The advanced analytics movement that has swept over baseball, refining and altering perceptions of what makes hitters and pitches great, has nonetheless done little to aid in evaluating what makes a manager effective on an annual basis. As such, voters for the 2017 manager of the year awards relied on a time-honored criterion: which manager presided over the biggest year-over-year improvement.
Torey Lovullo of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Paul Molitor of the Minnesota Twins were the runaway winners in the National League and American League, respectively, after guiding both franchises to the 2017 postseason one year after they had lost a combined 196 games.
In the NL, Lovullo, a first-year manager, received 18 of a possible 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, becoming the third rookie manager to win the NL award in the past four years, joining Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers last year and Matt Williams of the Washington Nationals in 2014.
Hired by Arizona following a 69-93 season under Chip Hale in 2016, Lovullo led the team to a 93-69 record and the first NL wild card in his first season on the bench.
“The players going out and performing at the level they do — that’s why I’m sitting here today,” Lovullo said at a news conference in Phoenix. “. . . With me being here right now . . . as the award winner means we had a good year, and I’m very, very proud of that.”
Roberts, who led the Dodgers to the majors’ best record (104-58) this season, received five first-place votes and was runner-up, while Colorado’s Bud Black received three first-place votes and finished third.
Among the other managers who received first-place votes was Dusty Baker of the Washington Nationals, who received one and finished fifth in the voting. Baker, who also received six second-place votes and two thirds, was dismissed by the Nationals a little more than a week after they were eliminated in the National League Division Series.
In the AL, Molitor also received 18 of a possible 30 first-place votes, with Cleveland’s Terry Francona receiving 11 first-place votes and finishing second. Houston’s A.J. Hinch received the only other first-place vote and finished third. All balloting was completed before the start of the postseason.
A Hall of Fame player during a 21-year career with Milwaukee, Toronto and Minnesota, Molitor became just the second Cooperstown inductee to win manager of the year honors, joining Frank Robinson, who won AL honors as the Baltimore Orioles’ manager in 1989.
In his third year guiding the Twins, Molitor oversaw a stunning turnaround from 59-103 in 2016 to 85-77 and the second AL wild-card berth in 2017. The Twins used a staggering 36 pitchers in 2017 and traded away closer Brandon Kintzler and starter Jaime Garcia at the trade deadline, after arriving at the end of July three games under .500.
“An award like this, it’s certainly a reflection of the organization [and] the work my coaches and players put in,” Molitor said on MLB Network. “If you win rookie of the year, the Cy Young or the MVP, it’s about the player. But this award, I think, is a lot more about everyone who contributed to the Twins having a turnaround season.”
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