Thearon W. Henderson
He's not the Manager of the Year, but he's probably the best manager of the year.
By the time I finish this, the National League Manager of the Year award will be announced. Bruce Bochy will not be the winner. He's a finalist, and he could be the runner up, but he won't win. The award will go to Davey Johnson, most likely, because the Nationals exceeded expectations.
There's nothing weird about Bochy being a finalist, really. Oh, he drives you nuts with whatever your hot-button issue is, but every manager would do something to annoy you. Even that one. There's no Platonic ideal out there to satisfy everyone, no manager who would only bunt whenever you wanted to, or who would pencil in the exact lineup you would. When you accept that, Bochy managed a first-place team through a little adversity, so he probably should be a finalist.
What's weird is that there's nothing weird about it. This is Bruce Bochy, who thought Brett Pill was a good part of a healthy platoon, who couldn't let go of Bengie Molina's pitcher-whispering, who started Aubrey Huff until the bitter end of last season, and who thought a stretch with Hector Sanchez behind the plate four out of every ten games wasn't a problem. Bochy's predilection toward veterans wasn't amusing when he took over a bad team in 2007, and it got worse when the bad team desperately needed to rebuild. Bochy wasn't just a symptom of an organizational problem, he was a huge part of the problem. Remember that guy? We loved to rage against that guy.
Turns out all that stuff can be forgiven and forgotten with a couple 11-win postseasons. Funny, that.
You might be feeling some cognitive dissonance about all this. I mostly made my peace with Bochy being a good manager in 2010, breaking the glass case of rage only for Belt-related purposes, but you might not have been convinced the Giants were ably managed. After another division title and another championship -- and another two years of watching Don Mattingly and Clint Hurdle call for fake punts -- you might be wondering how you could have been so wrong about Bochy.
I think I have a way to explain it. It's pretty dumbed down, but so am I. Let's say these are the aspects of a manager's job:
Managing a pitching staff
Managing a lineup (playing the right guys)
In-game strategy (bunts, hit-and-runs)
And here are my off-the-cuff grades for Bochy:
Managing a pitching staff: B
Managing a lineup (playing the right guys): C-
Clubhouse leadership/Intangibles: A
In-game strategy (bunts, hit-and-runs, pitching changes): A
Your grades may vary (wildly), and I actually wrote out little explanations for all of them. But I didn't want to get too deep into the grades. I might change my mind tomorrow, and what I think isn't that important. This is about helping the Bochy-doubters reconcile their changing feelings.
The important thing to remember is those grades aren't created equal. They're weighted. After a game in which Bochy, oh, plays Aubrey Huff at second base, and the Giants lose, you might hand out these grades:
Managing a pitching staff: C (5%)
Managing a lineup (playing the right guys): D (5%)
Clubhouse leadership/Intangibles: Don't care (0%)
In-game strategy: F- (90%)
Conclusion: F- (horrible)
After a specific loss, Bruce Bochy might be everything wrong about the Giants. He might be the reason for the losing season that will eventually ruin us all. But evaluating a manager after every individual game is like giving up on a player after an 0-for-4. It's the offseason, so we can look back at the season without all of the day-to-day minutia. And I'd adjust the sliders thusly:
Managing a pitching staff: B (30%)
Managing a lineup (playing the right guys): C- (30%)
Clubhouse leadership/Intangibles: A (25%)
In-game strategy: A (15%)
Conclusion: B+ (3.3 GPA)
I'm pretty satisfied calling Bochy a B+ manager. All you have to do is adjust the sliders to make your perception fit reality. That's how science works! If you give him a D for the first two, just tell yourself that you need to weight the clubhouse stuff as 90% of a manager's value. Then the world makes more sense. I had to rig mine to get something under an "A" average, but I guess that's because I'm a Bochy fanboy now. Huh.
Compartmentalizing the different jobs of a manager and weighting them based on importance is the best way to appreciate Bruce Bochy, who does a pretty fine job relative to his peers. Compartmentalizing is also easier than the other option, which is to have laboratory workers develop a narcotic that makes your neurons fire the same way they did when you were watching Felipe Alou manage. That way you could remember what it was like. I don't have that kind of time or money, and the side effects would likely be permanent.
Bruce Bochy isn't the Manager of the Year, but just like Ryan Vogelsong wasn't an All-Star this year, or Brandon Crawford wasn't a Gold Glove winner, it's an easy technicality to overlook.