The best way to measure a manager is not strictly by his won-loss record, influenced as it is by the available talent at hand.
No, the best way to measure a manager is to evaluate his results relative to the expectations, while taking into account the abnormalities of the season at hand.
By this measure, I can think of no manager more deserving of the Baseball Writers' Association of America's Manager of the Year Award -- in either league -- than Buck Showalter of the Orioles. Because while some other clubs did, indeed, surprise -- and here Showalter's fellow American League finalists, Bob Melvin of the A's and Robin Ventura of the White Sox, deserve special applause -- no manager did more with less than did Buck.
We'll find out if Showalter's work earned him his second Manager of the Year honor when the BBWAA hands out its hardware on Tuesday.
Until then, a few pertinent points demonstrate why Showalter is so deserving.
The O's, as you know, won 93 games this season, claiming the AL's second Wild Card spot and finishing second in the vaunted AL East, just two games shy of a New York Yankees club that had 2.4 times their Opening Day payroll.
How shocking was this? Well, consider the PECOTA projections going into the year. PECOTA, for those who don't know, is a projection system created by Nate Silver (the same guy who nailed every state in his presidential race prognostication) and maintained by Baseball Prospectus. Like all things in life, it is fallible. But it can still be illustrative of expectations. And on Opening Day 2012, PECOTA expected Baltimore to finish at 71-91, dead last in the East.
Melvin's A's also blew away their projection (finishing with 94 wins instead of the projected 77), and I can't say enough about what a fantastic job Melvin and the A's did, under trying circumstances, in chasing down the Rangers in the season's final week to capture the AL West. Ventura's White Sox finished 10 games better than the projection (85 wins instead of 75) but faded badly in the home stretch.
Awards season, unfortunately, forces us to draw dividing lines among deserving candidates. It's impossible to know exactly how much influence a manager has had without relying too much on subjective stuff. But I give Showalter the edge, not because of the dreaded "East Coast bias" but because I believe a manager's guiding hand and tactical might is most meaningful and material in the close contests.
And as is well-documented, no club thrived in close contests quite like the Orioles.
They were 54-23 in games decided by one (29-9) or two (25-14) runs. According to Elias Sports Bureau, their .763 winning percentage in one-run games was the best in the modern era. Only the one-run winning percentages of the Cleveland Blues (16-3) in 1883 and the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (14-4) in 1890 ranked higher.
When the O's were on the road, they were feisty, notching the most road wins (46) of any club in the AL. And when the Orioles went to extras, they were all but unstoppable. The O's won each of their final 16 extra-inning games, going 16-2 on the year. It's also notable that they went 13-5 in games following extra-inning games.
Again, how much credit do you give Showalter for this? It's hard to say. But it takes a special club with special leadership to put forth that type of effort.
And when I mention Showalter "doing more with less," I mean it. No playoff club -- heck, no club with so much as a winning record -- had a worse run differential than the Orioles. They scored just seven more runs than they gave up. By comparison, Melvin's A's outscored their opponents by 99 runs, and so their 90-plus wins are at least a little easier to decipher. The White Sox outscored their opponents by 72 runs. With Showalter, the final record reads as more of a magic act.
Showalter had to work his magic quite a bit. The O's used 52 players, with 32 making their club debut. They made 178 roster moves. Because of injuries and general instability, only one starter -- Wei-Yin Chen -- took the ball more than 20 times. The Orioles had zero .300 hitters. Nate McLouth became the leadoff hitter. Lew Ford was resurrected. Manny Machado was counted on to make major contributions at the age of 20.
Put it all together and the O's were a blissfully bizarre playoff club, and Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette both deserve hearty pats on the back for making the wild ride last as long as it did.
Showalter made an instant impact in changing the clubhouse culture when he took over this club in August 2010. The 2011 season was predictably rough, given the talent level, but the 24-win improvement in his second full season once again showed Showalter's strengths in molding a club to his talents and temperament.
In Showalter's second season with the D-backs in 1999, he led a 35-game improvement over the year before. In his second season in New York in 1993, the Yankees had a 12-game improvement. And in 2004, it was an 18-game improvement in his second season with the Rangers, earning him that year's AL Manager of the Year Award.
As far as I'm concerned, Showalter has earned another.