Kirk Gibson Wins NL Manager of the Year: 5 Reasons He Deserved It
In a decision that came as a surprise to few in baseball, Kirk Gibson was announced as the winner of the National League Manager of the Year Award for 2011. Gibson won in a runaway vote in which he earned 28 of 32 first-place votes, and he was the only manager in either league to be named on every ballot.
The award was given following a season in which Gibson led the Diamondbacks in a remarkable improvement from a 65-win last-place finish in 2010 to a 94-win first-place finish in 2011.
Despite Gibson's accomplishments, there are some who feel the award should have gone to a more deserving winner, namely the Milwaukee Brewers' Ron Roenicke or the champion St. Louis Cardinals' Tony La Russa—both of whom received first-place votes.
While both Roenicke and La Russa had impressive seasons and deserved consideration for the award, neither manager's accomplishment compared to what Gibson pulled off in Arizona. Here are five reasons why Kirk Gibson deserved his first Manager of the Year Award.
The Diamondbacks' Dramatic Improvement
Between 2007 and 2009, the Diamondbacks' win total declined each season, falling from 90 wins to 70. When Gibson took the team's reins midway through the 2010 season, the team had a record of 31-48.
Though the team improved only minimally during the time he was manager in 2010, the Diamondbacks' record improved in 2011 by 29 wins. No other National League Manager of the Year candidate led his team to an improvement anywhere near Gibson.
Ron Roenicke of the Brewers had the second-greatest improvement with 19 wins, and Clint Hurdle of the Pirates was third with 15 wins. After that, no manager who received votes for NL Manager of the Year saw his team improve by more than five wins.
What makes the Diamondbacks' improvement even more impressive is that they got so much better despite no longer having Dan Haren in the rotation and losing shortstop Stephen Drew for half of the season to injury.
Many advantages come with having a young team: There's less chance of injury, players are generally more open to coaching and players need less rest. However, there are also a number of pitfalls to having a team full of young players, and a poor manager can easily lose control of a team of young, inexperienced players.
Gibson's success this year is all the more impressive considering the lack of veterans on the Diamondbacks squad. Of the six players with at least 400 at-bats, only one was over 30 years old (Ryan Roberts), and two (Gerardo Parra and Justin Upton) were under 25 years old.
The pitching staff was no older. Every single pitcher who started at least five games was under 30 at the beginning of the season, and 34 of the team's wins were earned by pitchers who were 25 or younger at the start of the season.
Gibson's success in leading this young team almost completely void of veteran leadership cannot be overlooked in assessing his accomplishments in 2011.
He Did More with Less
In 2010, when Kirk Gibson took over the Diamondbacks, the team payroll had grown to more than $75 million, the largest it had been since 2003. Despite the increased payroll, the team turned in a 65-97 record.
For the 2011 season, the Diamondbacks' payroll shrunk nearly $19 million to just under $56.5 million—a decrease of 25 percent. Yet despite the substantial cut, Gibson's team improved its win total by almost 45 percent.
The Diamondbacks' payroll is even more impressive when compared to the payrolls of teams led by other Manager of the Year candidates. The Brewers' payroll was $32 million higher, the Braves' $34 million higher, the Cardinals' $52 million higher, the Giants' $65 million higher and the Phillies' $119 million higher—over three times the Diamondbacks' payroll. Only the Pirates had a lower payroll ($7 million less), but they won 22 fewer games.
For a few years, the Diamondbacks have been labeled a team full of potential. Under Gibson's leadership, almost all of the Diamondbacks' best young players had breakout seasons.
No player on the D-Backs improved more than Ian Kennedy. In 2010, Kennedy came to the Diamondbacks from the Yankees, and in his first full season as a starting pitcher, he posted a mediocre 9-10 record with a 3.80 ERA and led the league in wild pitches.
In 2011, Kennedy became one of the best young pitchers in the league and a legitimate Cy Young candidate, leading the league in wins with a 21-4 record, along with a 2.88 ERA and 198 strikeouts.
Kennedy wasn't alone in his improvement. Left fielder Gerardo Parra improved his batting average by 31 points and his on-base percentage by 49 points. He also improved his power numbers from three home runs to eight home runs, and he won his first career Gold Glove award.
Ryan Roberts, who struggled in limited playing time in 2010, improved his batting average by 52 points and hit 19 home runs, 12 more than his previous high.
The top young player in the Diamondbacks' system, Justin Upton, had struggled in 2010 after a strong 2009 season in which he earned his first All-Star selection. Like many of his teammates, Upton showed improvement in 2011, improving his batting average by 16 points and hitting 31 home runs, up from 17. Upton earned his second All-Star selection and his first Silver Slugger Award.
Not everyone on the Diamondbacks improved in Gibson's first full season, but the majority of their most promising young prospects showed great improvement playing under him.
Kirk Gibson's take-no-prisoners attitude has been well documented going back to his playing days.
The best example of this is the semi-legendary story of spring training 1988, in which Dodgers pitcher Jesse Orosco put shoe black in the hat of his new teammate as a practical joke. Gibson exploded, criticizing the team's recent poor play and demanding greater professionalism. Gibson won the respect of his teammates and was the leader of the 1988 championship club.
Gibson has mellowed with age, but he has brought the same expectation of professionalism to Arizona. J.J. Putz said about Gibson, “He would never let us quit. If he thinks someone quit, that guy wouldn’t be in the lineup the next day.”
Ian Kennedy complimented Gibson's "never-give-in type of attitude. When your manager is harping on it all the time and he's just as fiery late in games, it kind of rubs off on you as a player."
This type of leadership can often rub veterans the wrong way, but it was the perfect match for the young Diamondbacks team. Gibson helped instill an attitude and values in his players that will stick with them the rest of their careers.