As the World Series gets under way tonight, it’s time for us to begin looking at 2015 in review. And, I’d like to start by taking a look at the managers who made the biggest difference for their respective teams. In this category, I believe there’s more room for debate in the AL than there is in the NL. No one really emerged from the pack in the AL. For this particularly award, I’ll give my top 3.
The Royals had one month in which they finished below .500 – September/October, when they finished 2 games below .500 as they cruised into the postseason because they had such a lead in their division. Yost kept this team hungry after losing in 7 games in the World Series a year ago (the other three teams to lose in that fashion since the turn of the century weren’t able to advance past the first round of the playoffs the following year). KC was easily the most consistent team in the American League from beginning to end. They didn’t always have the best record (though, they did finish with it). Other teams, like the Astros, Rangers and Blue Jays, went through considerable peaks and valleys. But, Yost kept this team focused, and prepared for making another run at a championship. Hinch’s team started out on fire – 11 games over .500 through the first two months of the season. But, they were essentially a mediocre team the rest of the way, as they saw their substantial division lead slowly leak away while they played to just an 86-76 record in the end. Still, give Hinch credit for leading a young team into the postseason. I give Bannister the nod here for bringing his team back from an abysmal start to their season. They fought and clawed their way back to a division title, going 38-21 from August 2nd on.
Each of these managers did something special this year, and unlike the AL, they each separated themselves from the pack in their own way. Let’s start with Matheny – 100 wins is very impressive. Even more so, when you consider they lost their ace for nearly the entire season, their cleanup hitter for half the year, and their All-Star catcher down the stretch. The only reason he isn’t at the top is because I’m even more impressed with what the other two have done this year. Collins managed a team that had won 79 games a year ago, and led them to 90 wins and a division title over a team that was supposed to have run away with it (Nationals). This, in spite of missing his team leader and All-Star 3B for 3/4 of the year, and his up-and-coming catcher for more than half the year. They made it through July as a 53-50 team, which was respectable considering what they had lost. But, with the return of Wright & D’Arnaud, the additions of Cespedes and Uribe, and calling up Conforto and Matz, the team took off, finishing 37-22. But, Joe Maddon deserves a ton of credit for getting the Cubs to where they were. A 24-game turnaround, compared to 2014, was the best in the majors. Now, detractors will point to all of the talent on the Cubs roster, particularly the young talent (Bryant, Schwarber, Soler, & Russell were all rookies – Castro & Rizzo were both just 25 when the season started). But, talent does not equal performance – especially when you’re talking about young talent. The only reason you know about all the young talent the Cubs have is because Maddon was able to get them to perform. Not too many were talking about Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain and Perez in 2012 – they were definitely a bunch of talented young players, but they weren’t performing at a high level yet. Bringing so many young players together, along with other new faces (Fowler, Lester, Montero, Ross, etc.), is not going to automatically work (see San Diego Padres). But, Maddon led this team to the third best record in all of baseball – 97-65.