award. Justin Verlander will make it 12-for-12 when he picks up the AL hardware on Tuesday and it makes Kershaw the prohibitive favorite to be lucky 13 on Thursday.
There is an argument, however, that last year's winner, Roy Halladay (19-6, 220 K, 2.35 ERA), was the best pitcher in the National League again this year. Halladay's case rests on park factors and batting average on balls in play, neither of which is enough to distract from all of those bolded numbers in Kershaw's stat line. Still, both pitchers threw essentially the same number of innings (Halladay led by the smallest amount possible, 233 2/3 to 233 1/3), and it was Halladay that led the league in ERA+ (again by a sliver, 164 to Kershaw's 163). Halladay also had a league-best eight complete games, walked a league-low 1.3 men per nine innings, led the majors with a 6.29 K/BB ratio, and had less help from his defense and lucky bounces, with a .305 BABIP to Kershaw's .274, doing all of that while pitching his home games in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park as opposed to pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium.
It's a compelling argument, but not an overwhelming one, which is why you're unlikely to hear much complaint, even from Phillies fans, when Kershaw wins the award on Thursday.
Sandwiched in between the two two Cy Young announcements, two other awards will be given out next week, and while Awards Watch didn't examine the Manager of the Year races during the season, here's a breakdown of what to expect when those results are made public on Wednesday:
To Be Announced: Wednesday, Nov. 16
Expected Winner: Joe Maddon, Rays (91-71, Wild Card)
Deserving Winner: Manny Acta, Indians (80-82, 2nd place)
There have been 57 winners of the Manager of the Year award since it was created in 1983 (yes, an odd number, since there was a tie in the AL in 1996). Not counting the 1994 winners, both of whom skippered the teams with the best records in their leagues when the strike hit, or Jack McKeon in 1999, whose Reds lost a one-game playoff for the NL Wild Card, just seven winners of this award have managed teams that didn't make the playoffs.
Here's a quick look at those seven ranked by the number of wins by which their teams improved over the previous season:
33 -- Frank Robinson, Orioles, 1989
25 -- Jeff Torborg, White Sox, 1990
21 -- Larry Bowa, Phillies, 2001
21 -- Tony Peña, Royals, 2003
18 -- Buck Showalter, Rangers, 2004
13 -- Buck Rogers, Expos, 1987
minus-5 -- Girardi, Marlins, 2006
Girardi won despite the fact that Florida went from 83 wins under McKeon in '05 to 78 in '06 because the Marlins gutted their team before what proved to be Girardi's only season in Miami. They traded 2005 everyday players Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell, Luis Castillo, Paul Lo Duca, and Juan Pierre soon after hiring him, traded ace Josh Beckett to Boston in the Lowell trade (in which they acquired Hanley Ramirez) and also let A.J. Burnett, Juan Encarnacion, and closer Todd Jones leave as free agents. Girardi's win, as evidenced by his being the only manager ever to receive the award after posting a losing record, happened under very unusual circumstances.
In every other case, the manager of the year led his team to a playoff position or a double-digit improvement in wins. That limits this year's AL candidates to the four playoff managers -- the Yankees' Girardi, 2008 winner Joe Maddon of the Rays, 2006 winner Jim Leyland of the Tigers, and last year's runner-up, Ron Washington of the Rangers -- and Manny Acta, who led the Indians to an 11-win improvement.
Maddon, Leyland and Acta have the best cases. Maddon helped keep a Rays team that lost Carl Crawford, Matt Garza Carlos Peña and its entire bullpen the previous offseason competitive enough to take advantage of the Red Sox' collapse and sneak back into the playoffs. Leyland had the double-whammy of a playoff berth and a 14-win improvement. Acta, meanwhile, helped make an Indians team that was deep in rebuilding mode a contender for the first four months of the season and a first-place team as late as July 20. I favor Acta because the Indians' performance was the one that surprised me most. I expect the writers stuck with a playoff manager, most likely Maddon seeing as the votes were submitted the day after the Rays completed their dramatic comeback to claim the wild card.
To Be Announced: Wednesday, Nov. 16
Expected Winner: Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks (94-68, NL West title)
Deserving Winner: Gibson
Using the same logic as above, the NL contenders for Manager of the Year are the four playoff skippers -- Charlie Manuel of the Phillies, Ron Roenicke of the Brewers, Kirk Gibson of the Diamondbacks and Tony La Russa of the Cardinals -- and one manager of a surprise turnaround team, in this case Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, whose first Pirates improved by 15 wins and actually snuck into first place in the Central for five non-consecutive days in late July. (The Nationals improved by 11 wins from 2010 but their Opening Day manager, Jim Riggleman, quit over a contract dispute in late June while the team was a game over .500, and his permanent replacement, Davey Johnson, actually fared slightly worse, going 40-43 to finish the season.)
Manuel's rotation will get all the credit for the Phillies' success, and though the rookie Roenicke's Brewers improved by 19 wins, the credit there will also go to the team's trades that reinforced its rotation. After a dramatic swoon over the season's final two months (18-38, .321), Hurdle's Pirates finished with just 72 wins. Given that Girardi's 78 wins in 2006 were by far the least by a Manger of the Year winner who spent the entire season with his team, that swoon effectively eliminated Hurdle from the running.
Had the voters known that La Russa, a four-time winner of the award and the first-ever AL winner in 1983, was going to retire after winning a World Series championship, he might have picked up a few extra votes, but his Cardinals were supposed to be contenders coming into the season, so their late-charge for the wild card will likely only have been enough to make him the runner-up. Gibson, meanwhile, took over the Diamondbacks mid-way through the 2010 season in which Arizona finished with 97 losses, then led them to 94 wins in 2011, a 29-win improvement that resulted in an utterly unexpected division title. He's the clear winner.