David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
The rookie manager accomplished plenty for the White Sox in 2012, but there's room for improvement.
Robin Ventura is a finalist for the Manager of the Year Award, but if he wins, he'll only receive one of them. That's one award us SB Nation baseball bloggers aren't voting on, since it's usually just "Which team was the most pleasant surprise?"
The finalists certainly line up that way -- Ventura will compete with Oakland's Bob Melvin and Baltimore's Buck Showalter for the award. His competition's cases seem to be more compelling, since their teams rose from far lower expectations to actually make the playoffs. Ventura is a good third choice, but I'd be surprised if he beat either.
I do like that MLB.com columnist Richard Justice actually applied some legitimate support for Ventura's case beyond his meeting the minimum requirement for the job -- a willingness to solve problems with the front office:
He demanded that his team take care of the details. That's why they went through a round of infield drills at the beginning of every series.
Perhaps as a result, the White Sox allowed just 30 unearned runs, fewest in the Major Leagues and 11 less than they'd given up in [Ozzie] Guillen's final season. In other words, Ventura demanded that they play the game right.
The White Sox finished with a .988 fielding percentage, tops in franchise history and tied with the Mariners for the best in baseball in 2012. In addition, the White Sox run differential went from -52 in 2011 to +72 in '12, and they increased their overall victory total by six, from 79-83 to 85-77. That's why he's a finalist for American League Manager of the Year.
This is a real argument that captures what Ventura offered the Sox, besides his world-famous "even-keeled approach." He attacked the season with a real plan by taking spring training far more seriously, and you could point to the increased success stopping the running game just as easily as the unearned runs, if you needed statistical proof.
The characterization of Ventura as an "anti-Ozzie" is largely correct, but it risks painting Ventura as a bystander who allowed mere normalcy to do the heavy lifting. He and his staff actively changed the culture by addressing problems behind a passive front, which I think is what makes him the true opposite of his predecessor.
That said, having just finished the September section of White Sox Outsider 2013, Ventura seems like he could have used a do-over, and beyond the usual mistakes/wrong outcomes assigned to all managers over the course of a season.
I'm thinking more about the series where the Sox didn't exploit Miguel Cabrera's bum ankle (which Kenny Williams called them out on afterward). Or the awkward deployment of the expanded roster over the first two weeks of September (which Williams defended). While my knowledge of those decisions is limited to what's apparent from the outside, those struck me as developments that a more experienced manager would have grasped more effectively.
Even if the Sox didn't plummet out of the playoff picture, there's enough room for improvement that it's difficult to say Ventura did the best job -- especially when Showalter and Melvin faced taller tasks in tougher divisions. That's not really an insult, because they Showalter and Melvin would be MOY locks in any other year.
In the Sox's self-contained sphere, Ventura succeeded where it counted most by creating an atmosphere conducive to changes -- roster tinkering, program adjustments, and rookie integration. With a full year of game and roster situations under his belt, he should be better equipped to put together a better 162 in 2013. It just may not help his Manager of the Year credentials, because the element of surprise will have worn off by then.