October is a magical time of the year for baseball fans. If you are lucky, you have the opportunity to see your favorite team contend for the World Series while you sit on the edge of your seat as postseason drama unfolds. The month of October is also a time to reflect on regular season performances and determine who is worthy of winning awards.
As a National League representative of the The Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), I will unveil my votes for the BBA Awards for the National League and will also share the results once all voters’ votes are tabulated.
We start off with the NL Connie Mack Award. The Connie Mack Award is awarded to the manager adjudged to be the best in baseball. My votes are as follows:
First place: Kirk Gibson (Arizona Diamondbacks)
I believe it came as a surprise to many that the Diamondbacks finished first in the NL West (94-68) in the 2011 season. The Diamondbacks were a team full of surprises and statistical oddities.
Nobody could have expected Ian Kennedy to finish the season with 21 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA. The Diamondbacks’ top three hitters among those who qualified for a shot at the batting title were Justin Upton (.289 AVG), Miguel Montero (.282 AVG) and Ryan Roberts (a paltry .249 AVG).
Upton led the team with 88 RBIs; of the 11 MLB teams who failed to have a 90-RBI player, only the Diamondbacks reached the postseason.
The Diamondbacks finished last in their division in the 2010 season with a 65-97 record; the sudden turnaround in Gibson’s first full season as the team manager is impressive.
The turnaround is especially impressive because starting shortstop Stephen Drew missed 76 games with a season-ending injury; Drew last played on July 20. The Diamondbacks appeared to be doomed for another losing season after an 11-15 start; however, Gibson maintained a positive attitude. I believe his attitude fostered a winning attitude among the players and enabled them to play their way into a positive groove. A manager’s attitude can have a great effect on a clubhouse.
If you were to observe the offensive statistics of many of the players, you may be asking yourself, “How the heck did they win 94 games?” I am not taking anything away from the players, but I believe Gibson deserves credit for his team’s surprising results. Gibson is my choice for the 2011 NL Connie Mack Award.
Second place: Ron Roenicke (Milwaukee Brewers)
Although the Brewers (96-66) winning the NL Central did not come as a complete surprise, it was still somewhat unexpected to many.
Although the Brewers were talented and competitive, many baseball pundits expected the high-scoring Cincinnati Reds or St. Louis Cardinals to win the division.
Voting for managers is more difficult than voting for players because you cannot quantify a manager’s effect on a team unless you correlate the W-L column to a team’s managing.
I find Roenicke worthy of a second place vote because his Brewers were able to take the division title from the Reds and Cardinals.
If memory serves me correctly, the Brewers are the first team in baseball to win a division title in both the AL and NL (Brewers last won a division title in the AL in 1980).
Third place: Fredi Gonzalez (Atlanta Braves)
Your future Hall-of-Famer third baseman (Chipper Jones) misses 36 games with an injury, your top prospect and future superstar (Jason Heyward) misses 34 games and sports a .227 AVG; meanwhile, your all-star catcher (Brian McCann) misses 34 games and has an off year.
Do you think the above scenarios sound like a recipe for disaster? It gets worse: your top free agent acquisition (Dan Uggla) is hitting .185 at the All-Star break.
For all statistical intents and purposes, the Braves were a team doomed to failure. Surprisingly, the Braves gave the Philadelphia Phillies a run for their money in a tight NL East race for much of the season.
Rookies Freddie Freeman (first base) and Craig Kimbrel (closer) played a large role in the Braves’ success this season. Uggla also had a strong second half (.296 AVG after All-Star break) and led the Braves with 36 home runs and 82 RBIs.
Many will remember the 2011 Braves for their monumental September collapse in which they blew a nine-game lead over the Cardinals in the MLB Wild Card race; I choose to remember the 2011 Braves for their resilience and their ability to compete with the NL’s best for much of the season in spite of the obstacles they had to overcome.
One can only wonder what they could have accomplished if Uggla hadn’t slumped so badly and if Heyward had been healthy and productive this season. Despite their September failure, Gonzalez deserves credit for the Braves’ resiliency and competitiveness; therefore, I find Gonzalez worthy of a third place vote.
Although we cannot directly quantify a manager’s effect on a baseball team, I like to correlate their performances as managers to whether or not a team exceeded its expectations. I believe good managers are those who are lucky enough to make the right decisions at the right time and bring out the best in their players. These three managers helped their teams exceed expectations and deserve recognition for it.