6 Reasons Dusty Baker Should Win NL Manager of the Year
Despite the ups and downs during his time as manager in Cincinnati, Dusty Baker deserves to win the 2012 National League Manager of the Year.
After narrowly missing out on the award when he led the Reds to the NL Central title in 2010, Baker should receive some recognition for his work with the team this season.
He is in the last year of his contract, but John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports owner Bob Castellini wants Baker to stick around for years to come. The manager deserves an extension because the team is closing in on its second division title in three seasons.
Baker is a player's manager, which is great for the clubhouse. The team always looks loose and does not press too much. His managing style is a big reason for the team's success.
Like him or not, there is no denying how much the players like him. Respect for a manager goes a long way in the majors, and Baker has him team playing great baseball since the All-Star break.
The Reds currently own an 11-game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals. When the team finally clinches, fans should realize the adversity the team has overcome this season. Baker should be rewarded after the season by being named the NL Manager of the Year.
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Although the Reds have not had to deal with a key player being out for a full season, the team has had to deal with numerous injuries in 2012.
For starters, the entire infield has missed time with injuries. Second baseman Brandon Phillips missed some time in April and August with a calf injury. Third baseman Scott Rolen has missed time in nearly every month this season because of back and shoulder problems. Rookie shortstop Zack Cozart is currently dealing with an oblique strain that has forced him to miss two weeks.
Three games after the All-Star break, first baseman Joey Votto went down with a knee injury. He missed seven weeks but returned in early September. The team went on a 10-game winning streak and had a 22-3 stretch during the 2010 NL Most Valuable Player's absence. Cincinnati went an incredible 33-16 without Votto.
In the outfield, Drew Stubbs missed part of June with an oblique strain.
The pitching staff has been great, but it is missing key pieces. Newcomer Ryan Madson, who was signed to be the closer, had Tommy John Surgery before the season started. Setup man Nick Masset missed the entire season with a shoulder injury.
Lack of a Bench
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...a lack of a bench could be a disaster for any team.
The team failed to have a productive left-handed bat on the bench until after the All-Star break. Willie Harris (.114 batting average) and Mike Costanzo (.056) failed to produce. Xavier Paul finally arrived in mid-July and is hitting over .300 in limited action.
Not only did the left-handed bats not produce, but the right-handed hitters have been shaky. Miguel Cairo (.176) and Wilson Valdez (.203) fail to get key hits late in games. Chris Heisey is hitting .281 for the season, but he has not been used as a pinch hitter much. When he's been used off the bench, he is 6-for-18 and has walked three times.
The average for pinch hitters has been inflated by Heisey and Paul, but the team has failed to consistently get hits from players off the bench. The Reds have only had one pinch-hit home run this season (Heisey had four by himself in 2010).
Cincinnati's bench has improved with the September roster expansions. Rookies Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco are now part of the bench, and veteran Dioner Navarro also gives the team another option.
Dusty Baker did not have much to work with late in games this season, and he should get credit for his maneuvering.
Sticking with His Gut
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Known as a player's manager, Baker gives players every opportunity to catch fire.
His confidence in Jay Bruce has paid off. He had faith in Drew Stubbs earlier this season, and Stubbs helped carry the team past the trade deadline. Bruce and Stubbs are both young and go through slumps, but the manager's confidence helps the players relax.
With Stubbs struggling mightily as of late, Baker is beginning to give Chris Heisey more opportunities to prove himself.
Veteran Ryan Ludwick joined the team in the offseason, and he had to battle with Heisey for the left field job. Fans wanted Heisey to get more playing time, but Ludwick continued to play with the assumption he would get hot.
The 34-year-old is hitting .277 with 26 home runs and 79 RBI this season. Ludwick has worked his way into contention for NL Comeback Player of the Year. His production at the plate has allowed Baker to move Phillips back to the leadoff spot.
Baker's lineup choices are criticized beyond belief. The official Twitter of the Cincinnati Reds has even used "#dustylineup" due to the constant criticism of the manager's lineups.
