MLB Awards: Here's how we arrived at our 2017 NL Manager of the Year ballot
Editor’s note: Torey Lovullo wason Tuesday. CBS Sports baseball writer Matt Snyder was awarded a BBWAA vote and explained his ballot, which was submitted on Oct. 2, before the start of the postseason.
As a member of the BBWAA Cincinnati chapter, I received a vote for a regular season award in 2017. Last year, I had NL Cy Young () and this time around it’s NL Manager of the Year.
Now, the Manager of the Year award, in my view, requires a lot less intense work, but this doesn’t mean we take it any less seriously. The awards voting is a very serious task.
The first thing we need to discuss is that this is a regular-season award. Not only does this mean we shouldn’t take the postseason into consideration, we can’t. It’s impossible, because the ballot is due before the first pitch of the NL Wild Card Game. When we turn these in, we have no idea what will transpire over the course of the next month. I’m actually writing this on Oct. 2. For all I know, the next World Series champion is the Minnesota Twins. I doubt it, but I’m just pointing out that we don’t know upon voting what is going to happen.
The regular season is complete before I work on the ballot, though, and here are the managers I’m considering for my three spots.
Let’s run through each of the candidates and see if I can’t talk myself into an order here as I go. We’ll go in order of playoff standing and then win totals for the non-playoff managers.
Dave Roberts, Dodgers
Roberts won NL Manager of the Year in 2016, his first as the boss of the Dodgers. Should that prevent him from winning again in 2017? I’m a no on that one. If a guy did the best job, he did the best job.
The Dodgers led the NL with 104 wins, a 13-win improvement from 2016. They dealt with injuries, as only two position players appeared in more than 140 games (Yasiel Puig with 152 and Corey Seager with 145) and no starting pitcher took the ball more than 27 times (Clayton Kershaw’s 27 starts were the most).
Roberts did have an incredibly talented and deep roster and this was the team’s fifth straight NL West title. The payroll is also sky high, tops in the majors by a wide margin. Roberts isn’t exactly steering the 2017 Padres to new heights here.
The Dodgers were on pace for a historic season, sitting 91-36 at one point. Of course, they then lost 16 of their next 17 games. They lost a franchise-record 11 games in a row.
Do I really want to give a Manager of the Year vote to a guy who helmed the worst losing streak in Dodgers history?
Dusty Baker, Nationals
The Nationals won 97 games, despite losing Adam Eaton for the season after 23 games and seeing the following players miss chunks of time:
The Nationals still have tons of talent and the rest of the NL East was pretty bad. They were 47-29 in division and 50-36 outside it, though, which isn’t really a huge discrepancy. The latter is a 162-game pace of 94 wins.
Dusty’s in the mix here, even if I so often hate his lineups. I’ll just simply say this on that front: Wilmer Difo hit second 37 times. Werth did so 32 times. Anthony Rendon hit sixth 73 times. Daniel Murphy hit fifth 65 times. Clean it up, Dusty!
Joe Maddon, Cubs
After winning the award in 2015 and then the World Series in 2016, Maddon’s Cubs were mediocre in the first half of 2017. They sputtered into the All-Star break at 43-45, trailing the Brewers by 5 1/2 games in the NL Central. After the break, the Cubs went 49-25, which was the best record in the NL by four whole games.
The World Series hangover definitely seemed real and the Cubs did battle through some key injuries. Underperformance in several areas was an issue and the bullpen completely fell apart down the stretch.
I do think Maddon’s undying loyalty to players like Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist started to become a problem this season and we can’t be sure if the Kyle Schwarber-as-leadoff-man project had a hand in his awful first half, but it was a failure. Throughout the season, I was thinking Maddon had a bad year in how he dealt with his position players. He’s definitely not going to crack my top three here. He did a fine job, is still a very good manager and I have to consider him a candidate based on the division title and excellent second half, but I don’t think he did a top-three job in the NL this season.
Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks
The 2016 Diamondbacks were 69-93 and had an NL-worst 5.09 ERA. They were 10th in the NL in on-base percentage. They had a negative-138 run differential.
The front office was gutted and Chip Hale was fired from his managerial post.
Lovullo took over and had a few different players — albeit not a drastically different cast — and went 93-69. The finished second in the NL with a 3.66 ERA, moved up to seventh in OBP and posted a plus-153 run differential (second in the NL to the Dodgers).
Lovullo can’t get credit for all of this, of course, but he had a hand in it.
