The Case for Manager of the Year: Felipe Alou

Last year, the Giants were the National League Champions. This year, the Giants team includes front runners for both the MVP Award and the Cy Young Award, not to mention last year's MVP winner. They play in the best stadium in front of the best fans in baseball. So you think being the manager of the San Francisco Giants is easy? Wrong.

It's easy to look at the Felipe Alou's year with the Giants, compare it to the previous year, and just shrug and say ‘So What?' Alou took last years league champs, and was able to make them the division champs rather than the wild card team. That certainly doesn't seem all that impressive. No one raises an eyebrow when a first year manager takes an already successful team to 100 wins. And the Giants have obviously been very successful. Almost anyone probably could have taken this ream to 100 wins, it would seem.

However, there's much more to this season, and the incredible job that Alou has done managing it, than the stats and the final number in the win column.

You can start with the team he had. It was a much different team than the one that won the National League a year ago. Four of the eight position players were new, with one of the outgoing player being the 2000 MVP and the main offensive threat behind Bonds. Two of the top starting pitchers in the rotation had been traded away, replaced with a second year player and a rookie. Of course, the most important player in the game still with the Giants, as were several other key players, but in the end, almost half the team had changed, enough so that many people didn't pick the Giants to even make the playoffs in 2003.

After taking that into consideration, look at the things that happened to the roster over the course of the year. Before the season even began, the Giants star closer Robb Nen was gone for the year. And when the season began, it did not get any easier. Starting pitchers began to drop like flies, be it for short periods or the entire season. First Jensen, then Ainsworth, and by the time the summer came around, everyone had spent some time on the disabled list. Over the year, the Giants had started an incredible 13 different pitchers. 5 of them were rookies, and four had never played in the majors at all before this year. And, with all of these, Alou guided the pitching staff to the second best overall ERA in the National League, and the fourth best ERA of starting pitchers. Of all playoff teams, only Oakland has a better ERA.

The injuries were not limited to the pitching staff, either. 3 starting position players played less than 110 games this year, 5 played less than 130. Key players like Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia and J.T. Snow had their production hampered by repetitive injuries.

And there was also the adversity the team faced. The obvious condition of Bobby Bonds weighed on more than just Barry Bonds, as Bobby was a regular in the clubhouse. Jason Schmidt also lost his mother during the course of the season. The newly created ‘Bereavement List" was used three times by the Giants this year. Several teams didn't use it at all.

But if that's not enough evidence for you, let's take a look at the type of game where a manager's influence is most notable: One run games. That's where a manager's decisions about who to play and when are magnified, and a great manager can make a real difference. And that's where Alou's aggressive style really comes through. In one run games, the Giants were 28-12, a .700 winning percentage. The second best team in the majors in one run games? Boston's 26-16 record (.619 winning percentage). Only one other team in the National League had a .600 winning percentage in one run games, the Cubs at .613. Here, more than anywhere else, the impact of having a manager like Felipe Alou shines through.

Ultimately, of course, how well the Giants fare in the postseason, if it's better or worse than the previous year, is yet to be decided. But with a team that has faced a lot of adversity this year, Felipe Alou has shined, taking a team that few people thought would be playoff caliber and turning them into a 100 win team with another legitimate shot at the World Series. For that, Alou deserves the Manager of the Year award.

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