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How Diamondbacks' Kirk Gibson Won NL Manager Of The Year

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In one of the less surprising announcements we'll likely see this awards season, Arizona Diamondbacks' manager Kirk Gibson won the National League Manager of the Year award, as handed out by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. This follows up on his victory in the same category of the Sporting News awards last month, and Gibson becomes the second manager in franchise history to be so honored, following in the footsteps of Bob Melvin, who won the award in 2007. Gibson wins the award in his first full year as a manager; the Marlins' Joe Girardi did the same thing in 2006.

Manager, Team 1st 2nd 3rd Points
Kirk Gibson, Arizona Diamondbacks 28 4 152
Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee Brewers 3 25 2 92
Tony La Russa, St. Louis Cardinals 1 2 13 24
Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia Phillies 1 7 10
Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves 4 4
Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants 2 2
Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates 2 2
Terry Collins, New York Mets 1 1
Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers 1 1

After the jump, we take a look at the factors that seem to play in to voting, and how Cap'n Kirk performed in these areas.

Here's the list of National League Managers of the Year since the Diamondbacks joined the majors in 1998. For each, we list the number of victories under that manager, along with its position in the NL; the change in wins from the previous year; how the team's payroll put them in the majors; and where the team's average age was ranked, for both hitters and pitchers (with #1 being oldest). Note: the 2003 and 2009 winners, marked with a *, both took over their teams mid-season, so their win totals are not over a full campaign.

Year Winner, team Wins Change Salary Age
2011
Kirk Gibson, ARI
94 (3) +29 25th 19th/26th
2010 Buddy Black, SDP 90 (5)
+15 29th 12th/25th
2009 Jim Tracy, COL 74* +18 18th 23rd/14th
2008 Lou Piniella, CHC 97 (1)
+12 8th 9th/12th
2007 Bob Melvin, ARI 90 (1)
+14 26th 29th/16th
2006 Joe Girardi, FLA 78 (9)
-5 30th 30th/30th
2005 Bobby Cox, ATL 90 (2)
-6 11th 23rd/17th
2004 Bobby Cox, ATL 96 (2)
-5 8th 14th/8th
2003 Jack McKeon, FLA
75* +12 25th 24th/28th
2002 Tony LaRussa, STL 97 (3)
+4 13th 16th/8th
2001 Larry Bowa, PHI 86 (=8)
+21 24th 29th/13th
2000 Dusty Baker, SFG 97 (1)
+11 17th 10th/19th
1999 Jack McKeon, CIN 96 (5)
+19 20th 20th/21st
1998 Larry Dierker, HOU 102 (2)
+18 15th 10th/21st

Win games

This likely falls into the category of "Well, duh." The most obvious mark of a good manager is that they win, and it's true that the dozen men who managed over an entire season won an average of 93 in the year. However, only one-quarter of them had more victories than any other team in the league, with the average rank for their teams between third and fourth. Simply being the best team in the league isn't an automatic ticket to Manager of the Year status, though 90 wins seems about the low-water mark.

The two on the list who didn't reach that level are perhaps worthy of some explanation. Larry Bowa almost pulled off a worst-to-first with the 2001 Phillies, and was one game back of the Braves with five to play. Joe Girardi is the only man to win the award while his team posted a losing record. He's also the only man to win the award managing a fourth-place team - indeed, the sole other NL Manager of the Year to finish below the runners-up spot, was Buck Rodgers of the third-place 1987 Expos.

Gibson: 94 wins ranked third in the league, which is a solid performance. Unlike the 2007 team, this was a legitimately winning team, with a Pythag that also ranked third-best in the NL.

Make your team better

Personally, this is the main thing I'd be looking for. The average uptick in victories across the board was 11 games, but in recent times, this seems to have become the minimum needed - it's 2006 since the last time a manager won with so little an improvement. The past three seasons have all seen the award go to the manager whose team has posted the largest improvement in the NL, year on year. [And the 2008 Cubs' 12-game gain was only one less than the league-leading Marlins and Astros].

