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

Nov 13, 2013, 7:52 AM EDT

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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.”

  1. ctony1216 - Nov 13, 2013 at 8:20 AM

    A better argument would have been: Look at the job Bobby Valentine did in 2012, see the mess Farrell inherited, and then look at how he turned it around. You could argue that Farrell deserved the award for that alone. Francona did a fantastic job in Cleveland, too. Just the transformation of the pitching staff there was huge.

    I think Joe Girardi didn’t get enough credit in New York. He played with 4th and 5th stringers on the left side of his infield, and didn’t have his 40-homer outfielder for most of the year. So, considering Farrell and Girardi, if there is a big market bias, maybe they are the evidence that argument. But there are lots of good candidates.

    • peterjohnjoseph - Nov 13, 2013 at 8:43 AM

      Couldn’t of said it any better myself. Farrell inherited a mess, and from day 1, players respected him, and bought into him. He set the tone from day 1 as well, by putting Alfredo Aceves in his place. It set a precedent that was followed from there on out.

      I’m not taking anything away from Francona. I love the guy, always will, and some of the same arguments can be made for him as far as players buying in and changing the locker room culture. The only gripe I have is with the argument that Francona had less money to work with, therefore got more out of less. I don’t think there is a further thing from the truth-

      Ferrell inherited a pitching staff off the worst season of the careers. Lester alone was at the point where people assumed his was a lost cause. Same for Lackey. Same for Buchholz. He turned the pitching staff around 180. He gave the returning members a reason to want to play at top form again.

      As far as incoming talent- just because the Red Sox had more money to spend, doesn’t mean they spent iy on big name talent. In fact, we took more of what was considered less. We got top performances out of almost every signing, even those expected to be well past the peak of the careers, like Victorino and Napoli.

      I understand the argument on both sides of the fence, and respect it. I just don’t feel right about the way the voting went, and probably will for awhile. I thought John Farrell had went above and beyond the call of duty, and whether he admits it or not, he has every reason to feel a bit gipped.

      Now everyone will expect the Red Sox to win next year. He could have a team full of injuries, never make a bad pitching change, win 40 straight, lead the team to over 110 wins, all while saving babies on field, and he’d still get overlooked next year.

      • bfunk1978 - Nov 13, 2013 at 10:07 AM

        I love posts that start out “couldn’t have said it better” and then went on to not only try to say it better, but went on to say something else completely.

      • Kevin Gillman - Nov 13, 2013 at 12:00 PM

        But Francona did the same thing. Look, nobody, and I mean nobody had it worse than the Indians with Ubaldo Jimenez. Francona inherited that complete mess. But he and Mickey Calloway worked endlessly trying to get him going, and the one thing they did to help him is listen to what he had to say, instead of trying to fix EVERYTHING which is what the other regime tried to do. And Ubaldo, when the Indians needed him the most rewarded them with a postseason spot. He finished off with 13 wins, a 3.30 ERA, averaged over a strikeout more than his IP, and this was at a time when the Indians lost their best starting pitcher Justin Masterson, and relied on Ubaldo and Corey Kluber to set the tone.

        Who is Corey Kluber you might ask? The best kept secret, who made a name for himself by the end of the season.

        I’ve said it before, I would trade a World Series championship over a MOTY award any day of the week, so Red Sox fans, be happy for Tito, and enjoy the fact Red Sox will be defneding that crown next season.

    • lphboston - Nov 13, 2013 at 3:30 PM

      Farrell did do a decent job, but take away all those free agents and Boston was a 4th-place team in the division.

      Victorino
      Napoli
      Drew
      Ross
      Lackey
      Gomes

    • jimhem - Nov 13, 2013 at 7:43 PM

      In reality, the argument isn’t about Farrell or Fancona. Either of these two is deserving. The question being is there a bias against big market managers. When you have two voters leave both Farrell and Francona off there ballot, the answer is obviously yes.

