The year was 2006. The then-Florida Marlins began Opening Day with the lowest payroll—$15 million—in Major League Baseball, the most frugal amount by more than $20 million. Their average player age went from 29.5 to 25.9-years-old in less than a year, and they played 22 rookies over the 162 games. They started out 11-31.
When the locker rooms were cleaned out at the end, however, the Marlins had been in the National League Wild Card race up until the last two weeks of the season. Joe Girardi became the first skipper to win the Manager of the Year award despite his team having a losing record.
Gives the Miami Marlins and Mike Redmond hope for getting the award again, doesn’t it?
It’s not that cuckoo. It’s late-August, yet the Marlins are only four games back of an NL Wild Card berth. You can give the second Wild Card some credit for ensuring the Marlins still have hope, but Miami has aided its own cause. The fish were 62-100 last year and had a -133 run differential. 11 months later, they’re .500, on pace for 81 wins, and dropped their run differential to -26.
Yes, they’re not statistically good—in the bottom part of baseball in pitching, and only middle-of-the-pack in offense—but it’s an improvement. They have eight more one-run victories than they did a year ago, they have a winning home record, and with 36 games to play are only seven runs shy of surpassing their runs scored total from last season. With those numbers, then, it’s no shock that the Marlins already have more wins than they had in 2013.
It’s merely a stunner that they were able to put up such numbers.
That’s why Redmond is the best man to win NL Manager of the Year: the shock. The last time anyone thought the Marlins had a chance to make the postseason, Jose Reyes was their shortstop, Mark Buehrle was one of their starting pitchers, and Ozzie Guillen was in their dugout. Sure, hope was on the horizon in April because the Marlins stockpiled prospects from their fire sale two years ago, but this was the kind of season people expected in a few years. How often, after all, does the league’s most pitiful team become a playoff contender in less than a year, with essentially the same roster?
The barrel wasn’t yet warm for Redmond, yet somehow he’s pulled out gold.
He was given a developing, weak offense, and they’ve still managed to compete at the plate. Last year, the Marlins only had one regular hitter with an OPS+ over 100; this year they have six. You can chalk up a lot of the Marlins’ success to Giancarlo Stanton’s MVP-caliber season, but Redmond surely has helped craft Stanton into a leader.
For years before this season, half of the Stanton conversations were about when he would leave the Marlins. The fans thought he’d be traded, and heck, he wasn’t shy about the possibility either. In 2014, though, the talk is different. Stanton’s all-in with this team, this playoff contender. He’s the player that drives the club. More power to him, but Redmond’s helped move that along.
Stanton is one player that has always been predicted to be good for Miami, but the surprises make this an impressive season for Redmond. The surprises, also known as the somehows. Somehow, despite being given Jarrod Saltalamacchia (career .313 on-base percentage), Garrett Jones (.289 OBP last season for the Pittsburgh Pirates), and Casey McGehee (last played in MLB in 2012), Redmond managed to produce a decent lineup and a passable offense. Somehow, he’s made Henderson Alvarez into one of the best pitchers in the National League. Somehow, despite playing in a complete pitchers’ ballpark, he’s gotten his offense to score 4.4 runs a game at home.
But what’s really made Redmond appear to be the best manager in the league this year is what he’s done with the ace somehow. Somehow without his best pitcher, one of the top pitchers in baseball, Jose Fernandez, Redmond has guided the Marlins to the .500 mark. Almost no club would be OK after losing such a stellar starting pitcher. Fernandez himself accounted for a number of the Marlins’ wins last year.
Yet here are the fish, with more victories than they had last year when Fernandez played the whole season. It’s remarkable that Redmond has kept his rotation afloat without the Cuban superstar. Fernandez was by far the Marlins’ best starter. Sure, Alvarez has turned into a fine starter himself, but he’s no Jose Fernandez.
And even with a good Alvarez season, you wouldn’t expect that Redmond could keep his team relevant on the mound. Again, somehow, Redmond did it. Despite the lack of depth, two other Miami starters—Nathan Eovaldi and Tom Koehler—have WHIP’s under 1.3 to put up a doable front three to keep the Marlins close in games.
Sure, Ron Roenicke is a good choice for the award because he’s turned the Brewers from an 88 loss club last year into a division-leading one this season. But at least the Brewers had a shot to be good this year. Their offense looked promising coming into the 2014 season with Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, Aramis Ramirez, and others. No one expected the Marlins to be .500 at the end of August, though, especially after Fernandez went out for the season and Miami was dead-last in the NL in average, OBP, and slugging in 2013.
Wait for it—somehow, Miami is hanging in there with teams with way more developed talent than them. The St. Louis Cardinals have experienced players, and the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves have better pitching. Yet the Marlins are only a great week or two of baseball away from going into a Wild Card position.
The statistics haven’t said the Marlins are a good team. Their pitching is weak overall, their offense is only OK, and they’ve gotten a lot of help from their contenders not running away with the Wild Cards.
But that’s why a manager’s role isn’t truly quantifiable. He’s the social leader, the guy who has to make sure the dreaded intangibles don’t corrode the talent, and the guy who has to make sure the intangibles create talent. The manager has to sometimes pull a rabbit out of the hat, and Mike Redmond certainly has done that with the Marlins this season just by having them in contention down the stretch. His team may not have alluring box scores, but statistics don’t always determine who gets the Manager of the Year award; just ask Joe Girardi.