World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three

Is there a bias against big market teams in Manager of the Year voting?

42 Comments

I couldn’t even begin to tell you whether Terry Francona was a more deserving Manager of the Year candidate than John Farrell. No one has ever explained to me some basis for comparing managers that makes choosing that award anything close to a clear or objective process. There are far more moving parts to a team’s success than there are to an individual player’s success and we struggle with picking MVPs and Cy Youngs as it is. Applying some rational basis, let alone statistical basis, to the award is probably beyond our abilities.

And, perhaps because of that, the Manager of the Year Award is way, way, way more narrative-laden than any award. Tell a compelling story and that guy is probably going to win it. Tell me: how much of Clint Hurdle winning it last night had to do with the Pirates losing for 20 straight years as opposed to simply what happened in 2013? I’d say a fair amount. Of course Clint Hurdle wasn’t around for most of that losing and factors which had the Pirates losing in, say, 1996, 1999 and 2004 had zero effect on what the Pirates did in 2013. None of which is to say that Clint Hurdle wasn’t the best manager in the NL in 2013 — I’d probably vote for him because, well, why not? — but he gets credit for stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with him because, well, it’s a good story.

Some folks in Boston aren’t really happy with the story that won Terry Francona the Manager of the Year Award over John Farrell. John Tomase of the Boston Herald is one. He argues that there’s a bias against big market/big payroll teams like the Red Sox when it comes to the Manager of the Year Award, with voters discounting the job guys like Farrell do because they have an expensive roster and are thus, somehow, expected to win.

I think there’s probably some truth to that. Looking at recent Managers of the Year and they tend to come from teams with lower payrolls and in smaller markets and in situations where they weren’t expected to do much. Surprise teams are often favored. People like those stories.

Maybe that’s a little unfair to guys like Farrell, but Tomase’s competing narrative — one that favors Farrell — is a lot less compelling to me:

He also had to win in an environment far harsher than Cleveland’s. While the Indians played to a largely empty park in relative anonymity, Farrell had his every move analyzed, dissected and eviscerated on two all-sports radio stations and two sports-only TV networks, with one of the league’s largest traveling media contingents chronicling his every move … The Boston market presented its own unique challenges. Clay Buchholz’ use of suntan lotion started a firestorm. A team that never lost more than three straight the entire season nonetheless had the panic-mongers fully frothed after a 5-9 stretch in mid-August.

In other words: Farrell’s job was tougher because, we, the fierce Boston media made it tougher for him. How impressive that he dealt with our unrelenting coverage and criticism.

I don’t suppose that’s nothing either — it is a stressful job — but I bet if you asked any manager if he’d rather deal with an annoying press corps or a meager payroll, he’d pick the annoying press corps seven days a week and twice on Sundays. Also: while media narratives are inevitable when it comes to the Manager of the Year award, how rich is it that the chosen media narrative here makes the media itself such an important part of the story?

Gonna go out on a limb here and say that John Farrell almost certainly spent ten times more thinking about the next day’s lineup and who in the bullpen needed rest than he did whether someone from the Globe, Herald or some sports talk station was going to ask him about the goop on Clay Buchholz’s arm. And that, whatever we can say about the difficulty of handing out the Manager of the Year award, we can say that there’s a lot more to it than “the role the media played.”

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
10 Comments

Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
24 Comments

ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: