Oakland Athletics skipper Bob Melvin was named American League Manager of the Year on Tuesday after guiding the team with the lowest Opening Day payroll in baseball to a 97-65 record and its first playoff berth in four years.
Melvin, 57, received 18 first-place votes, 19 seconds and one third for 121 points from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in balloting announced Tuesday. He is the eighth manager to win three or more times and is one shy of the record shared by Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa. Melvin won with Oakland in 2012 and took the NL honor with Arizona in 2007.
“Organizations and certainly front offices are more a part of it now, and you have to understand that,” Melvin said Tuesday after winning his third manager award.
The A’s, who started the season with a $68.6 million payroll, won 22 more games this season than last. It was the third time a team managed by Melvin improved by 20 wins from the previous season. Oakland’s 97 wins were the most by any A’s team since 2002.
They overcame a 34-36 start to go a big-league-best 63-29 from June 16 on, even though Jharel Cotton, A.J. Puk, Sean Manaea, Brett Anderson and several other starting pitchers got hurt. Oakland also went a majors-best 31-14 in one-run games and had 10 walk-off victories.
“At the beginning, we were at little bit taken aback by the fact that we lost so many guys early on,” Melvin said, “but I think after that it was more kind of a badge of honor that someone goes down, we have to continue to have expectations to win and know we have depth in our organization and it’s next man up.”
The A’s reached the postseason for the first time since 2014 following last-place finishes in the AL West the previous three years. They trailed the Seattle Mariners by 11 games in the wild-card race on June 15 before a strong second half — not to mention all the comeback wins and walk-offs — pushed them into the playoffs, in which they lost to the New York Yankees in the AL wild-card game.
Boston‘s Alex Cora was second with seven firsts and 79 points after leading the Red Sox to a team-record 108 wins. Tampa Bay‘s Kevin Cash was next with five firsts and 57 points. Voting was conducted before the postseason.
The Rays’ innovation of using a reliever as an “opener” was copied by other teams later in the season, including Oakland.
“Based on the fact that we had so many starters go down and our bullpen was our strength, we were looking for ways to potentially get better,” Melvin said. “Certainly watching what they did over there and the success they had was partly one of the reasons we looked at it.”
A big league catcher from 1985-94, Melvin became a scout, instructor, front office assistant and coach before he got his first big league managing job in 2002 from Mariners general manager Pat Gillick, a future Hall of Famer. Now he works for Oakland executives Billy Beane and Dave Forst, proponents of the analytics movement that has swept baseball.
“When I started doing this a long time ago with Mr. Gillick in Seattle, their job was to give me the players and then it was my job to put guys in the right spots. And things have changed since then,” Melvin said. “It can be a little bit top heavy as far as where the information comes from, from our front office now, and you have to be able to adapt, or at some point in time you might not have one of these jobs. So I’m lucky enough to be with an organization that not only it’s my hometown but from a guy that I’ve known for quite a while in Billy and they do the best they can to consistently try to implement stuff and get us better. And it’s my job to accept it and move forward.”
Three of the past four AL Managers of the Year (Paul Molitor, Buck Showalter, Jeff Bannister) were fired this year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.