Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bud Black is NL Manager of the Year

The BBA held it's post-season awards voting during the playoffs, and awarded Bud Black their Connie Mack Award as the best NL Manager in 2010.  Yesterday the BBWAA followed suit, naming Black the NL Manager of the Year.

As a baseball observer and Padre partisan, I felt this selection was self-evident.  Black took a team that lost 87 games the previous season and moved them within a game of the playoffs, finishing with a 90-72 record.  The BBWAA didn't think he had a slam-dunk case based on the voting.  I had not considered Dusty Baker as a viable candidate - I expected Bruce Bochy and Bobby Cox to get significant support - but Baker presided over a turnaround almost as big as San Diego's (Cincinnati lost 84 games in 2009 and finished this season 91-71).

Maybe that's because I could never decide if Cincinnati's division championship was a product of their superior play, or St Louis' collapse after 11 August.

At any rate, in the hour before the winners were announced I got into an interesting interchange with a Giants fan on Twitter (SFGiantsUSA) about who deserved to win.  First, it was nice to have a reasonable exchange with a Giants fan for once.  His argument against Black centered around their performance after 25 August, when the 10-game losing streak started.  My counter was Bochy had less to do with the Giants success last season than Brian Sabean did.  We argued according to form, perhaps.

But those positions weren't why it was interesting.  He asked if Black's perceived success was based on how the Padres were evaluated before the season started, and so why should he get credit because the prognosticators mis-evaluated the Padres (and how strong their pitching was)?

He makes a fair point.  Most every Manager of the Year award goes to a guy who is perceived to have gotten his team to over-achieve  Who sets the baseline from which that over-achievement is evaluated? The BBWAA, ESPN experts, experts, bloggers, and so on.  Manager of the Year should go to the man who performed the best regardless of how his team was expected to play.  I had not considered that position until he mentioned.

If we discount where everyone thought the Padres would finish (and I think universally they were picked to finish no higher than 4th in the NL West), does Black still deserve the award?  I think so, because of the overall talent level he had to work with.  Consider:
  • NL teams averaged 4.33 runs per game.  San Diego came in at 4.10.  Four teams were worse:  New York (4.05), Washington (4.04), Houston (3.77), Pittsburgh (3.62).  None of those 4 teams finished above .500 (NY was the closest at 79-83)
  • San Diego's raw OPS was third worst in the league.  Their park adjusted OPS+ was more middle of the pack, but still below the league average.  Concurrently, their team wOBA was also thirdworst.
  • All the above makes sense if you looked at their lineups over the 2010 season.  The only guy in the lineup that scared teams day-to-day was Adrian Gonzalez. Miguel Tejada did help after the trade deadline, but still - this was a below average lineup.
San Diego's pitching was superior, especially their bullpen, which made up for the lack of hitting all season.  Bud Black did a great job juggling his starting staff (specifically Mat Latos, Wade LeBlanc, Kevin Correia, Chris Young) and aggressively turning over the games to his airtight bullpen.

And his starting staff had holes in it.  Kevin Correia never really recovered from the untimely death of his brother.  Chris Young started the third game of the season, then didn't pitch again until September.  Mat Latos took a 'injury' related 15 days off in July.  Wade LeBlanc was effective, then not effective, holding down the #5 job. Jon Garland had a great year statistically but was maddingly erratic for stretches late in the season.

Other teams had issues, sure.  SF's lineup had no power in it for the first half of the season.  St Louis lost 40% of its rotation in a week and never fully recovered.  Philadelphia played 14 total regular season games with their Opening Day lineup.  But all those teams had much more margin for error, either because the rest of their roster was talented enough to survive the damage (STL, PHI), or they had the resources to make wholesale changes to their roster (SF, PHI).  No other team spent the season with the razor thin margin between success and failure Padres did, and the fact they stayed on the success side of that edge the virtually all season (and returned to it after falling off it in late August) is entirely due to Bud Black.

So no, I don't think pre-season expectations should drive who wins. But I think who did the most with the talent they had should, and Bud Black clearly did.  Congratulations Bud Black.

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