The three finalists for the National League Manager of the year award were Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals, Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs, and Terry Collins of the New York Mets. The winner was announced on the MLB Network earlier this evening with Joe Maddon winning the award and Mike Matheny coming in second place. In something of a surprise, Terry Collins, who met the typical manager of the year criteria of guiding a surprising team to the playoffs, finished third behind the NL Central rivals.
Manager of the Year is a very difficult award to gauge. Most of the credit and blame for a team's success lies with the players. Bruce Bochy is generally regarded as a very good manager, and he might well have done a very good job this season, but his team did not succeed as it had in the past so he was not a finalist. Joe Maddon already has a good reputation from his days managing a low-budget team in Tampa, and he took a very young team that many thought was a year away from contention to 97 wins and a playoff berth.
Mike Matheny has his faults and strengths. Some would argue that his in-game tactics leave something to be desired, and that he ran his starters ragged during the season so that they had nothing left by the end. On the other hand, his players respect him and they play hard. This is what makes gauging a manager so difficult. Matheny had his supporters this season when it came time to vote after guiding an injury-plagued team to 100 wins.
Joe Maddon wins NL Manager of the Year beating out Mike Matheny & Terry Collins. Matheny had 9 first place votes— KMOXSports (@KMOXSports) November 17, 2015
One of those nine first-place votes came from Jonah Keri, formerly of Grantland and now with ESPN. He explained some of his reasoning in today's piece on manager of the year, including use of the term #mathenaging coined by Ben Humphrey.
There's a larger debate to be had here about what exactly the biggest role of a manager is: making the right moves during a game, or getting the most out of his players through other means. Is Matheny a boob for, say, religiously saving lights-out closer Trevor Rosenthal for save situations, given how much more valuable a top pitcher becomes in a tie game with runners on as compared to ahead three runs entering the ninth with the bases empty? Or is he playing the long game to perfection, given Matheny's own admission that he uses Rosenthal that way in large part to help the closer rack up as many saves as possible and thus earn more money -- which could also foster fierce loyalty and higher workplace satisfaction from a key player?
Keri admits these questions do not have easy answers, and evaluating performance can be very difficult. Matt Williams won this very award two years ago and is now out of a job. Whether Matheny deserved manager of the year over Maddon is really difficult to decipher. I think heading into the season, Maddon was faced with a much more difficult job, and given how frustrating watching the in-game aspect of Matheny's job as well as the way he rode his players for regular season success perhaps at the expense of the postseason, I think the voters made the right call.