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Blue Jays John Gibbons: AL Manager of the Year?

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With a possible MVP in Josh Donaldson and Cy Young Award for David Price, there will be no shortage of Blue Jays taking home hardware at the end of the season. But another award not being talked around the Blue Jays as much lies in one of their undervalued assets; manager John Gibbons. First, lets look at the possible contenders for the AL Manager of the year in an order of purely my own power rankings.

1. Jeff Bannister – Texas Rangers
2. Ned Yost – Kansas City Royals
3. John Gibbons – Toronto Blue Jays
4. A.J Hinch – Houston Astros
5. Paul Moliter  – Minnesota Twins

We should first look at past winners. Manager of the year is usually an award given out to the manager of the best team, the team with the most overall improvement under a new manager or the team that seem to outperform all odds. But with John Gibbons at third place in these very unofficial power rankings, does he really have a shot to win? Let’s start by looking at the men above him.

Ned Yost is simply second because he has managed the best team in the American League from start to finish all year, and if the Royals finish with a better record than the Blue Jays, then Yost deserves the recognition. But with the Blue Jays only sitting game back of the Royals for the best record in the American League, it would be no surprise for John Gibbons to leap ahead of Yost by the very last day of the season.

Jeff Bannister holds first, and if you don’t know his history in baseball it’s a whole other article you should be reading. The odds of the Texas Rangers making the playoffs at the All Star break were pretty slim at 4 games below .500 while playing some pretty uninspiring baseball.  Based on how many injuries they had and how many players they had playing left field (a position in which Mike Napoli fills in for!) Bannister was able to keep this team alive long enough to overtake Houston for the top spot in the AL West.

They have made an unbelievable run in the last week to shoot Bannister up the leaderboard to number one. If the season ended today the Rangers would have won their division, under a new manager, facing some pretty tough odds against the Astros and Angels.

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But why does John Gibbons deserve the award? The Blue Jays were able to make the moves they did at the trade deadline because they were in a position to. If the Jays were 15 games under .500, dreams of winning a division and making a wildcard would have been saved for next season. John Gibbons kept the Jays floating with the rotation and bullpen he was dealt.

Gibbons, over the years (especially this year), has done a terrific job developing young talent and putting rookies in positions to succeed. Not only a testament to him but also to Alex Anthopoulos for drafting correctly and the player development system at the minor league level. Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar have been perfect examples of John Gibbons getting the most out of young talent. The Steamer Projection system for 2015 looked like this for the two players:

2015 Projection:

[table id=107 /]

2015 Actual:

[table id=108 /]

The contrasting WAR numbers are the main focus here. The difference in those numbers are shocking! Defense plays a huge factor into Kevin Pillars adjustment as his offensive numbers are about spot on. But the offensive numbers for Ryan Goins (something none of us could have predicted) have a lot to do with the breakthrough of Goins. Sabermetrics teach us that Clutch isn’t really a factor and good hitters will hit in tough situations and bad hitters won’t. The .38 change in wOBA and pulling off hits like this show that Goins has the potential to become a very good hitter

Goins has been inserted into multiple positions following injuries to Devon Travis at second, and Troy Tulowitzki at short, and has performed amazingly at both positions. In a National Post article by John Lott Ryan Goins said regarding his manager’s hitting approach “In my case last year, it was ‘take pitches, hit the ball the other way all the time,’ …It wasn’t what I felt comfortable doing. It wasn’t what got me here. Then this year I come in and they both say, ‘Do what you want, and if you have questions, ask and we’ll help’. It’s been great. The biggest thing I think this year is being comfortable. If you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to have success.”

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

At the start of the year one of the biggest questions was “What is going on with the Blue Jays bullpen?” the closing role was up in the air. Miguel Castro was the first pitcher to try the role, only to be sent down to AAA and eventually traded to the Rockies in the Tulowitzki deal. Brett Cecil was up next, showing inconsistency in the pressure of the position. Finally ,the most unlikely candidate, 20-year-old prospect Roberto Osuna. Again, Gibbons has found a way. Since then Osuna has flourished in the closer position, showing poise and a veteran-like presence on the mound.

Osuna’s 3.05 FIP is telling us that even without that amazing defense behind him, Osuna is still getting it done in the ninth at an unbelievable rate. This is simply because Osuna strikes out 27.9% of batters he faces with 34.5% being ground balls. While Osuna has moved into the ninth inning spot, Cecil has been converted back into the setup man, a position in which he has dominated since his return.

The success of Goins, Pilllar, and Osuna along with the management of the bullpen, keeping the team afloat during the first half, and potentially having the best record in the American League give John Gibbons the potential to win AL Manager of the Year.

*2015 projections and statistics courtesy of FanGraphs

Next: 5 Reasons Why the Blue Jays are Better Than the Yankees

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