The Manager of the Year Awards are ones that I truly do not care about, nor do I have a strong opinion in regards to it. It may be in part to being lazy, or it may be due to the fact that I have little to no experience playing baseball. Whatever the reason, I simply do not feel qualified to judge the performance of a manager.
That is, the easy and popular choice for the American League Award is Joe Maddon. A just argument is that Maddon was responsible for the Rays climb from worst to first. Having catchy slogans and being an interesting character certainly helps Maddon's case.
But what exactly did he do? It isn't as if Maddon 'managed' his team to being better hitters in 2008 compared to 2007, the statistics suggest both seasons were essentially identical. He did have to deal with a fair amount of injuries to deal with, so maybe he can be complimented for getting what he did out of Eric Hinske and Willy Aybar to patch up a wounded lineup.
However, Maddon also had a fair amount of underperformances. Players who simply played below their expected levels, such as Carlos Pena and BJ Upton. If Maddon is not to be punished for that, shouldn't Eric Wedge get a mulligan for Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner?
Some people may point the the improved performances from the Rays pitchers as evidence to the job that Maddon did, but is that a reflection of his management, or simply a matter of the teams defense improving? I do suppose he can be given credit for getting his pitchers to trust the players behind them, but to what degree?
Maddon successfully implemented two platoons and was patient with Jason Bartlett, so that is working in Maddon's favor.
Working against Maddon is the fact that his pinch hitters were among the worst in all of Major League baseball. Managers are often applauded for picking the right guy off the bench at the right time, but the Rays had the second worst OPS by a pinch hitter in the American League.
The question then, how have people come to the conclusion that Maddon was the American Leagues uncontested Manager of the Year? If the Rays have an identical performance in 2009, will he again win the award, or will it go to a manager that takes his team from the scrap heap to a championship?
That is, is this award a reflection of a team 'over-achieving' in the eyes of the public, or is this an award based on actual management? Are experts so certain about the specific game plans, and managerial styles that they can conclude the exact value of a manager?
Take Terry Francona for example. The Sox were expected to win. The Sox have a roster that on paper, looks like one of a winner. The Sox spend like a winner. Lo and behold, the Red Sox are winners. Can we legitimately say that Francona has less to do with the Sox winning then Maddon had with the Rays winning?
The National League holds a similar story. Lou Pinella seems to be the easy choice. But weren't the Cubs expected to win this year? Didn't many experts pick the Cubs to be the best team in the National League?
My formula for picking a Manager of the Year in each division will be to calculate how many wins per dollar spent each manager contributed. This will not be how I draw my conclusion, it will simply provide me with a couple candidates. In addition to wins per dollar, I will also look at how much a team 'overachieved' (explanation to follow) as well as considering hurdles a manager had to over come.
The chart below ranks teams based on the average price of players (courtesy CBS Sportsline). The highlighted teams (Blue = American League, Red = National League) represents the top three. The sixth column, improperly titled 'wins per million' is actually the amount of money each team spent on a win. The final column utilizes Baseball Prospectus' 3rd order standings compared to a teams actual standings.
In the American League, the top three Managers are the Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins, and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Joe Maddon from the Rays did the most with the least amount of money spent. However, this is a tricky statistic, as the Rays are a product of having a lot of very impressive youngsters. Nevertheless, putting up a victory at less the $500,000 is an impressive feat.
Ron Gardenhire and the Minnesota Twins posted the second highest amount of wins better then their third order standings suggest. The Twins also did such with the 4th lowest payroll in the American League.
While the Angels are one of the highest priced teams in the league, Mike Scocia also got the most value out of each of his teams' wins among franchises in the top 10 in payroll. What sticks out most with the Angels is that Scocia managed to grab an additional 16 wins then his team deserved according to BP's third Order Wins.
While it is impressive what Maddon did with his low payroll, it isn't as if he took a bunch of nobodies and turned them into gold. A player such as Evan Longoria is a star and while he is not being paid as such, the expectations are similarly as high. Maddon then, is my runner-up for AL Manager of the Year with Mike Scocia taking the award due to managing his team to an additional 16 wins better then expected.
The top three in the National League are Charlie Manuel from the Philadelphia Phillies, Cecil Cooper of the Houston Astros, and Fredi Gonzalez of the Florida Marlins.
The other Florida team managed to get the most wins for the least amount of money, absolutely demolishing the impressive figure the Rays posted. Unlike the Rays, the Marlins did so while exceeding their third order wins. Additionally, Gonzalez did not have the benefit of putting out a roster of extraordinarily talented youngsters.
Cecil Cooper and the Houston Astros had one of the most underrated seasons in baseball. A team, that despite being in the top half in team spending proved to be relatively efficient with the money they did spend. The biggest factor working in Cooper's favor is the fact that his team over-achieved by more then 10 wins during the 2008 season. Those 10 wins are substantial, in that they represent the difference between a team that still had a shot up until the trade deadline, and a team without a prayer.
The Phillies Charlie Manuel had similar success to Cecil Cooper. While expectations for the Phillies were higher then they were for the Astros, Manuel provided decent punch compared to the dollars spent. His 5.2 wins above third order standings also help his case.
However, they do not help his case to be the winner, nor the runner up. Those votes will go to Fredi Gonzalez and Cecil Cooper respectively. Gonzalez just did too much with too little to ignore.
While popular opinion has it that Maddon and Pinella are the best managers in their respective leagues, popular opinion does not have a fancy chart.