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How to win the Manager of the Year Award: prove the pundits wrong

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I wrote this when Bud Black won the Manager of the Year Award in 2010, and Aaron touched on some of the same themes earlier today. I think it remains the most that can be said about the Manager of the Year Award:

As I’ve said in the past, no one has ever set forth a good measurement for what makes a Manager of the Year, so it usually ends up with a “who did the most with the least” analysis.  Bud Black likely won on that basis.  But really, it was probably more of a perceived least — perceived by the voters — than an actual least. Everyone picked the Padres to finish in last place this year.  They didn’t, and a lot of it had to do with a roster that turned out to be better than a lot of people expected.  Should Black be rewarded because of the so-called experts’ low expectations? In practice he was, but I’m not sure it should always work that way. If the expectations were a bit different, we could easily portray the Padres’ season as one that was great but got derailed by an ugly ten-game losing streak late in the year which ended up costing them the division.  Has a manager whose team fit that description ever won Manager of the Year before?

None of which is to slight Black.  He did do a fine job, and is by all accounts a fine manager.  But I can’t help but think that the Manager of the Year Award, generically speaking, tells us a lot more about the writers who vote on it than the managers themselves.

Still feels that way.  I’ll give a little more credit to Buck Showalter’s case because I tend to think that managers have more control over bullpen management than anything else and the clear strength of the Orioles throughout the year was both the deployment of and the performance by their bullpen. But really, Showalter could have managed the hell out of that pen just like he did and the O’s could have missed the playoffs or even not contended after July if there were a couple of key injuries and bad bounces and we’d probably not be talking about him as a favorite.

All of the guys who are finalists for Manager of the Year had fine years and did little if anything to hurt their team. Which, one only need look around a bit to see, may be just as important as bullpen management. But there’s no escaping the fact that several of the candidates for Manager of the Year — Showalter, Davey Johnson and Bob Melvin most notably — have to thank low pre-season expectations for their candidacy just as much as anything measurable — and that’s the key point I’m trying to make here, the dearth of measurable things — we can point to for their status as finalists.

Most us didn’t think the O’s or A’s would escape the cellar.  Most of us expected the Nats to be plucky, but thought of them as a 2013 or 2014 contender, not the choice to have baseball’s best record in 2012.  That, more than anything else, is why those guys are really in the conversation and, I believe anyway, two of those three guys will win the Manager of the Year Award tonight.

Video: Minor leaguer dives over the wall to rob a home run

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Meanwhile, in Tulsa, Zach Welz of the visiting Arkansas Travelers made a spectacular catch. It was the catch Torii Hunter tried to make on that famous David Ortiz homer in the playoffs a few years back except Welz made it.

Watch as he topples over the wall to come up with the would-be dinger off the bat of Tulsa Drillers first baseman Cody Bellinger:

MLB, MLBPA move to help baseball in Puerto Rico. After hurting baseball in Puerto Rico.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30:  A Puerto Rican flag flies from a building a day after the speech Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave regarding the government's $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Yesterday Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union announced that they will play games in Puerto Rico as part of a plan to develop and support baseball on the island. They likewise pledged $5 million for the creation of development programs in Puerto Rico and plan to stage special events there.

The press release about this made mention of Puerto Rico’s undeniably outstanding baseball tradition. What it did not mention is that, in the view of many, Major League Baseball itself harmed that tradition significantly when it decided to subject Puerto Rican players to the draft in 1990. A move that the MLBPA signed off on too, of course. Indeed, there’s a pretty strong argument that, if it were not for MLB and the MLBPA’s own acts, there would be no need to “develop and support” baseball in Puerto Rico like this at all.

An exploration of this can be read in this 2012 article from The New York Times. The article (and many, many others like it which have been written over the years) notes the sharp decline of Puerto Rico’s professional and amateur baseball leagues and observes that the once steady flow of players making their way from the island to the major leagues being reduced to a trickle.* (see update below) Why?

No one here disputes the diminished stature of baseball in Puerto Rico, and most agree on the culprit: Major League Baseball’s decision, in 1990, to include Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, in its first-year player draft. This means Puerto Rican players must wait until they have completed high school to sign a professional contract, and then they are going up against players from the United States and Canada in the draft.

Perhaps more important, major league teams have less incentive to cultivate talent in Puerto Rico because those players may end up with another team through the draft.

Sandy Alderson is quoted in that article dismissing the notion that the draft was to blame, but even his dodge is couched in basic economic incentives. He claims that, hey, there is stuff that is more financially lucrative for people to do in Puerto Rico than play baseball now. Well, sure. I’d just like him to explain how radically reducing the amount of money a kid can get from playing baseball due to taking away his right to sign with the highest bidder and by utterly killing the incentives for clubs to invest in developing players doesn’t enter into that calculus. Alderson doesn’t explain that one.

No matter what Major League Baseball might say on the record about all of this now, the fact remains that no one spent the past 26 years building academies in Puerto Rico like they have in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. No one has an incentive to turn a 12-year-old with promise into a 16-year-old prospect like they do in those countries because there is no longer any way for a teenager to sign for life-changing money like they can elsewhere. The draft has saved Major League Baseball hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to Puerto Rican players over the past 26 years and it has reduced the number of prospects who may push high-salaried MLBPA members out of work, but has done tremendous damage to the baseball tradition to which Major League Baseball and the MLBPA now pay lip service.

I’m glad that MLB and the MLBPA are doing something about baseball in Puerto Rico. But $5 million over the course of four or five years, which is what this plan involves, a couple of games (if they’re even played), doesn’t even represent a fraction of the damage that the league and the union inflicted when they imposed the draft.

UPDATE: A couple of people who know a hell of a lot about this stuff have pushed back against my post on Twitter:

Marcano has written a book about the excesses and abuses involved in the development of baseball talent in Latin America. He is 100% right about this and, to the extent my writing above made it sound like I was endorsing the model in place in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic on its own terms, I want to be clear that I am not. There is a lot of bad stuff that goes on there and for every kids signing a million dollar bonus, there are hundreds who find themselves at a professional dead end or far, far worse.

That said: Major League Baseball has no problem exploiting that system in those countries and its move to impose the draft in Puerto Rico was not born of some principled stand against those excesses. It was to be a foothold for an international draft which is primarily about cost savings. It would be quite possible to have a system in place that both (a) protects kids from abuses; but (b) provides the sorts of financial incentives to make baseball a worthwhile pursuit for those with the talent to play it.

Also:

Cooper, the managing editor of Baseball America, so he knows of what he speaks, notes that from 1987-1990, before the draft was imposed, 19 Puerto Ricans made their Major League debut. From 2000-03, 23 made their debuts. From 2013-16, 22 made their debuts.

That certainly blows my above comment about “reducing the flow of players to the majors to a trickle” out of the water. That said, Major League Baseball’s move yesterday was not just about the pipeline to the majors. It’s about baseball overall in Puerto Rico. Those numbers reflecting that the top eschelon of talent is still making it to the majors are undeniable, but the Times article from 2012 talks about the erosion of amateur leagues, Puerto Rico’s diminished standing in international tournaments and the reduction in size of the Puerto Rican winter league.

So, OK, I’ll walk back my comments about just how much the imposition of the draft in 1990 damaged baseball in Puerto Rico, but I maintain that it’s hard to argue that it did not do some damage.