Zack Greinke should have been a no-brainer for AL Cy Young, and in the end he ran away with it. Mike Scioscia was an even surer bet for Manager of the Year, so it is no surprise he got the honor today.
If I had a vote, I would have given it to Scioscia, which is saying something. I've always felt that he is an overrated manager. His on-the-field strategies are among the worst in baseball. He is way too aggressive with bunting, hit-and-running, and generally anything associated with "small ball." He's had guys like Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Teixeira, and now Kendry Morales. The power in the heart of the lineups he has managed have been the backbones of his successful offenses, not all the bunting and running.
Scioscia's bullpen use has been questionable too. Jose Arredando struggled early, but Kevin Jepsen was not an upgrade. However, Jepsen is big and throws hard, and that was all he needed to do to be a weapon in Scioscia's eyes. Also, though GM Tony Reagins is who signed Brian Fuentes, I'd guess that Scioscia had some say in the matter. Although Fuentes accumulated plenty of saves, he hardly lived up to the contract he signed.
Despite all that (maybe there really is something to the rally monkey), the Angels win year in and year out, and that makes Mike Scioscia a respected manager. Players love playing for him too, only adding to his venerable stature.
This year, despite the tactical shortcomings, Scioscia more than earned the honor as top manager in the AL. His strategic tactics weren't any better, but make no mistake, this was his best managing job yet. In fact, it was so good, he made me re-think the value of a manager.
At the start of the season, Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey were on the DL. That helped open up a great opportunity for top prospect Nick Adenhart. He had a nice start, and then died in a tragic car crash.
How in the world does a team deal with that? Active players don't die. It's very rare. A promising prospect with a bright future is heart-breaking. The way he went, at the hands of an ignorant drunk driver, is soul-crushing.
On top of all that, his untimely passing left the Angels down yet another starting pitcher. Talk about a gaping hole in every way imaginable.
Somehow, through all that, the Angels persevered. Kelvim Escobar never really came back, but once Lackey did, the team took off. In the end, the Angels ran away with what proved to be a much tougher division than expected.
Between heavy hearts, a patchwork starting rotation for the first couple months, an offense incorporating youngsters Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales, and the upstart Rangers and Mariners, the Angels had lots of reasons to give up. They had a toxic concoction by about mid-April. Somehow, the team wasn't poisoned though, and Scioscia has to get a ton of the credit for that. He got the best out of his players, and as they started to win games, and started to get players back, they blossomed into one of the AL's finest teams. Remarkably, Mike Scioscia fostered an environment that the players thrived in, despite the difficult circumstances they faced.
I've tended to downplay the impact a manager has on a team. Baseball is so different from other team sports. Coaches call plays, and constantly shift personnel in other sports. However, tactically, the biggest impact a manager has on the game is at the very start, with the lineup card. There are in-game decisions to be made, but nothing as significant as the starting nine. Unlike in other sports, the manager is nothing more than an interested observer for much of the game.
Tactically, I believe most managers are at the same level. There are a couple bad ones, and maybe a couple good ones, but the vast majority are equally matched. This is why I have tended to think that the impact of most managers is overrated. This is also why I never thought I would endorse Mike Scioscia as Manager of the Year. I honestly think his strategies are often counterproductive.
Yet, watching the Angels and Scioscia this year convinced me that there is more to managing. There is something to the environment and culture a manager develops in the clubhouse. Don Wakamatsu did a ton to convince me of this too.
It's similar to studying environments. Students don't seek out construction zones or runways to review for big tests. They choose their own bedroom, a library, or maybe a coffee shop. They generally choose some place quiet, though some areas are more quiet than others.
A baseball team, on some level, is the same way. They will play better in an environment more conducive to performing at a high level. The manager has significant influence over their team's environment, from the way they communicate to players, to the drills the team runs, to countless other things. I think most managers have a feel for what a good environment is. However, just like the best students know whether the library or the coffee shop is a better study space for them, a great manager knows how to tweak the environment to maximize it for their team.
That's where Mike Scioscia shines. He knows how to create a terrific environment for his team, year in and year out, no matter what. I have a hard time believing many managers could have adapted to the extreme circumstances Scioscia faced with the Angels this year, and that is why he is the 2009 AL Manager of the Year.