Phillips 4, Valdez 6, Votto 3, Ludwick 7, Bruce 9, Frazier 5, Stubbs 8, Hanigan 2, Arroyo RHP; #dustylineup Magic Numbers are 8 and 6.— Reds (@Reds) September 14, 2012
With the injuries and lack of a bench, Baker has had to mix and match his lineup. The lack of production at the top of the lineup has forced him to continue to rotate players in front of the middle of the lineup.
His lineup choices helped lead the team to a 33-16 record without Votto. He continues to give Ludwick and Rolen days off to help keep them fresh, which has fans complaining about the lineup. Fans continue to criticize Baker, but he knows what he is doing.
Baker is getting better at making the right choice when it comes to pitchers. He rarely leaves a pitcher in too long or hands the ball to the bullpen too early.
His decisions may not be the most popular, but he continues to make the right moves.
Naming Aroldis Chapman the Closer
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On May 19, the Cincinnati Reds were 20-19 and trailed the St. Louis Cardinals by 1.5 games in the NL Central. Manager Dusty Baker decided to name Aroldis Chapman the closer at that point. Since that time, the Reds are 68-40 and are set to clinch the division soon.
During the past four months, he leads the National League in saves with 35. He has become the most dominant pitcher in baseball (until his recent struggles).
Chapman has 119 strikeouts in 67.2 innings pitched this season, and he has walked only 20 batters. His control has been key all season, so it is crucial for him to come back strong in the final two weeks of the season and into October.
Fans want to see Chapman get a chance to start. But who would be taken out of the rotation?
The rotation has been phenomenal this season, and even Mike Leake has shown signs of brilliance at a young age.
Chapman is exactly where he needs to be. When he enters a game in the ninth inning, opponents have very little chance of coming back. His fastball-slider combination is one of the best in baseball.
He has a 1.60 earned run average this season. Chapman has the arm to help lead the Reds deep into October by closing out games.
Chapman has won two consecutive MLB Delivery Man of the Month awards and has put his name into the Cy Young debate.
Handling of the Bullpen
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Pitching in Great American Ball Park is no easy task. However, Cincinnati has been able to figure it out this season. The team has the best bullpen ERA in the majors, according to MLB.com.
The team's 2.58 ERA is remarkable and is nearly three-tenths lower than the next closest team. Part of the reason for the low ERA is the fact that the bullpen has thrown the third-fewest innings in baseball.
Baker has handled the bullpen extremely well. He has found times to rest Chapman and rarely uses him more than two games in a row. The left-hander is now feeling fatigue from working so much, but that is the result of throwing 100 mph every outing.
Relievers are starting to shut teams down. Baker now has the ability to put in any reliever no matter what the situation is. The bullpen is performing better than any other staff in the league thanks to the light workload.
Of the Reds relievers who made more than 15 appearances this season, only Logan Ondrusek has an ERA higher than 3.00.
Without a strong bullpen, the Reds would not be in the position they are currently in. Baker's management of the arms has kept the relievers from pitching too much. He has allowed six different pitchers to record saves this season.
The Reds relievers also have the second-lowest batting average against (.195) when pitching to the first batter they face.
With Chapman coming back soon, the bullpen will continue to close out games.
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The team's success is the most important part of winning the award for best manager. Clint Hurdle of the Pittsburgh Pirates was an apparent lock to win the award, but his team is now hovering around the .500 mark.
Davey Johnson of the Washington Nationals will be Baker's biggest competition. The Nationals have one more win than the Reds, but Johnson has a rotation full of stars. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Jordan Zimmerman have led the Nationals to the best ERA of any rotation in the major leagues.
Washington also has not had to deal with the number of injuries Cincinnati has dealt with.
Fans need to calm down and give Baker some credit. He continues to deal with a shuffling roster. The Reds hope to have a healthy lineup going into October, so fans will finally get to see what the starting eight looks like together.
Baker's managing has the Reds in position to finish no lower than second place in the National League. If the Reds can make a run at the top spot and home-field advantage, Baker will have a chance to win NL Manager of the Year.