  2. 18thstreet - Nov 13, 2013 at 8:37 AM

    I honestly believe that we don’t know AT ALL who the real manager of the year is. So much of the job happens behind closed doors, a last-place manager could easily have been the best manager in baseball.

    • billyboots - Nov 13, 2013 at 12:16 PM

      Believe me when I tell you this: Ron Gardenhire was not the best manager in baseball.

  3. dand66 - Nov 13, 2013 at 8:43 AM

    Terry Francona is a great manager and he did a great job in Cleveland. But – and full disclosure, I’m a Red Sox fan – I don’t believe he did as great a job as Farrell did in Boston. John Wayne got his Oscar for ‘True Grit’ not because he deserved it for that performance, but because he’d never gotten an Oscar and the sentiment was that he deserved one. Tito got Manager of the Year for much the same reason.

    And this isn’t sour grapes. Tito is, IMHO, the greatest manager the Red Sox ever had, and I’m happy for him that he got this recognition.

    • raysfan1 - Nov 13, 2013 at 10:36 AM

      You’ve gotten a bunch of thumbs down for that comment, not that you should care, but I kind of had the same thought. He won 2 championships in Boston, ran that team as well as I think anyone could for years and never got the award. I expect there were some voters who just felt it was his turn–essentially giving him extra credit for the great career on top of the 2013 performance.

      Off course, the fact he did not ever win the award in Boston is itself further indication of an anti-big market bias.

      • babyfarkmcgeezax - Nov 13, 2013 at 12:11 PM

        Are writers not allowed to vote for who they want?

      • raysfan1 - Nov 13, 2013 at 12:20 PM

        *dons Flash costume, runs to Grand Canyon at supersonic speed, vents a primal scream, returns at supersonic speed, and doffs Flash costume*

        Yes, they may.

  4. clownsfan - Nov 13, 2013 at 8:44 AM

    No. Tito managed his ass off last season. NOBODY predicted the Tribe would make the post season. It also shows what a piss-poor mgr Bobby V. is.

    • mjdkid100 - Nov 13, 2013 at 10:58 AM

      No one predicted the Sox would either. Most sites/blogs had them picked 4th or 5th.

      Go back and read the comments on the signings they made too. People here laughed Sox fans out of the room. There were very low expectations going in for the Red Sox, but people forgot that since they dominated all season long, from start to finish. A credit to their manager, espcially when this team collapsed in 2011 and finished last in 2012.

  5. kane337 - Nov 13, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    Terry is more deserving. Ferrell inherited a team that dumped stars and was fortunate enough to be on a large payroll team that could rehire stars. A mid or low market team would not have been able to do that. Quit crying Red Sox fans. Enjoy your championship.

    • mjdkid100 - Nov 13, 2013 at 10:59 AM

      Stars?

      Everyone on this site laughed at every signing they made. Go back and read the comments.

      • clydeserra - Nov 13, 2013 at 1:59 PM

        not everyone. I didn’t.

        I think the people that railed against the moves were: Yankees fans, because why not. and Red SOx Fans, because they didn’t understand.

        But that is not really what manager of the year is about, those player moves are (mostly) front office stuff.

  6. Joe - Nov 13, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    I’m surprised that Farrell didn’t get the award, but really either one of them (Francona or Farrell) was a good choice. Most of the blowback is from Sox fans. I’m a Sox fan and I always liked Tito, so I am happy for him.

  7. janessa31888 - Nov 13, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    Sorry, no sympathy here. Big market teams have the advantage in everything else. I’d gladly take a WS championship over a manager of the year. If you cant have both, wouldn’t you rather have the ring?