The mean is skewed by an inexplicable patch in the mid-2000's where this requirement seemed to get thrown out the window: from 2002-06, the net increase in victories by the five winning managers was exactly zero. If there was a recent snub, it might be the 2007 Cubs, where Piniella, in his first year with them, took a team that had been last in the entire league, with 66 wins, and won the NL Central, improving them by 19 games, significantly more than winner Melvin managed. But Sweet Lou received a mere two first-place votes and finished fourth.

Gibson: A tremendous turnaround, the best by any NL franchise since the 1999 Diamondbacks improved by 35 games, also going from worst to first. That was with a radically different line-up, however; here, a lot of the improvement seemed to come from existing roster members playing better.

Be Bobby Cox. Just not on the Brewers.

The Brewers and Mets are the two major-league teams never to have won this award. New York have, at least, come close in recent history, Willie Randolph finishing second after the 2006 season. Milwaukee managers, on the other hand, hadn't received even a single first-place vote since before the team moved to the National League before the 1998 season, until Roenicke's three this time. On the other hand, the Braves, Cubs and Giants have each won this three times since it was instituted in 1983. That's still behind AL leaders, the Chicago White Sox, who have picked up the trophy on five occasions, under five different managers.

Cox, along with Tony LaRussa, has won the award four times. However, all of these seem dubious honors in one way or another. Particularly startling were his last two: he took his own 2003 Atlanta Braves team, which won over a hundred games, and turned it into one winning first 96, then 90 - and was rewarded with back-to-back Manager of the Year awards. He did improve the teams in his other two awards, before our list starts (in '85 and '91), but in both cases, he improved them on a team which Cox himself ran, at least partly.

Gibson: Though the same could be said of Kirk, who was the man mostly in charge of the 2010 Dismalbacks. One senses that last season, he was finding his feet in the position, and probably filling a thick notebook with "Stuff that needs to change next year."

Do it cheaply

There's a reason the Yankees' manager hasn't won this award since 1998, even though the team has taken ten of 13 divisional titles over that time - because 1998 was also the last season anyone spent more money than them (the Orioles, perhaps surprisingly). Credit is definitely given for overcoming budgetary restraints. Half the winners were ranked 20th or lower by payroll, with Girardi's victory in 2006, despite a losing record, the most obvious example. That year, the Marlins salary-bill was less than half that of the 29th-ranked Rays, at below $15 million; the award was, I suspect, partly a critique of Florida Miami owner Jeffrey Loria.

No Manager of the Year over the time-frame we looked at has had a payroll ranked higher than 8th. It seems that when you reach a certain level of expenditure, success is deemed to be expected. Credit for whatever results from that point up, goes to the one writing the checks, more than the man in the dugout. Or, more succinctly, I have a subconscious feeling a group of trained monkeys making line-ups out on typewriters, could probably steer the $200 million Yankees to the NL East title.

Gibson: Did it with a payroll that was down about $7 million from 2010, and also included about $10 million of what was basically wasted cash, paid to the likes of Melvin Mora, Aaron Heilman and Armando Galarraga, none of whom would trouble the roster after the All-Star break.

Mentor young players

This likely correlates, to a certain degree, with the salary factor. Young players are cheaper than free agents, so if you have a young team, you won't have to shell out as much [and owners can hand-wave away complaints from the fans about your stinginess with something involving "building for the future"]. But there's also a sense that players with less experience need greater managerial guidance, than veterans who should already "know how to play the game the right way."

As with salary, there's an apparent "glass ceiling", which excludes teams whose pitchers or hitters are in the top quartile by age. The bulk of winners are younger than average in one or other category, with six of the fourteen in the bottom half of both. Again, Cox's victory in 2004 is increasingly inexplicable: his team got worse, had a payroll about $28 million above the median, and wasn't exactly fresh out of diapers, particularly on the mound. On the other hand, he did somehow get 15 wins out of Russ Ortiz, five more than the Huge Manatee managed over the entire rest of his career, from 2005-10. Yeah, that likely deserves Manager of the Year.

Gibson: This was the oldest D-back team at the plate since 2006, but the most youthful on the mound since 2005, tied for the youngest in franchise history. Certainly, the success of Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter and David Hernandez were crucial; but should credit go to Gibson or pitching coach Charles Nagy? Likely both.