The Baseball Writers Association of America has announced its American League Manager of the Year, and, no surprise, it’s the Oakland Athletics’ Bob Melvin.
In winning Manager of the Year for the third time (twice with the A’s, and once with the Arizona Diamondbacks), Melvin is one of seven managers — Buck Showalter, Jim Leyland, Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, Lou Pinella and Joe Maddon — to win the award three or more times. He’s the second A’s manager to receive the honor since the award was first introduced in 1983, following eventual four-time winner LaRussa.
“It’s some pretty good company,” Melvin said on the MLB Network. “It was a group effort this year, probably moreso than I’ve ever been a part of.”
Melvin received 18 first-place votes, 10 second-place votes and one third-place votes for 121 total points, far ahead of World Series-winning manager Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox, who received 79 total points and seven first-place votes, and Kevin Cash of the Tampa Bay Rays, who received 57 total points and five first-place votes.
“It’s managers you watch, it’s guys you take things from, you try to be steadfast and you try to be consistent in what you do, and you try to be on the players’ side and understanding,” Melvin said. “I’ve been blessed to be put in some organizations and some situations where you have a chance to get an award like this, but it’s all the experiences that you see over the years that kind of make you who you are. Phil Garner was my mentor and a guy that really showed me how to do this, and gave me opportunities to do it.”
With the lowest Opening Day payroll in Major League Baseball, after three straight last-place finishes, Melvin guided the A’s to their first postseason since 2014, as Oakland won 97 games and reached the Wild Card Game, before bowing out to the New York Yankees on Oct. 3. Oakland’s 22-win improvement over 2017 was the third time a Melvin-managed team increased its win total by 20 or more games from the previous season.
In doing so, he earned an extension to stay with the club through 2021, with a club option for 2022.
“This has kind of always been the place for me,” Melvin said on the occasion of his extension being announced. “I’ve been a couple places before that, but the minute I got here, going forward, I knew that this is the one place I really wanted to be, wanted to stay.”
After finishing last season going 16-7 down the stretch in 2017, with their first winning month since 2014, the A’s started 2018 going 34-36. On June 16, Oakland began one of the great runs in baseball history, winning 63 of its final 92 games and briefly wresting hold of first place in the American League West from the Houston Astros, before falling back of the rejuvenated World Series champions as they got several key contributors back from injury.
Melvin guided the A’s through the loss of six starting pitchers due to to season-ending procedures. Kendall Graveman, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn and Daniel Gossett all missed significant time, with Graveman and and Gossett undergoing Tommy John surgery. A.J. Puk — Oakland’s top prospect who was expected to crack the rotation at some point this year — also missed the entire season with Tommy John surgery, as did Jharel Cotton, another prospective starter.
Triggs missed most of the year due to thoracic outlet syndrome. Sean Manaea pitched with shoulder discomfort most of the year, and was finally operated on in the final weeks of the season. He’s expected to miss most of 2019.
With retreads and tatters to make up his starting rotation, Melvin deftly balanced cast-offs like Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson with youngsters like Daniel Mengden and Frankie Montas, while integrating journeyman Edwin Jackson in a rotation that saw 14 different pitchers start games this season.
Of those 14 starters, one was a reliever — Liam Hendriks. With the starting rotation in shambles, Melvin and the A’s resorted to using Hendriks as an opener eight of their nine tries at the strategy in the month of September. In those nine games, Oakland went 4-5. The strategy didn’t work out so well using Lou Trivino during the final series of the season, or against New York.
Nevertheless, the A’s finished with the fourth-best record in baseball and made the postseason for the fourth time under Melvin. The Cal grad and former big league catcher won the Sporting News AL Manager of the Year Award earlier this offseason, becoming just the third Athletics skipper to win, following Billy Martin (1981) and Tony La Russa (1988 and 1992).
“To accomplish what we did takes a lot of buy-in,” Melvin said. “Our coaches and our players had a really cool bond this year, and a trust. It allows us to accomplish what we did kind of against all odds. I’m the recipient of this thing, but there are a lot of people involved in this thing, our players and our coaches. I can’t thank them enough, the front office, everybody in our organization.”
Melvin, a former San Francisco Giant and a Menlo Park native, has been with Oakland since 2011, going 634-599 over that span — the third-most wins in franchise history behind Connie Mack (3,582) and La Russa (798). Among active managers, only Bruce Bochy (San Francisco), Ned Yost (Kansas City), and Clint Hurdle (Pittsburgh) have longer uninterrupted tenures with their current teams.
“We feel like this is just the start of something big,” Melvin said. “Obviously we lost that last game against the Yankees, but we talked about this is the start of something big for us. You look around the diamond, the veterans we have, the younger players that have come up through our system, there’s such a passion, finally, for being an Oakland A. It’s really exciting.”