  8. happytwinsfan - Nov 13, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    the link below is a nice take on it

    http://www.baseballnation.com/2013/11/12/5094102/manager-of-the-year-award-winners-rumors-theories-conspiracies-alternate-histories-fan-fic

  9. dudleywysong - Nov 13, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    I think that the article is well founded. Isn’t it interesting that Terry Francona won the World Series with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, but was not voted as manager of the year in either of those years, or any other year in Boston. Now that he is in Cleveland, he is the manager of the year. When was the last time that a manager from Boston, New York, Los Angeles or Chicago won manager of the year. I love Terry Francona. I hated when the Red Sox let him go. But, I do not see why John Farrell (or Joe Girardi for that matter) was not voted as manager of the year. Whatever Cleveland did in 2013, it could not have been more unexpected than what the Red Sox did in 2013. And, when it really comes down to it, Francona had much more to work with in Cleveland than Girardi did in New York. I do not think that there is any question that there is a small market bias when it comes to the voting for manager of the year.

    • buddaley - Nov 13, 2013 at 10:46 AM

      Chicago: 2008, 2005, 2000
      Los Angeles: 2009, 2002

      NY and Boston are further back. NY in 1997 (and 1994) are the most recent. Boston goes back to 1986.

      I don’t think the evidence for bias against big market teams is that strong. My guess is that since there is no way (yet?) to determine via stats what a manager’s role is in a team’s success, the narrative is key, and the fact that Farrell was top 3 but lost to Francona hardly indicates a bias against Boston or big markets.

      Arguments such as “Farrell turned around the pitching staff” leave me cold. Players have up and down years, and it is not necessarily due to the manager’s influence. There may be evidence that Farrell improved the atmosphere in Boston, but he also had different players in the clubhouse.

      In fact, I agree that Girardi probably deserved more credit for keeping a team that had numerous AAA players and major league washouts competitive for most of the season. But one could also argue that Joe Maddon continued his remarkable string of excellent seasons by his style of managing players and his attention to progressive stats. The argument is at best self-serving so long as narrative is the focus.

  10. eshine76 - Nov 13, 2013 at 9:10 AM

    I’m guessing what hurt Farrell is the likely belief among some of the voters that Ben Cherington built this winner by cleaning house and bringing in good clubhouse guys. Farell gets is credit too, but its shared. Over in Cleveland, Chris Antonetti isn’t getting the same respect; it’s all been going to Francona. Right or wrong, I bet that perception is what ultimately swayed the writers.

  11. florida76 - Nov 13, 2013 at 9:41 AM

    Manager of the Year Award is also about who did the best job, and for those who like numbers, teams with big gains in wins have to be given top consideration. And it’s easy to manage when you have much more resources than another market, the increased media focus is a small trade-off.

    Clint Hurdle walked into a mess in Pittsburgh, because the team has been dealing with factors beyond a lack of talent for years. The losing culture and negativity, perpetuated by some in the media, created the strong impression the club would never even have a winning season. Seemingly every move the franchise made has been criticized, and Hurdle’s job became even more difficult with the two late season slides of 2011 and 2012.

    So the fact Hurdle changed the culture, meshing veterans who had been considered washed up, with talented young players was documented and impressive. Blowing up the streak with nearly a full month left in the season, advancing in the playoffs, while pushing the NL pennant winners to the limit speaks volumes about the job Hurdle did.

  12. stoutfiles - Nov 13, 2013 at 9:43 AM

    Let’s just say it’s easier to look good when your team spends money on good players. Other than that, it’s all subjective. Personally i believe that a manager doesn’t do a whole lot, and it’s up to the players to produce. If they do the manager looks like a hero, and if not, he looks like a bum.

  13. ricardorobertasq - Nov 13, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    When you have a 150-200 million dollar team, it’s hard to tell if you are a great manager or a lucky guy with great players. It’s like giving one chef filet mignon and the other ground sirloin and telling each to compete in making a meal. The guy with the filet will have a better meal 9 times out of 10, and we don’t know if he just got the best meat or is a great chef. But when someone takes a team of question marks and leads them to playing to their full potential, doing what wasn’t expected, that deserves credit.

  14. mcsnide - Nov 13, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    Let’s say there actually IS a bias against big market teams in postseason awards (please ignore the fact that Ben Cherington just won Exec of the Year). Even if so, which is better, a chance for your favorite team’s manager to win a meaningless award occasionally, or the knowledge that even after your team is so bad they win just 69 games, they can spend enough money to be legitimate contenders the following year? As a Red Sox fan, I’m much happier with a championship than with a trophy for Farrell’s mantle.

