In three years under Bob Melvin, the Oakland A's have continued to improve.
If there's anyone who can eventually lead the Oakland A's to a World Series, it's current manager Bob Melvin.
First and foremost, he's done an outstanding job as it is with this current group. Melvin took the helm two months into the 2011 season with the A's already nine games below .500. In the midst of turmoil and a managerial change, Melvin led the team to a 47-52 record under his tutelage.
From 2011 to 2012, Melvin increased the team's winning percentage from .475 to .580. That quick turnaround led to a "surprise" AL West championship and a 94-68 record. His leadership earned him AL Manager of the Year honors, his second in a 10-year career.
With higher expectations this season, Oakland finished two games better than last year. And rather than come from down and out of nowhere to earn the crown, many viewed Oakland as a division winner early. Naturally they accepted the role and earned the designation once again.
But what is it about Melvin, his leadership skills and this team in particular that makes him the perfect fit?
Think of the most notable MLB managers. If guys like Joe Torre, Mike Scioscia or Bruce Bochy came to mind, you're on the right track. All of them are former catchers.
Why does this matter?
Melvin too is a former catcher. And there seems to be a correlation between catching experience—managing a squad's pitching staff—and finding success as a big league manager. Google search "former catchers, MLB managers" and you'll see the research has been done quite a few times.
Melvin has 10 years of experience as a big league manager. He's coached three different teams, two from the AL West and one National League team. This gives him plenty of experience coaching in this division, and five years in the NL certainly helps when it comes to interleague and a potential World Series matchup.
He's also a two-time Manager of the Year award winner. One of those came last season, his first full year with Oakland.
Experience behind the dish? Check. AL West? Check. National League? Check. Awards? Check. Playoff experience? Check.
Melvin's style is perfect for this A's team, for a few reasons.
First, he has been described as a player's manager multiple times, dating back to when he first arrived in 2011. He isn't over the top and in your face, but he'll defend his guys when necessary and without delay. He isn't afraid to make hard moves, but he makes them masterfully, utilizing honesty and open communication.
For an example, recall how he handled removing Grant Balfour from the closing role in 2012, and how that issue ended up.
Balfour thrived in a setup role before earning the closer duties back. Then he went on a dominant spree that resulted in an Oakland A's record for consecutive saves without a blown save.
Then there's his mantra. Melvin seems to live by "play for the day." Last year down the stretch, I was in the dugout when he said the A's "keep it simple" and that the team enjoys each other and has fun together. Nothing has changed this year.
This wouldn't work with a large payroll team. Owners and GMs of teams like Boston, New York or Los Angeles don't want to simply take it one day at a time. With nine-figure payrolls towards the top of the MLB list, the idea is more like "you better win every game or else."
With relaxed managing (without being too lackadaisical), players work hard for him but have fun and enjoy the game at the same time.
And that's exactly what they need.
The Athletics are comprised of many young players, players who might not respond as well to a more authoritative manager. Melvin is the parent who says "I'm taking you out because of this, but..." rather than "I'm taking you out because I said so."
He's been in the game long enough to have a good grasp of what works and what doesn't, but he's not so old school and outdated as to be apprehensive to change. In other words, he's flexible. Look to his constant platooning methods for proof of that.
And his platoons work in Oakland, because there aren't any real national superstars, which also makes the team perennial underdogs.
Imagine Melvin telling Albert Pujols—who hit .213 against left-handed pitchers in 2013—he's going to platoon at first base. Or Derek Jeter the same thing at short against righties. On most other teams, with most other veterans, platooning wouldn't work simply because of the egos.
With this team, he can get away with telling an Eric Sogard he'll sit, or a Brandon Moss he'll be in right field today. He can even try Yoenis Cespedes in centerfield to see if it works. He can bench Balfour in favor of Cook temporarily and face little backlash.
Drive and Determination
It'd be easy to be complacent after two consecutive division wins for a team not expected to do so. It'd be easy to take a 94-win season and a 96-win season as the silver lining of Melvin's tenure.
But according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, Melvin has different thoughts:
Bob Melvin calls Game 5 loss more disappointing than last year. "We've beaten on this door a couple of times. We need to just kick it in."— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) October 11, 2013
On the other hand, it'd be easy to hit the panic button. The system isn't working, so let's blow it all up, start fresh and change everything.
Nope. Melvin ain't doing that either according to John Shea, also of the Chronicle.
A day after, Melvin doesn't have regrets about decision-making and said he believes #athletics can sustain this success.— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) October 11, 2013
Melvin on changing any kind of approach in 2014: "Our makeup is our makeup. We win doing things a certain way." #athletics— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) October 11, 2013
It's true. The Athletics win under Melvin, his style, his game management and, yes, even his unorthodox platoon system. It worked during a 162-game regular season. There's no reason it can't work during a 19-game (max) postseason.