Although the 2017 season didn’t end the way Indians Manager Terry Francona and Tribe fans had hoped, he will be in the thick of consideration for his third American League Manager of the Year award from the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Francona previously won the award in 2013, and again in 2016, meaning that receiving the award in consecutive years will probably prove to be a tough task. In fact, no manager in the American League has received the award in consecutive years. Only Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox for the 2004 and 2005 has repeated as the winner in the National League.
He’ll also have stark competition from Paul Molitor of the Minnesota Twins and A.J. Hinch of the Houston Astros. Even New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi could get some votes for his team’s performance in what many had thought would be a rebuilding year.
Molitor will get plenty of votes as he lead a Minnesota team that lost 103 games in 2016, but then turned it around quickly by winning 85 games and securing a wild-card berth to become the first team ever to lose 100 or more games and then make the playoffs the following season.
Hinch will also get consideration with the Astros winning 101 games as should Girardi for guiding a Yankee team that had low expectations entering the season, but won 91 games and made the playoffs as a wild card.
But here are some quick reasons for why Francona should win it (although he probably won’t).
First of all, the Indians finished the regular season with 102 wins, which is the second most in team history and the most in the American League in 2017. He also did this while having a cardiac ablation done midway through the season.
Francona led his team to 22 consecutive victories, something that had never been done before in the history of the American League. It’s an accomplishment that will be tough to ever beat, let alone any team getting close to that number for probably a very long time. Part of that winning streak, also included a franchise-best 14 consecutive road wins, which is its own amazing story that is overshadowed by the 22-game streak.
Keep in mind, the Indians outstanding regular season accomplishments in 2017 occurred despite significant injuries to many of the Indians core players. Guys including Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Corey Kluber (yes he did miss an entire month of the season before he came back and was awesome the rest of the year), Andrew Miller, Bradley Zimmer, and Danny Salazar all missed significant chunks of the season.
What that meant was Francona had to constantly juggle usage of almost the entire 40-man roster during the season and find the best way to utilize each player’s skills. He wasn’t afforded the luxury of penciling in the same players in the same positions in the lineup or on the field. In total, 41 players made appearances for the Tribe.
It’s worth noting that Francona has also helped usher in a new trend in baseball that relies more heavily on bullpen usage than ever before. All of baseball watched in 2016 how a dominating reliever could carry a team in the playoffs, rather than a starting pitcher. Andrew Miller pitching in the fourth inning? You betcha. Now all the good teams are doing it.
Francona began his managerial career with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1997 through 2000 and had a rather dismal 285-363 record. But since he returned to MLB in 2004 Francona and his teams have been winners. In his next 13 seasons as an American League manager, Francona has never had a losing season and averages 92 wins per year.
Plus, he has won the World Series twice with the Red Sox and gotten to the World Series once with the Tribe. So even with talented players on his rosters over the years, Francona seems to be doing something right in the clubhouse.
Again, it will be tough for Francona to repeat as American League Manager of the Year, but he should.