    Oh, and by the way? Congrats to Francona, who had a great year and should have won one of these long before now. I thought there were arguments to be made for at least four guys this year, and MOY is so subjective that it’s impossible for me, at least, to argue that the voters got it wrong.

  15. jbriggs81 - Nov 13, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    In all fairness, does anybody actually think that Farrell is a good in-game manager? Personally, I think he is in bottom two or three of worst in-game managers in the AL. He constantly makes mistake, especially down the stretch over the last month of the season and into the playoffs (maybe they were just more noticeable then?)

    That being said, I don’t think in-game management is nearly as important as player-management. The majority of what a good manager does is behind closed doors or protecting his players from media distractions, etc. Farrell excelled at that this year and Francona has always had this skill.

    Perhaps the writers decided that both Francona and Farrell were even on the player-management side of things but that Tito was a better in-game manager and gave him the votes instead. Blaming the media for having a bias is a nice narrative but there are other factors involved.

  16. sportsdrenched - Nov 13, 2013 at 10:14 AM

    It’s always been more of a “Best underdog that became relevant” Manager Award than Manager of the Year.

    Look no further than Tony Pena winning with the Royals in 2003.

    I’m not big into the individual awards anyway. Players come and go, the only thing that remains is the team. But if I were a Red Sox Fan my take would be: We won the World Series, bitch. Ya’ll can have the rest of these scraps.

  17. pftwstbshmc - Nov 13, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    I’m going to make you all think a different way here. Never mind who has the payroll, who has done this and that but I want EVERYONE to think about this – what was the prediction for both of these teams at the beginning of the year? Does anyone remember? I do. The Indians were considered a playoff team and potential contender if things turned out right. The Sox were predicted to be either the second to last or the worse team in their division and hope to find some players to use going forward in the rebuilding process that this year was suppose to be for them.

    Now with that in mind who deserves the award more?

    No contest, no questions asked.

    Farrell was screwed out of an award period and the BBWA are a joke.

    • eshine76 - Nov 13, 2013 at 12:34 PM

      I’m missing the part where “the Indians were considered a playoff team and potential contender if things turned out right.” I don’t remember any hype around the Indians. I checked out some predictions just from SI and ESPN.

      http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/mlb/news/20130325/mlb-preview-staff-predictions/

      http://espn.go.com/mlb/preview13/story/_/page/13expertpicks/espn-expert-team-predictions-2013-baseball-season

      SI had one writer (of seven) indicate that the Indians were going to be a surprise team, but no one had the Indians in the playoffs. ESPN had one writer (of 43!!) predict Cleveland as a Wild Card. I know those are limited sources, but that certainly does not back up you claim.

      As for the Sox… well… their “demise” had more to do with the hype surrounding Toronto at the start of the year. The Orioles were also considered to have the talent to make a run. The Yankees are two teams you never rule out. I’d make the argument that the low ranking had a much to do with the other teams in their division, rather than the Sox players. The ESPN personalities back that up with FIVE predicting them to be a Wild Card team.

      I don’t know that my info provides a better explanation of who deserves the MOY award, but let’s not make this out that the Sox were left for dead and the Indians were going to challenge the Tigers for the Central.

    • clydeserra - Nov 13, 2013 at 2:13 PM

      that argument puts Melvin back in the mix too.

  18. brewcrewfan54 - Nov 13, 2013 at 10:42 AM

    I’d give the award to Girardi before I gave it to Farrel this year because he was able to squeeze a winning season out of a team held together with scotch tape.

    • pastabelly - Nov 13, 2013 at 11:16 AM

      The Yankees finished in a tie for third place. Farrell was a major reason in the turnaround of a 69 win team to a 97 win team.

