Image Credit Paul Sancya, AP
All statistics through the completion of games on Sunday, September 26th 2021
As the 2021 regular season winds down, the debates about the end of season awards have started to heat up.
One award that is handed out every offseason is the Manger of the Year Award. This award, given to both an American and National League Manager annually, is voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and honors the ‘best’ manager from their respective leagues.
While it is hard to quantify the actual impact a manager has, this award has historically gone to a manager from a winning team. Consider that while the award has been handed out to a manager from each league since 1983, only once since has it gone to a manager from a team that finished with a losing record.
While there are a number of strong candidates for the American League Manager of the Year Award in 2021, there is one manager no one seems to be talking about that has a very strong case. This manager is A.J. Hinch.
Hinch, the former Astros manager who spent the entirety of the 2020 season suspended for his involvement in the 2017 sign stealing scandal, has been making quite an impact during his first season in Detroit.
If you haven’t spent much time thinking about the Detroit Tigers over recent years it would be hard to blame you. Following a strong first half of the 2010’s, the organization has recently fallen on much harder times. Since committing to a rebuild during the 2017 season, the organization has spent the last few years slowly rebuilding a farm system that was left completely barren by Dave Dombrowski and Mike Ilitch.
While recent years have been very forgettable for the Tigers, this summer has made it clear better days are quickly approaching for fans in the Motor City.
While the teams current record of 75-80 doesn’t particularly stand out, the Tigers have already far surpassed the win total many were predicting for them entering the season. Outside of Fangraphs, who projected 71 wins entering this season, most of the major publications thought the team would finish below 70 wins. Looking at the roster the team headed into the season with, these gloomy predictions were certainly not unreasonable and many even thought another 100 loss season was very possible.
Outside of a sweep of the Houston Astros in April, the Tigers suffered through a truly abysmal first month of the season. Following a 7-3 loss against Minnesota on May 7th, Detroit was sporting a 9-24 record and it seemed as though Al Avila’s days as general manager were numbered.
During the previous few years, the team would have certainly faded into oblivion and would have been in play for another first overall pick, which would have been their 3rd in 5 years, something was different this season however.
The Tigers have gone 66-56 since May 7th and have even gone an impressive 38-33 against teams above .500.
Outside of the slow start, the success over the last couple months is even more remarkable considering the players and limitations Hinch and his staff have been working with.
When people discuss the Tigers, many rightfully focus on the pitching staff. The Tigers spent many of the early years of the rebuild focusing on pitching and this, along with the hiring of former University of Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter last offseason, have already been making a noticeable difference. While there have certainly been some bright spots on the pitching side this season and this is one of the main reasons the team has been so much better, injuries and innings limits have kept the staff from its full potential.
While there have also been some nice surprises on the positional side this season, such as Akil Badoo and Eric Haase, and contributions from some veterans, there are still many left from notoriously bad teams of the last few years. While the likes of Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene will provide much needed reinforcements next season, it is clear the current group of players on the positional side is far from a finished product.
A.J. Hinch’s ability to maximize the current roster in Detroit is nothing short of remarkable. Considering the hands he has been dealt this season and the results he has gotten, one could make the argument Hinch has as good of a case as any for the American League Manager of the Year Award. While this is certainly true, he remains a long shot at best for the award.