Is Joe Maddon the best manager in MLB?
Who is the best manager in Major League Baseball?
That's a difficult question to answer. There's no statistic that measures a manager's effectiveness like OPS does with hitters or ERA with pitchers.
Win-loss record is certainly a good indicator of how well a manager does his job. But different skippers find success in different ways. Some are excellent strategists. Others are good motivators. The best of the best are good in both areas.
With more than half the teams in MLB still contending for playoff spots, there are plenty of managers who are doing good jobs. But who is doing the best job?
Here's our rankings of the managers with teams still in the playoff hunt.
Do we really know how good a manager Mike Matheny is yet?
It's certainly impressive that Matheny has the in playoff contention in his first year of managing at any level of baseball. Yet he was also handed a roster that won the World Series in 2011, albeit without Albert Pujols.
Matheny may be doing a good job of managing or he might be succeeding because he's just not messing anything up. That's certainly a crucial part of being a major league manager.
But what if the Cardinals don't make the playoffs? Will Matheny be viewed as a skipper who was given a very good team but couldn't lead it into the postseason?
Fredi Gonzalez managed an Atlanta Braves team last year that blew a nine-game lead in the NL wild-card standings and missed the playoffs.
He largely has the same team again and the Braves have a strong hold on one of the two NL wild-card spots.
So is Gonzalez a better manager this year? Maybe.
He's been more aggressive in benching underperforming players like Dan Uggla. But the Braves have also benefited from a resurgent season by Jason Heyward. Kris Medlen has also emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball during the second half of the season.
How Gonzalez and his team fare in the postseason might determine how he's viewed as a manager.
Clint Hurdle has managed the Pittsburgh Pirates back to respectability over the past two seasons, guiding them to contention in the NL Central. He should get credit for that.
But he's also managed a team that's faltered during the second half in his two seasons with the Pirates. Shouldn't he get blamed for that?
Hurdle has certainly changed the attitude in the Pirates clubhouse, compelling his players to believe they can win rather than hope to succeed. Pittsburgh has been competitive because of that.
However, it might be worth asking whether Hurdle is one of those managers who can get a team to a certain level but eventually has to cede to a skipper who knows how to lead a team to a championship.
Considering how well-regarded Jim Leyland is as a manager throughout baseball, it's somewhat surprising that he's led teams to first-place finishes in only four of his 21 seasons.
He could earn a fifth first-place finish if the Detroit Tigers overtake the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central and make it to the postseason for the second consecutive year.
But Leyland has also had some disappointing finishes. If the Tigers fail to make the playoffs this season, it could be his worst disappointment yet.
Leyland suffers somewhat from the flawed roster Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski has given him. But Dombrowski has also made some fine trades and owner Mike Ilitch has paid big money for talent.
If Leyland can't follow through on the high expectations placed on the Tigers this year, his time could be done in Detroit.
As with Mike Matheny, we don't quite know how good a manager Robin Ventura is yet.
However, for someone who hadn't managed before, Ventura has done a fine job keeping his team in playoff contention. The Tigers were widely expected to win the AL Central, yet Ventura and his Chicago White Sox might beat out Detroit for a division title.
Ventura has certainly benefited from a turnaround season by Adam Dunn and fine pitching performances from Chris Sale and Jake Peavy. But he's also managed the White Sox bullpen well, a skill that not all skippers have mastered.
Hiring Ventura was a surprise move by the White Sox. Leading them to a division title over a heavily favored opponent would be even more of a surprise.
Ron Roenicke did an excellent job in managing the Milwaukee Brewers to 96 wins, an NL Central title and a berth in the National League Championship Series last season.
This year, he and the Brewers took a major tumble, due largely to several season-ending injuries.
However, Roenicke has still managed the Brewers back into playoff contention after the season looked lost. As of Sept. 15, Milwaukee was 3.5 games out of the the second NL wild-card spot.
The Brewers will probably fall short of the postseason. But Roenicke's ability to manage this injury-riddled team into competition for a wild-card bid is impressive.
Kirk Gibson changed the attitude of the Arizona Diamondbacks, helping push them to an improbable NL West title last season.