      The Yankees also had a pretty good bullpen with Rivera returning to form and Robertson doing a great job and they got back in the penant race when the team spent on Soriano. Girardi did a nice job, but 85 wins and third place is just “nice” and nothing more. He didn’t change a losing culture into a winning one or anything too special.

      • brewcrewfan54 - Nov 13, 2013 at 3:17 PM

        There was no losing culture in Boston. There new players were not part of a losing culture of Boston and their tenured players have all been part of winning Boston teams. That argument doesn’t hold any water.

  19. dsully69 - Nov 13, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    The bigger question is how 2 voters left both Farrell and Francona off their ballots all together, we they voting for 2012 AL manager of the Year?

  20. pastabelly - Nov 13, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    Francona did not receive one first place vote for manager of the year in the seven years he was in Boston, despite being in the playoffs several times and winning a couple of WS. That’s ZERO votes, not zero manager of the year awards. He never even finished in the top three. It’s great that all of the sudden he learned how to manage. Congratulations to Tito for finally getting the recognition he deserves. I can’t help but wonder if he is getting a “make up call” after being snubbed so many times in the past, but wonder if this came at John Farrell’s expense.

    Both Toronto voters left Farrell off of their ballots. Bitter?

    The ESPN blogger explained why she didn’t even include Farrell on her ballot and wrote that Farrell was “expected to win”. This person actually picked Tampa Bay to win the East and Toronto to win the AL. I guess she really didn’t expect Boston to win, after all. Who exactly did expect the Red Sox to win? It certainly wasn’t the fans or the media. John Farrell could not have done a better job.

  21. wheels579 - Nov 13, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    People forget Cleveland had a worse record than Boston in 2012. To win 92 games this season with considerably less talent makes Francona deserving of the award. Farrell was also deserving, and one could argue it should have been shared between them for the different challenges each faced with respect to market size & payroll. However, what tipped the scales for me in Terry’s favor is Farrell walked into a situation where he had prior relationships with more players. Familiarity was an important part of Farrell’s success in Boston, while Terry knew Masterson, Albers, and maybe a couple more. Slight edge to Tito, and fellow Sox fans should be happy he finally got recognition long overdue.

  22. babyfarkmcgeezax - Nov 13, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    Looks like a lot of Red Sox fans have caught “Yankee fan spoiled brat entitlement syndrome”, judging by these posts. They seem to think the world revolves around their team and they deserve every award, conveniently ignoring that their team has an inherent, unfair advantage over the majority of other teams that makes it much easier for them to make this kind of a quick turnaround.

    I might have some sympathy for you if every team had an equal chance at success and your team couldn’t just rely on out-bidding other teams for top talent, but that’s not the case now is it? Your team is in the postseason nearly every season, with a better shot than most at winning the World Series. Please spare us your tears and go back inside your precious NY-Boston-LA bubble. This is like Sarah Palin complaining that white evangelical Christians are the poor victims of persecution in America.

    • pftwstbshmc - Nov 13, 2013 at 1:34 PM

      Maybe it’s because of opinions and drivel like yours. Look up the statistics before you type. In the postseason nearly every season? Since when? Do they make themselves contenders to be there with hard work and effort every year? Yes. Do they make it? No. They are just like every other team out there. The hope is that you find something or someone to get your team over that hump. This year it was Farrell. Whatever else you may think is WRONG.

      • clydeserra - Nov 13, 2013 at 3:15 PM

        6 times in the last 10 years (7/11, 9/16, 10/20, 13/28). 3 world titles in 10 years.

        that is a lot. unless you compare to the ONLY to Cardinals, yankees or braves.

  23. moogro - Nov 15, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    Maybe this could get easier to evaluate eventually. The manager doesn’t play, but often it’s clear that he puts his team in a position to lose. If you had a way to track all the times a manager left a pitcher in too long (and ways to define that), used pitching or hitting matchups poorly, didn’t platoon players, and now sadly, when to challenge bad calls or not, maybe a year end total of occasions when managers went against the percentages and lost could be tabulated. It’s still spooky, but far less speculative than looking at total team wins, media pressure, etc.

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