Bob Melvin cringes when it is suggested that he might be American League Manager of the Year. For one, he doesnt want to get ahead of his skis, and for two, he doesnt want to get ahead of the organizations skis.
And for three, its September 2 -- 31 days and 29 games before the ballots have to be in.
But theres a fourth reason why his cringing might be well-founded. Hes not the likeliest candidate.
That would be William Nathaniel Showalter, who clearly changed his popular name to Buck for good reason, and who is actually doing the same job in Baltimore, in a tougher division with dramatically worse pitching.
Melvin has been superb mixing, matching, spackling and reattaching names and faces on a day-to-day basis, turning the As into the most charming story of the baseball season. The players have earned their pie-faced due to be sure, even if none of them will end up winning any personal awards either, but well get to them in due time.
But Melvin wont win, not because he hasnt done enough to do so, but because his job turned out not to be as hard as we all thought it was.
(For the same reason, Bruce Bochy will finish behind Davey Johnson, Dusty Baker and maybe even Fredi Gonzalez in the National League, so if you want to just change names throughout the text for reasons of National League smugness, be our guest. We are, after all, interactive in every way).
None of this is Melvins fault, mind you. He has a clubhouse full of players performing well, either for him or because of him but certainly not despite him. He has done a MOTY year by any standard.
But he isnt the only one, and if you asked any manager whether he would rather try to win with a team that allows 3.7 runs per game or 4.5, hed happily take Option A.
Therein lies the difference. Melvin has a much better pitching staff than anyone thought hed have, and the fact that pitching coach Curt Young has made the young ones men well before most folks thought doesnt detract from that.
Showalter is winning with a starting rotation that is dramatically worse, a bench that hasnt been as productive, largely equivalent hitting across the boards, and in a division with two other formidable teams rather than one.
And given the superficial nature of peoples understanding of managers and how they do what they do and under what pressures, numbers are going to make the difference.
Which is why Showalter will ultimately win. Theres something about a 120-run differential discrepancy that tends to get a voters eye.
This does not diminish Melvin in any way, though. For one, he could always win a bowling trophy if he has a space on the mantle.
But more to the point, his work demonstrates that on the matter of a managers importance, Billy Beane has been too bearish an investor.
Beane struggled to see the benefits of Art Howe, struggled even more with Ken Macha, and spent more time protecting Bob Geren than getting production from him. But he gets credit for rethinking his position on the position, because Melvin was not a hire he would have considered in an earlier time in his career. Melvin was less willing to hold his tongue in meetings, and Beane was less willing to let him wag it.
In short, Melvin has been the ideal fit for this team, whether it had won 70 (as predicted by most), 80 (the best-case scenario by the most charitable), 90 (a pipe dream) or more (a Mendocino County pipe dream).
He just isnt likely to win the little trophy that tells other people what we already know. And sometimes, thats just the way the ball lies.