Before the season, the goal of any club is to make the post-season. Then, of course, the goal is to move up the ladder, and hopefully be that last team standing. But the Manager of the Year award is given based on the regular season.
With the honor being based on the attrition of a 162-game grind, three managers have come to the forefront as finalists in the National League: Davey Johnson of the upstart Washington Nationals, Dusty Baker of the Cincinnati Reds and, finally, Bruce Bochy who led the San Francisco Giants to a second World Series title in the past three seasons.
Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals
Several weeks ago, Johnson took The Sporting News Manager of the Year honor. He is most certainly a strong candidate to win the Major League Manager of the Year Award, which is voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
With the old-school, play with swagger, give me your best effort Johnson at the helm, the Nationals took care of business, winning 98 regular season wins to lead all Major League teams.
How difficult was it for Johnson? Well, the club was expected to cause some problems in the National League East, and possibly even contend for a playoff spot. The club had a kid by the name of Bryce Harper who would be making his name known as a brash, old-school, five-tool rookie. The club had to deal with serious injury issues to key players: outfielders Michael Morse and Jayson Werth suffered injuries, with Werth’s keeping him on the bench for three months. Catcher Wilson Ramos went out with a season-ending injury. Closer Drew Storen went down in spring training and ended up pitching only 30.1 innings in 2012, as opposed to 75.1 in 2011. He had only four saves, as opposed to 43 in the 2011 campaign.
While the above listed difficulties hit any manager who is in the game long enough, Johnson also had to work around the gentle handling of starter, phenom and possible superstar pitcher Stephen Strasburg. It seemed from the time General Manager/Executive Vice President Mike Rizzo’s timetable to shut down the big right-hander was first mentioned until the post-season that Johnson had to spend time explaining or discussing the situation. I am not saying it was the wrong decision. I am saying that it can take a lot out of a manager to have to handle the constant queries and criticism of such a situation. Johnson was able to deal with the situation and, in the meantime, able to put Gio Gonzalez in the position of possibly winning the Cy Young Award.
In the end, Johnson had used his strength of personality and baseball knowledge to lead a young, up-and-coming team to the best record in baseball. A team that was thought to possibly be a spoiler, or at best to back into a playoff spot, gave us a year full of energy, excitement, and excellence.
Dusty Baker, Cincinnati Reds
Baker’s Reds won their second Central Division title in the past three seasons with a record of 97-65, finishing just one game behind the Nationals for the best record in baseball. Cincy was rated ninth in the senior circuit in runs scored, and ranked last among all post-season NL competitors in that category.
How did the Reds do it? The old-fashioned way: Cincy was second in the league in fielding percentage and third in the league in earned-run average, along with a league-best 56 saves. Somehow, Baker managed to keep the team cool after the loss of their best hitter, Gold Glove-winner Joey Votto in mid-July. Votto would come back before the end of the year, and play in 111 games, but would only total 14 home runs in the middle of the Reds’ lineup.
With Votto out of the lineup, the Reds would stretch their division lead, and ultimately topped St. Louis by nine games.
To top it off, Baker had personal health issues. Along with an irregular heartbeat, he suffered a mini-stroke in September. He missed the Reds’ division-clinching party, but was back at the helm for the final series of the season as well as the NLDS against San Francisco.
Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants
Brian Wilson out for the season after pitching only two innings. Melky Cabrera playing in only 113 games, missing the end of the season after testing positive for testosterone. Tim Lincecum, the owner of two Cy Young Awards, struggling to a league-leading 15 losses. The Dodgers throwing out money like candy to get players.
All that adds up to “wait ‘til next year,” right? Maybe for some teams, maybe for some managers. But not for the San Francisco Giants and Bruce Bochy.
Bochy managed to take a lineup that hit a league-low 103 home runs and finish sixth in the National League in runs scored, the ultimate goal of offense in baseball. Playing “small ball” and moving runners, the Giants had 118 stolen bases, fourth in the league, and a circuit-high total of 61 sacrifice flies. The Giants used a “never say die” offense that battled each at bat on their way to ninety-four wins.
As for pitching, Bochy managed his pen effectively, and the Giants had the second-highest total of save in the NL, with 53. In all, six pitchers contributed saves, with Santiago Castilla leading the way with 25. As for starting pitching, Barry Zito picked up for Lincecum, posting a 15-8 record after having struggled the past five seasons.
Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson
Runner-up: Bruce Bochy
Third place: Dusty Baker
Wayne Tyson was a high school and community college baseball coach for 26 years including six years at Florida Air Academy. His FAA team won the Florida Class 3A State Championship in 1998 and was runner-up in 1999, when the team included freshman Prince Fielder. Wayne currently writes for Cowbell Clankers, the Aerys Sports home of the Tampa Bay Rays, and the “Ask the Coach” feature here on Around the Horn.