Anyone who has been watching MLB’s end-of-the-year awards races knows that one of the most intriguing categories is the race for 2012 Manager of the Year in the American League. Considering how these teams performed in 2011, and considering the strength of their divisions and what expectations were for these teams in 2012, how on earth could anyone have expected the Oakland Athletics or the Baltimore Orioles to make the postseason, let alone both?
The work that Buck Showalter and Bob Melvin did in Baltimore and Oakland this season was nothing short of yeomanlike, and it will clearly be one of these two who gets the award. And it really is a coin flip between these two. Either one could win and you would needn’t much explanation from anyone as to why Showalter or Melvin was selected. This article is going to make the case for Bob Melvin.
Before this season began, the A’s were not expected to win their division. They weren’t expected to challenge for the playoffs in any fashion whatsoever. In fact, depending on whom you spoke with, the only competition they figured to be in was with the Seattle Mariners for last place in the AL West, those same Mariners for the worst record in the entire American League, or maybe even the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros for the worst record in all of baseball. So to finish 93-69, a twenty-game improvement from 2011, is remarkable.
What is more remarkable is how this team performed given their patchwork offense. When this season started, Oakland’s biggest “name” player was arguably Coco Crisp, and that had as much to do with his skills as a player as it did to how closely it resembles the popular cereal. Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes were unproven talents, Jonny Gomes was a castoff, Brandon Moss was a journeyman at best and Kurt Suzuki was a traditional catcher who could call a great game but could do next to nothing, offensively.
Daric Barton started the season at first base and Cliff Pennington played most of the season at short; they combined for 34 RBIs in 171 player games. Scott Sizemore, who wasn’t going to scare many people as the team’s everyday third baseman, missed the entire season after getting injured in Spring Training. The team finished 28th in batting average and registered the lowest team average for a playoff team in the modern era, to say nothing of setting a new Major League record for most strikeouts by a team in one season.
If anything was going to save the A’s from having an historically bad season, it figured to be the pitching staff, but even that figured to be suspect at best. Brett Anderson figured to miss most of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, Dallas Braden—the team’s Opening Day Starter in 2011—missed all season with various ailments, and after the 2011 season Billy Beane traded away their best pitchers, Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill.
Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon figured to lead the way this year, but given the former’s up-and-down career to this point, and the latter’s age and declining skills, it was anything but a lock that these two would perform as well as they did. And following these guys up with rookies Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily, not to mention journeymen like Travis Blackley, should have had A’s fans shaking in their boots and opposing offenses licking their lips in anticipation of a veritable feast.
But Melvin guided this team to greater heights, especially when the A’s made shrewd pickups like adding Pat Neshek to the bullpen and Brandon Inge to play third and serve as a veteran presence in the locker room. He knew when to roll the dice with rookies on the mound, successfully cycled between Crisp, Reddick, Gomes, Cespedes and Seth Smith in the outfield to maximize Oakland’s offensive and defensive capabilities, and knew when to do the little things like steal bases and otherwise play the type of small ball that has been anathema to the organization since before Moneyball ever came on the scene to define Oakland as an organization.
Statistically, there is no way Oakland should have even been sniffing around the playoff hunt, let alone winning the AL West and truly believing it could contend for a World Series. The Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels both had a lot more talent and higher expectations than Oakland did, but Melvin successfully guided the ship in the right direction and got the team believing they could, and should, win every time they took the field, no matter how crazy that sounded to everybody else. Taking nothing away from what Showalter and the Orioles achieved this season, Bob Melvin should be the one to win this award.