Did he get the D-Backs to play over their heads? If so, that certainly speaks well of his abilities as a manager.
But several players on that 2011 Arizona team appear to have had career seasons, so perhaps it was inevitable that they would regress this year. Sure enough, the D-Backs haven't gotten the production expected from stars such as Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy.
Yet Arizona is still on the fringes of playoff contention with three weeks remaining in the season. If there was any thought of the D-Backs looking ahead to next year, Gibson has kept his team focused on finishing this season first.
This might be a bit high on the list for Bob Melvin, considering he's only had three winning seasons and one division title in his nine years as a major league manager.
However, look at the job he has done this season with the Oakland Athletics. The A's have the second-best record in the American League and hold one of the AL's wild-card spots with a roster that has few recognizable names and doesn't hit all that well.
Oakland does have an excellent pitching staff, and perhaps the A's are in this position because their young pitchers developed even sooner than expected. General manager Billy Beane might ultimately get the majority of credit for acquiring that talent.
Yet how many managers could lead a team with so few stars or established major leaguers to playoff contention? Melvin might be doing the best job of any big league manager this season.
Is Joe Girardi ranked too low on this list?
If the New York Yankees win the AL East, he will have managed them to three first-place finishes in the past four seasons. Girardi also has a World Series championship on his Yankees resume.
Additionally, Girardi was the NL Manager of the Year in 2006 with the then-Florida Marlins. He doesn't just benefit from the high payrolls that the Yankees fund every year.
But Girardi might also be guilty of overmanaging at times, making changes that might not be necessary based on certain platoon or batter vs. pitcher matchups. Criticizing a manager for thinking too much might seem strange, but that does seem to get Girardi in trouble on occasion.
Bruce Bochy is certainly a better manager because his excellent pitching staff in San Francisco. But he's shown an excellent knack for crisis management as well.
Bochy's handling of Tim Lincecum this season has demonstrated his deft touch with players.
While many were hitting the panic button and calling for the struggling Lincecum to be removed from the Giants' starting rotation, Bochy saw a pitcher who was throwing well but needed to make some adjustments. He's salvaged a better second half from Lincecum as a result.
The Giants skipper has also had to deal with injuries to Pablo Sandoval and Melky Cabrera getting suspended for 50 games due to PED use. Each development could have derailed the Giants' season, yet Bochy has kept the team on track toward an NL West title.
At one point this season, Don Mattingly looked like the NL Manager of the Year.
Despite losing Matt Kemp, the Dodgers continued to win and hold onto first place in the NL West. The team has obviously faltered since then and hasn't been able to overcome injuries and underperformance as well as it did earlier in the year.
Some might say Mattingly has benefited from a free-spending ownership that's given him players such as Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Adrian Gonzalez. Plenty of managers would love to have that sort of support.
Mixing those players together on the fly isn't an easy task, however. Mattingly has shown that he's adaptable and able to react quickly to changing situations.
But if the Dodgers don't make the playoffs, Mattingly's reputation as a manager might take a hit.
Dusty Baker has had success in each of his three stops as a major league manager, winning division titles and playoff bids with the Giants, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds.
Of course, he's also benefited from having some great players such as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Joey Votto.
But Baker has kept the Reds winning consistently this season despite losing Votto for nearly two months and not having Scott Rolen available regularly.
He's shown patience with rookie shortstop Zack Cozart and deftly moved Aroldis Chapman to the closer role when the team needed a strong presence at the back end of the bullpen.
Baker will face another test by keeping his team focused and healthy while they enjoy the largest division lead in the NL. He'll need to make sure the Reds continue to play well and go into the playoffs at their best.
Five consecutive division titles, two trips to the World Series and one championship is an impressive resume for Charlie Manuel.
Devastated by injuries, the Philadelphia Phillies took a major fall this season and Manuel's managerial abilities were being questioned. In particular, his handling of the bullpen and closer Jonathan Papelbon was baffling at times.
But Manuel has managed the Phillies back into playoff contention when their season looked lost. Philadelphia is three games out of the NL's second wild-card spot after getting key players back healthy and playing well in August and September.
