Managing a professional baseball team can sometimes be a messy job. When times are good, the manager rightfully deflects the praise to his players. When times are bad, the manager rightfully points the blame to himself. Juggling lineups, starters, bullpens, and egos are a major part of the job description. Pressing the right buttons at the right times is more of an art than a science. But when it all comes together then it could be something special.
That is what manager A.J. Hitch did in his first season as the Houston Astros skipper. It could also make him the front runner for the 2015 AL Manager of the Year award.
Not only did the 2015 Astros manage to exceed expectations with an 86-76 record, but this squad also managed to make a big push into the playoffs. Heck, they even took the world champs, the Kansas City Royals, to five games in the ALDS. And Hinch’s managing throughout the course of the season was a big reason for that success.
He led a team that was full of first-time major leaguers (Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Preston Tucker) and veterans that have been part of the Astros darkest age (Jose Altuve, Chris Carter, Dallas Keuchel) to heights not seen in Houston since 2005. There wasn’t a time when the clubhouse was in any known danger of imploding under his leadership. Hinch also listened to his front office and utilized the advice given to him. He trusted his pitching staff, especially his starting pitchers. The Astros finally gelled as a cohesive unit. He helped make baseball fun again in Houston.
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One case against Hinch would not necessarily be anything he did wrong, but the stiff level of competition for the award in 2015. Texas Rangers manager Jeff Bannister will be among the front-runners for the award after leading his squad to the AL West division title. In fact, that may be only the knock against Hinch as he let the division title slip away in September. Paul Molitor of the Minnesota Twins will also be in the running after the Twins stayed competitive for most of 2015. In fact, the Astros bullpen imploding in the last portion of the regular season and playoffs could also sway voters to go with Bannister or Molitor. But it seems every manager goes through the bullpen tribulations, so this may be an overblown factor.
Winning the manager of the year award would be vindication for Hinch, who previously had an unspectacular stint as the Arizona Diamondbacks manager from 2009-10. He would also join Hal Lanier in 1986 and Larry Dierker in 1998 as the only Astros managers to win the award. To be only the third manager in franchise history to win the reward is an accomplishment in of itself.
This award would represent all of the hard work, time, and patience poured into his team will be recognized on a grand scale. But again, Hinch will probably point the attention back to his players and say that this award is a representation of the entire team. That is something that a good manager like Hinch does.