It seems unconscionable to an Oakland Athletics fan to consider anyone other than Bob Melvin as the frontrunner for manager of the year in the American League. But Jon Heyman recently commented that Orioles manager Buck Showalter was the top candidate in the American League.
Showalter would be a deserving candidate any other year. He's managed a young, unproven team that wins an uncanny number of its one-run games and has survived a minus 44 run differential.
But here's a few reasons why Bob Melvin, if the season were to end today, would be the right choice:
- Nothing has come easy. Melvin has had to work his rear off. The A's lead the league in walk off wins. Although the Orioles have gone 24-6 in one run games, the A's are no slouches (20-13). Melvin doesn't always push the right buttons, but he almost always does. He's used the bullpen effectively and judiciously. He has found ways to maximize the line-up. He's moved guys around when things weren't working and he's masterfully played the match-ups, keeping guys fresh and productive.
- The A's are fresh out of diapers. The current active 25-man roster features just four guys who have celebrated their 30th birthday (Coco Crisp, Grant Balfour, Pat Neshek and Jonny Gomes.) Melvin has this very young team (average age 27.4) believing in itself. The Orioles are young, too (average age 28.6). But not as young as the A's. The starting rotation has gotten huge production from mostly untested rookies Tommy Milone, 25; Jarrod Parker, 23; A.J. Griffin, 24; and Dan Straily, 23. The bullpen has been bolstered by Sean Doolittle and All Star Ryan Cook. Melvin and his staff have helped solidify the team - made up mostly of rookies, second- or third-year guys and castoffs like Brandon Inge, Brandon Moss and Travis Blackley. The front office deserves a huge amount of credit or putting the parts together. But Melvin and his staff have made it all coalesce.
- Melvin sets a good tone and leads by example. You produce, you play. Chris Carter has fought his way into the lineup and stayed there because he has shown an ability to adapt. Jemile Weeks, in contrast, made no adjustments to his offensive game this year and found himself out of a job. Melvin was patient with Weeks -- almost too patient. But eventually patience has its limits.
- The players love him. Since the departure of Tony La Russa, Oakland has been stuck with bad communicators. Art Howe was a terrible field manager. He played the percentages to an absolute fault, and he had zero feel for how to use his bullpen. His teams were stocked with talent and the real crime is that when a manager could have had some impact in the post-season, Howe sat on his thumbs and did nothing. Macha was an even bigger lump. Players hated him. He was a Howe clone with more hair. Geren made Macha look Kennedy-esque in the charisma department. With Melvin, we have a real field manager again, who takes charge, makes decisions and takes responsibility when things go wrong.
- Melvin's built a great staff that works hard to prepare for each game. Chili Davis has been an outstanding hitting coach. Even though the overall batting average hasn't been great, he's been a massive upgrade over the likes of Gerald Perry, Ty Van Burkleo and a couple of other forgettable cats. With the exception really of maybe one or two guys, Davis has been able to help his hitters avoid prolonged slumps and to stay within themselves. One of the reasons why the A's have been successful scoring runs with 2 outs is that Davis and the rest of the coaching staff has the players approaching their at bats the right way. Curt Young is a superb mentor to younger pitchers. He's helped the team to a league-leading 3.48 ERA. His pitching staff has allowed the fewest home runs of any team in the American League and only the Rangers (believe it or not) have allowed fewer runs. Mike Gallego has perfectly straddled the line between cautious and aggressive in his decisions as the third-base coach.
- Melvin has managed through adversity. The team's pitching leader and veteran presence among a team full of young arms was hit with a 50-game ban. How did the team respond? They've rattled off six straight wins - going 7-1 since the ban shook the clubhouse. The A's could have collapsed after losing nine straight starting in late May. But they continued to battle. Even during those tough times, Melvin preached the importance of fighting until the last out. The team has also been more resilient than in the past dealing with injuries to key players such as Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, Brendan McCarthy, Yoenis Cespedes etc. You can argue it's just a young group of guys who are too stupid to know any better, but I think the manager deserves a great deal of credit for the team's success.
- The team's payroll is the lowest in the majors. The expectations at the start of the season were low, to be sure, what with a $49 million payrolll. (The Orioles payroll, according to ESPN, is $80.1 million.) No one would have expected this kind of season for the A's. It would have been easy to settle. Be happy to be in the vicinity of a .500 ball club. It takes a great manager to help a group of individuals see what is possible. Melvin has done that all year long.