Managers don’t throw a single pitch. They don’t take a single grounder, get a single hit, or score a single run. Yet having the right manager is key to winning. Managers get a lot of credit for their team’s success (John Farrell), but when teams fail, managers suffer a bulk of the blame (Dusty Baker). I’ve decided to take a look at the 30 MLB managers and rank them based upon success, managing ability, and who’d I want as my guy if I were starting a team today. This will be the third instalment of this list, each one published right around Christmas time, and I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for a while. It’s become sort of an annual tradition here at Off The Bench.
Last year’s rankings are in parenthesis. (Rookie managers will not be ranked.)
- Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians (6)- Francona won 2 titles in Boston and became the most sought after manager in the game after he left the Red Sox for the broadcast booth. He returned to the dugout last season at the helm of a Cleveland Indians team that had finished 68-94. Francona proved why he was such a valuable commodity, guiding an improved roster to 92 wins and a playoff berth. He deservedly won the AL Manager of the Year crown.
- John Farrell, Boston Red Sox (20)- Farrell absolutely skyrocketed up this list from a spot in the bottom third last season. He took the last place Red Sox plus a couple tweaks, and guided them to baseball’s best record and the World Championship. There were lofty expectations after Farrell was unusually acquired from Toronto via trade, and he met every single one. (Quick Note: This selection caused a bit of controversy at OTBB headquarters. While its true that Farrell made some baffling decisions during the World Series, including an indefensible decision to let a relief pitcher make his first career plate appearance in the 8th inning of a World Series game, Farrell’s team did win, and that’s got to count pretty big.)
- Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates (15)- While there are some questions about Hurdle’s in game managing skills, he finally got his ball club over the hump and into the promised land (the playoffs). Any time you break a 2 decade long losing streak, you get extra bonus points.
- Bob Melvin, Oakland A’s (3)- For the second straight season, Melvin took a team nobody believed in and with limited talent and led them to an AL West division title over the mighty Rangers and lurking Angels. His attempt to three-peat will be much more difficult as every team in the West has improved this winter.
- Joe Madden, Tampa Rays (5)- Once again, Maddon has proved to be the most innovative manger in the sport. Last year I called him baseball’s Bill Belichick and I stand by that. His use of advanced metrics and lesser known advantages such as defensive positioning, creative lineup organization, and the use of exotic animals as motivation tools has helped his small market Rays continue to compete with the big boys.
- Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals (7)- Matheny led his Cards to the best record in the NL and a World Series appearance but there were some question marks along the way. His refusal to use Shelby Miller or Edward Mujica in the playoffs left his team playing with 23 truely ‘active’ players and put them at a disadvantage. Matheny is good and has a stellar roster to work with, but he doesn’t make the top 5.
- Terry Collins, New York Mets (13)- Collins has consistently kept a Mets team bereft of talent and depth above expectations. He hasn’t reached .500 yet but his surprising effectiveness has earned him a longer stay in Queens than expected.
- Joe Girardi, New York Yankees (9)- Girardi was dealt a tough hand in 2013, loosing a huge portion of his roster to injury, forcing him to play a whole host of replacement level characters. His creativity and acumen guided the Yankees to a record which exceeded their talent level. It wasn’t enough to reach the playoffs, however.
- Buck Showwalter, Baltimore Orioles (2)- Buck’s O’s ran out of magic last season, going from historic bests in one-run games to historic worsts. Showwalter continues to work wonders with a thin pitching staff but it will be tough to compete in a stacked AL East.
- Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves (14)- Gonzlaez led the Braves to 96 wins last season despite two near-automatic outs in the starting lineup. His bullpen management come playoff time was inexcusable, however, and arguably cost his team the NLDS.
- Bruce Bochey, San Francisco Giants (1)- It’s true that Bochey has won 2 of the last 4 titles but finishing 16 games out of first and only 2 out of last in 2013 didn’t help his cause. It was a tough year by the Bay.
- Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers (23)- Mattingly was nearly fired in May, nearly won the National League in October and nearly won the NL Manager of the Year title in November. It was a tumultuous and ultimately very successful year for Donnie Baseball. I think he was along for the ride in LA this season more than people think. As the beneficiary of the most talented roster in the game, a lot of his faults get covered up.
- Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota Twins (18)- Ron has bounced around this list like a pinball. His track record is stellar but his performances in the last few years have been bleak. If 2014 isn’t a success by at least some measures it could be time for him to move on.
- Mike Scoscia, Los Angeles Angels (10)- Scoscia has fallen dramatically on my rankings since the list debuted and for good reason. He has now weathered 2 incredibly subpar seasons with an extremely talented roster. There is no excuse for this team not to compete for a division title in 2014.
- Ron Washington, Texas Rangers (16)- When I started the rankings two years ago, I had Ron at number 2. After two seasons ending in massive disappointment, he has settled into this middling range. He needs to win with this improved roster now or he may be looking for a new job.
- Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals (21)- The Royals are a team primed for an Orioles or A’s-like rise to contention next season. If Yost can engineer that, he’ll be higher next year.
- Kirk Gibson, Arizona Diamondbacks (19)- The Dbacks finished 81-81 for a second consecutive year. An average team with an average manager. Gibson is learning but as we enter year 3 of the Gibson era, Kirk has to prove that his first season’s success wasn’t a fluke.
- Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee Brewers (17)- The Brewers were one of the league’s most anonymous teams last season. They cruised to a lackluster 4th place finish. Yes, the Ryan Braun drama was tough but they must improve next season.
- Robin Ventura, Chicago White Sox (8)- The biggest drop on the board this year was a tough one. Year one was stellar, year two was a catastrophe. Year three will clear things up, one way or the other, as Ventura has an improved roster to work with.
- Bud Black, San Diego Padres (27)- Black kept the Pads out of the basement in 2013 but this team continues to inspire almost no confidence. It’s not a great roster but the starting pitching will be deep in 2014. If they don’t improve at least some, San Diego might be best advised to move on.
- John Gibbons, Toronto Blue Jays (26)- Gibbons was handed a superb roster last season and did nothing with it. Last year was bad, this year must be better. The roster is too good not to even be a factor.
- Lloyd McClendon, Seattle Mariners (NR)- McClendon was a surprising hire in Seattle. He managed the Pirates from 2001-2005, never finishing higher than 4th place. The pressure will be on this year in Seattle.
- Bo Porter, Houston Astros (NR)- Shockingly, all three of our rookie mangers in 2013 finished in last place. I’m giving Porter the benefit of the doubt because he had the least to work with.
- Walt Weiss, Colorado Rockies (NR)- Weiss was managing on a 1 year deal in 2013 and is coming back for next season so his bosses must have seen something they liked. I’m just not sure what.
- Mike Redmond, Miami Marlins (NR)- The only decision Redmond made of real consequence last season was his call to ditch the orange tops for road games.
Not Ranked this year: Ryne Sandberg, Philadelphia Phillies (I’ll give him a full season before I pass judgement). Matt Williams, Washington Nationals. Brad Ausmus, Detroit Tigers. Rick Renteria, Chicago Cubs. Bryan Price, Cincinnati Reds.