Manuel has one season remaining on his contract. With a retooled and, hopefully, younger, more athletic roster, who's to say he can't add one more first-place finish or playoff bid to his record next year?
Ron Washington has managed the Texas Rangers to two consecutive World Series and looks poised to make a third run at a championship this season.
Keeping a team playing at a high level, especially in the face of some crushing disappointments, is an impressive feat. Washington continues to get his guys to play hard for him, even as they've gone through long grinds over the past two seasons.
Washington's strategic skills are often questioned every postseason and he's given the backhanded compliment of being a players' manager that knows how to motivate his team.
But the results speak well of his approach. Even if he's not the best tactician, he is obviously doing something right. If the Rangers win the World Series this year, perhaps Washington will get the credit he deserves.
Mike Scioscia has been regarded as one of the best managers in baseball during his 12 years as skipper of the Los Angeles Angels.
Five division titles and a World Series championship make for an impressive resume, as does a long tenure in the dugout.
Managing with a more "National League" style that features speed and aggressiveness on the basepaths has been a key to Scioscia's success. He's not afraid to approach the game differently than his AL counterparts.
However, Scioscia's reputation has taken a bit of a hit this season. The Angels have underperformed despite spending big money to bring in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and making a deal for Zack Greinke at the trade deadline.
Scioscia won't be fired if the Angels fail to make the playoffs this year. But if the Angels don't play up to expectations next year, general manager Jerry Dipoto may decide it's time to make a change in the dugout.
How many managers could take a 10-year hiatus from the game, then return to lead a team to the best record in baseball and a position to win a World Series championship?
Despite that long break, Davey Johnson showed he still had the skills and aptitude to manage a major league ballclub. Those 10 years away from the dugout seem to have recharged him and renewed his desire to manage another winner.
Johnson has kept the Nationals in first place in the NL East despite injuries to players like Michael Morse and Drew Storen early in the season. He later lost Wilson Ramos and Jayson Werth. Yet the Nats continued to win games.
The 69-year-old skipper has also shown an ability to develop young players, helping Bryce Harper learn how to channel his aggressiveness effectively. Johnson also faced a difficult situation with Stephen Strasburg and his innings limit this season.
Whether he handled Strasburg's shutdown effectively and how he keeps his team focused on winning despite that major distraction remain to be seen. But Johnson has certainly shown this season that he's one of the best managers in baseball.
Everybody loves Joe Maddon.
He is widely viewed as the best manager in baseball and justifiably so. He wins games despite a front office and ownership that isn't going to make huge trades or hand out large contracts to top free-agent talent.
Player development and an ability to find undervalued players who can succeed in certain roles have been the keys to the Tampa Bay Rays' success. But young players develop and journeyman players thrive because of the way Maddon manages them.
He isn't afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. He'll bat sluggers in the leadoff spot or slap-hitting infielders in the cleanup spot to try to find the winning combination for a given game. He keeps his team loose with tactics like dressing up for road trips.
Few managers actually look like they're having fun with their jobs. Maddon does. That's probably because he's extremely good at his job.
Perhaps Joe Maddon is the best manager in MLB. But I'll take the guy who's been able to build winners at most every stop in his career.
Buck Showalter returned the New York Yankees to respectability. He built the Arizona Diamondbacks from the ground up. Unfortunately for him, he left both clubs before they won the World Series. Now, he's engineering a major turnaround with the Baltimore Orioles, putting them in position to challenge the Yankees for an AL East title and wild-card playoff spot.
(Perhaps the biggest mystery of Showalter's career is how he wasn't able to succeed with the Texas Rangers. Was he just a bad fit with the front office there? Was he not able to put together the right mix of players?)
The Orioles shouldn't compete with the Yankees based on their respective rosters. In particular, the Orioles have a starting rotation that appears to be held together with duct tape and rubber bands. Yet they're contending for a playoff spot when most expected them to finish last in their division.
Showalter isn't as fun to watch or cover as Maddon. But his stern approach has worked almost everywhere he's managed. Hiring him was the smartest move the Orioles have made in 15 years. Maybe this time he'll get a championship trophy to show for it.
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