The ballclub clearly needed a new voice in the clubhouse and he provided it. Note the significant change in ERA and some of that was a renewed approach to run prevention on the defensive end. The D-Backs excelled at baserunning as well. They collectively took 113 more walks this season than last at the plate. The pitching staff walked 87 fewer hitters than last season.
Get this: Even in a heightened offensive season and with the D-Backs having some great pitching staffs in history, the 659 runs allowed this season was the lowest figure in franchise history.
This was Lovullo’s first-ever managerial job and he completely transformed the fundamentals of the team. There was bound to be some improvement from the 2016 debacle with a good bit of talent here, but Lovullo kicked it into overdrive. He did a masterful job.
(Can you tell where my No. 1 vote is going yet?)
Bud Black, Rockies
Black took over a Rockies team that won 75 games in 2016 but looked ready to contend in 2017 (). In his first year with the club, they did indeed break through and contend, winning 87 games and taking the second NL wild-card spot.
The surprising matter, in terms of ballpark-adjusted stats, was that the Rockies were actually better at pitching (111 ERA+) than hitting (91 OPS+). They did so on the backs of some young starting pitchers like Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela and, of course, Jon Gray.
I’m having a little trouble here with the 35-36 second half, I’ll admit. I’m also just not blown away by Black’s managerial skills on a day-to-day basis. He did a very good job here and deserves kudos but I’m not sure a handful of other candidates out there couldn’t have also gotten a 12-game improvement from this group. We’re putting him in the mix here, but I’m not sure he’ll crack my top three.
Craig Counsell, Brewers
The Brewers didn’t make the playoffs and ended up blowing a 5 1/2 game NL Central lead from the All-Star break, but few teams in the NL had a more successful regular season than the Brewers, compared to expectations.
After a 73-89 2016 season, Counsell’s Brewers won 86 games and were right with the defending champs until the second-to-last week of the season. They only finished one game out of a playoff spot, too.
This was a team many figured to finish fourth or fifth in the NL Central and far out of a playoff spot. They entered the season still believed to be in rebuild mode. They ended up finishing 10th in the NL in runs scored, 11th in average, 10th in OBP, ninth in slugging, fifth in ERA and yet, they were right there battling for a playoff spot in the last week.
Counsell got everything he could out of a group that looked rag-tag to start the year. Previous no-names — at least among casual fans — like Domingo Santana, Travis Shaw, Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar were very productive at the plate. Chase Anderson rounded into ace-like form while Jimmy Nelson, Zach Davies and Brent Suter were very good behind him in the rotation. Corey Knebel became one of baseball’s best closers.
Obviously, much of this is on the players, but Counsell put his guys in a position to succeed throughout the season.
The Brewers had just a 36-35 second-half record, but I don’t think that would be viewed as a negative with this level of talent unless they raised the bar so high in the first half. This was a season that defied expectations in a big way and fast-forwarded the rebuilding project. Counsell deserves lots of credit here and he’s going to get it on my ballot.
Andy Green, Padres
OK, so this guy isn’t going to get any run here at all. The Padres won just 71 games and it was only a three-game improvement over 2016. But, man, Green is dealing with a stripped down roster here. Only the Brewers (another point for Counsell) opened with Matt Kemp, James Shields and Melvin Upton Jr. The remaining players were actually making less than $40 million when the season opened. The lowest opening payroll in the bigs was the Brewers and they were over $60 million.. That comes with a stipulation, too, because most of the Padres’ player salary dollars were tied to former players like
Point blank, nearly everyone thought the Padres would be the worst team in baseball by far, and they ended up seven games better than the Giants in the NL West. Five teams in baseball finished with fewer wins than the Padres. They weren’t good, but they weren’t nearly as bad as they should have been. Give Green credit for getting everything he could out of his guys.
As I worked through this, it became obvious that I overall thought Lovullo was an easy first choice and Counsell was easy for second. Then I had Roberts, Black and Baker in similar shape before Green and Maddon. I can see arguments for Black for sure, but I had to give Roberts some love for the 104 wins despite so few players staying 100 percent all season. The sequencing of the 91-36 before losing so many — including a franchise-record losing streak — doesn’t impact me nearly as much as the full body of work.
If I had to keep going, I’d go Black four, Baker five (fair or not, I can’t get past his terrible lineup construction) and Green six. Alas, the ballot has three ranked spots and that is my final submission to the BBWAA on Oct. 2.
Feel free to yell at me or tell me how awesome my picks were at @MattSnyderCBS on Twitter.
Hopefully I’ll be back next year with an award to go through the process again.