I’ve always been dubious of the real impact that a manager has on a baseball team’s success.
There, I said it. It’s the players who make the biggest difference anyway, right? The tactics employed by a football coach seem self-evident; a creative offensive scheme or a stifling pass rush can make a huge impact. I think about Pete Carroll employing tall, lanky cornerbacks and a simple two-safety setup to wreak havoc for the better part of a decade.
If you shift to basketball, sure, you can design an offense or get creative with your ballhandlers. You can tweak your system to allow for your stars to get the ball more, and to put them in positions to succeed.
Baseball, however, has far fewer opportunities for a manager to truly put his stamp on the game. Your best hitters will hit once every nine batters, no exceptions. Aces take the mound once every five games. Even when it comes to areas where a manager can impact — I’m thinking primarily bullpen management — any success can easily be chalked up to “volatility” or “beating Pythagorean expectations.” In other words, luck.
Here’s the thing: At what point do we transcend luck and ascribe real credit?
The @Mariners are the first team to lead MLB in 1-run wins in back-to-back seasons (2021-22) in 125 years — since the Cincinnati Reds from 1897-98.— Alex Mayer (@alexmayer34) October 5, 2022
Scott Servais, the Mariners’ fearless leader since 2016, should absolutely win American League Manager of the Year for what he’s done with this team.
He’s rejected dogma when it comes to bullpen management. Last week, when asked about how he deploys Andres Muñoz, he made it clear: He doesn’t believe you should only use your best reliever in the ninth inning.
Before the game, Scott Servais said they deploy Andres Muñoz as their "silver bullet," using him in the most impactful spot in any game no matter the inning. Right on cue, in a one-run game with a runner on first, he takes the mound.— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 30, 2022
This year’s bullpen ranks 6th in ERA (3.33) and 10th in FIP (3.65), an impressive showing from players who largely have not previously had success in the big leagues. In fact, from last year’s reliever corps that ranked 4th in MLB in fWAR, only Paul Sewald, Diego Castillo, Erik Swanson, and Anthony Misiewicz made positive contributions in 2022 (sorry, Drew Steckenrider).
That ability to rebuild the back-end and still find success — and to reject the idea that every team must have a closer — is a huge positive contribution.
Even with The Drought hanging over their heads, Servais kept the M’s focused on what matters. It was striking to hear Servais talk before Thursday and Friday’s games. He managed to emphasize how big of a deal making the playoffs is, while reinforcing that this team is just getting started. It would have been easy to say, hey, we’re proud to make it this far and we’re going to give it everything we got. It also would have been simple to pretend the drought didn’t exist.
Instead, as others have written about, Servais got this team to acknowledge this burden:
Put simply, the Mariners are one win or one Baltimore loss from ending a postseason drought they begrudgingly inherited, tried to ignore, rationalized their responsibility in it and finally understood it was their burden to carry.
That’s no easy feat, and it was epitomized by the raucous scene at the corner of Edgar and Dave last Friday, when champagne went everywhere and Servais decided it was time to party. His confidence throughout has been captivating.
“We will end the drought tomorrow.”— Sami Jarjour (@SamiOnTap) September 30, 2022
Scott Servais pumping juice into my Mariners veins right now pic.twitter.com/pHKPxQcFUI
With all of that, I’ve been surprised at the tone of the national media, which seems to prefer either Terry Francona of the Cleveland Guardians or Brandon Hyde of the Baltimore Orioles.
What Hyde did is remarkable, to be clear. Taking a moribund franchise and keeping them in the playoff race until the last week of the season is no small feat. (It’s also exactly what Scott Servais did last year.)
And Francona is obviously one of the best managers in the game, given his track record of success and impressive experience. But he, too, has been painted as a feisty underdog for whom little was expected in 2022. It’s true that few had the Guardians winning their division this year...but it’s also true that the team has finished at least second in the division for seven consecutive seasons, and that their division was the worst in the American League.
Given the success in the face of long odds for two straight seasons, given how little success this franchise has had during its history (especially this century), and given the incredible results from the part of the game that managers most directly impact, I think there’s a clear call to be made. Give him the trophy (is there a trophy? is it just a firm handshake and a pat on the back?) and recognize what he’s done for this team.