Bob Melvin Is the AL Manager of the Year, and It's Not Even Close
Nobody expected the Oakland A's to do anything this season, and for good reason. All it took for doubts to start creeping in was one look at their roster.
Before the start of the season, the best word to describe Oakland's roster was "embarrassing." Featured in it were old castoffs like Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes, and the A's inspired even more facepalms when they went out and signed disgraced slugger Manny Ramirez to a minor league contract.
The rest of Oakland's roster consisted of young, unproven players, most of them rookies. In fact, the A's seemed to have twice as many unproven youngsters as any other team in the league. Even their big-money guy, Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes, was unproven.
So yeah, it was hard to look at the A's and see anything other than a last-place team. They looked like a team that promised to be a mess all season long, and Bob Melvin was to have the unenviable job of managing the mess. Poor guy.
Melvin has done more than manage it. He's had a big hand in turning this would-be mess into a contending team that has shaken up the power structure in the AL West and the rest of the American League in general.
Against all odds, the A's are back. That puts Melvin in line for a well-deserved honor: American League Manager of the Year.
Credit is owed all around, of course. Oakland's success may seem to be a fluke, but the numbers surrounding the A's very much support the notion that they are a legitimate contender.
You can go far with great pitching in baseball, and the A's most certainly have great pitching. They lead the American League in team ERA at 3.47, and that's due to a well-balanced attack. The A's rank second in the Junior Circuit with a starters' ERA of 3.77 and first with a bullpen ERA of 2.85, according to FanGraphs.
Offensively, the A's rank 24th in baseball in runs scored, but that's misleading. In the last two months of the season, the A's have been a middle-of-the-pack run-scoring team, which is plenty good enough given the quality of their pitching.
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Much of Oakland's success offensively is owed to Cespedes and Josh Reddick, who have combined for 36 home runs and 104 RBI thus far. Brandon Inge has provided some pop since he joined the club as well, and Brandon Moss has pitched in 11 home runs in just 123 at-bats.
So as strange as Oakland's rise to prominence may seem, they're actually right where they should be. All it took for them to get there was a month of July in which they were scorching hot.
Probably not, huh?
I don't blame you. It's easy to look at the numbers and do the math, but there's too much going on behind the numbers in Oakland's case to ignore that there's just something strange going on.
That has a lot to do with the collective inexperience of the A's. Players over the age of 30 are hard to come by in Oakland, and the A's have used more rookies than any other team in baseball this season.
The list of rookies the A's have trotted out on offense includes Cespedes, Chris Carter, Collin Cowgill, Brandon Hicks, Derek Norris, Eric Sogard and Josh Donaldson.
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The list of rookies who have taken the mound for the A's this season is even longer. They've used Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Travis Blackley, A.J. Griffin, Graham Godfrey, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Jordan Norberto and so on and so on. The list goes on for quite a while.
Presently, the only starting pitcher in Oakland's rotation who's not a rookie is Colon. Other than him, it's all rookies.
Ordinarily, this would be a recipe for disaster. It's hard enough for teams to succeed when they have one or two rookie starters in their rotation. The idea that any team could be so successful with four rookie starting pitchers at one time borders on being absurd.
The fact that it's working is a testament to Billy Beane's sharp eye, but it's more of a testament to how Melvin and his staff have handled the team's youngsters. Melvin has been presented with a yeoman's task of squeezing quality innings out of an incredibly young pitching staff, and the fact that the A's have such excellent starting pitching numbers speaks volumes about the job he's done.
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Things aren't made any easier for him by the collective youth of Oakland's bullpen. Cook has been Melvin's primary go-to guy for some time now, and lately he's begun to place more and more trust in Norberto and Doolittle, who was trying to make it as a first baseman not too long ago.
Trust is a pretty major ingredient in Oakland this season. Cook opened up about that at the All-Star break, saying (via CSNBayArea.com):
The trust factor that's there is through the roof. The communication is ideal. It's everything I ever could dream of. The way it kind of helped me bounce back when I did have a bump in the road or the congratulatory responses when I do have a good one. I just really fit in I feel like, with Bob and the organization as well.
You can't help but think of Melvin as the exact opposite of the Art Howe character (I say "character" because it wasn't really an accurate portrayal of Howe) in Moneyball. Instead of having a feeling of resentment at having to manage such a young and undermanned team, Melvin has rushed headlong into the challenge and done his utmost to make the best of things.
Whether or not he ever really believed that his team would be so good is anybody's guess, as surely he's not going to say anything publicly about whether he had any doubts. My assumption is that he did because, shoot, I would have.
But it's clear that Melvin has convinced his players that he believes in them, and it's abundantly obvious by now that they believe in each other. The club's confidence level is through the roof. They have that special something that cannot be quantified, but is oh-so-important:
It's an ethereal thing, and a thing that's pretty loosely defined to boot. Whatever it is, the origin of Oakland's swagger is not hard to determine. It all stems from Melvin, who has cultivated a winning attitude in a locker room full of green kids and a scattered collection of has-beens.
No other AL Manager of the Year candidate has done more with less.
Ron Washington? He has one of the league's best offenses working for him and he has the luxury of managing a collection of players that has been to two straight World Series.
Mike Scioscia? He now has one of the best starting rotations in baseball at his disposal now, and he has an offense that features Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo.
Joe Girardi? Things haven't been easy in The Bronx this year, but they're still the Yankees.
OK, he's a good one. He's been able to squeeze wins out of a ballclub with horrid pitching and a disappearing/reappearing offense. He's the only guy who comes close to being on Melvin's level.
Is Bob Melvin the man to beat in the AL Manager of the Year race?
But not quite. Showalter hasn't had to manage nearly as many rookies as Melvin has, and his club was hot earlier in the season when the games mattered less. Melvin's club has been hot recently, when the games have started to matter more and more.
The other big difference is that Melvin's club is in line for a postseason berth. If the season ended today, they'd be one of the AL's two wild card clubs.
The A's don't need to qualify for the postseason for this season to be a success, mind you. They're already more successful than they had any right to be, and the future is bright in Oakland for the first time in several years.
This is the Bob Melvin's doing. Giving the man a Manager of the Year award is the least that can be done for him.
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