For many Cleveland Guardians fans, Tuesday’s announcement simply confirmed what they already knew. Terry Francona was the best manager in baseball in 2022 and as such, he was awarded with the American League’s Manager of the Year Award by the Baseball Writers Association of America. This is Francona’s third time winning the award in his 22-year Major League career as a field manager. All three times have come within his 10-year tenure as a manager in Cleveland and place him in rare company as one of only three managers in American League history to win the award three times. He received 17 of the 31 first-place votes from the prospective voters and bested fellow nominees Brandon Hyde of the Orioles and Scott Servais of the Mariners.
Francona’s teams throughout his time in Cleveland have had certain characteristics that have been conducive to allowing a smart but thrifty organization to out-punch its weight. That success has been to the tune of a .557 winning percentage and six forays into the playoffs as well as taking the team to the brink of winning the 2016 World Series.
Among the characteristics involved in his leadership is the ability to get his players to seize the opportunity every single day of the season and allow players to embrace their roles. Francona instills confidence and respect in his players by trusting them to do their jobs and giving them the chance to prove themselves. The players know that he will back them at every stop. These statements all feel like cliches, but they are the flat truth. These aren’t platitudes. They are how Francona and his teams approach every single day. Their ability to do more with less speaks for itself. His leadership has begotten the type of clubhouse that saw Ernie Clement actively rooting for the Guardians after being designated for assignment in September, with no ill will for having been dismissed just before a playoff race. Jose Ramirez has also spoken openly about how much he enjoys playing for Francona.
Love you Cleveland❤️ go win a World Series!
— Ernie Clement (@Ernieclem) September 23, 2022
On the field, Francona’s recent Cleveland teams have balanced great starting pitching with an arsenal of wicked bullpen arms. Francona has navigated when to lean on his top starters deep into ballgames or when to turn over responsibilities to the pen. He is willing to make those decisions on a night-to-night basis and not handcuff himself to a certain philosophy. Each individual decision gets its own care and attention. Guardians starters pitched the second most innings in the league as Francona bucked the game’s current trend of leaning on relief pitching when in doubt. With the sixth-best (entire staff) ERA in baseball, this method has proven successful.
His teams try to make the most of every offensive opportunity, running the bases aggressively but smartly. The Guardians were the 4th best base-running team in baseball according to Fangraphs BaseRuns statistic. He has allowed a team of high-contact, super athletic and young position players to play to their strengths. They did this to the tune of an American League Central Division championship and 92 wins over the course of the season.
This brings us to the crux of why the baseball writers actually voted for Francona. Everything said above is the recipe for how a team that was projected to win 77-80 games and that very few predicted to win their division did just that. They found this success while 17 rookies made their debut over the course of the season. They did it with the youngest roster on average in all of baseball. They did it with the third-lowest payroll. Some would argue 2022 was Francona’s (the man the managed the team that broke the Red Sox curse) best effort as a manager.
Even better, with such a young roster and Francona confirmed as coming back for 2023, the Guardians are poised to take another large step forward in the coming season. There will be time to improve the roster, but even as it stands today, all of the organization’s young players will have another season of experience under their belt. Francona and his coaching staff have continued to grow a program and infrastructure that has proven to provide positive results. He himself attributes the players, coaches and baseball operations staff around him as key to his perceived success. With all the goodwill and strong relationships built within the organization, it would be hard to envision the Guardians taking a step back in 2023. Francona and the organization around him have done one of the most key things you can do in management. They’ve built an operation that is not dependent on the expertise or leadership of a single individual. Francona may be instrumental to the Guardians, but he has shared his knowledge in such a way that the team should be able to successfully carry on without him some day.
Lastly, Francona’s victory is yet another accolade in an off-season that has seen the Guardians collect much hardware. November has seen the Guardians attain four Gold Glove Award winners (Shane Bieber, Andres Gimenez, Steven Kwan and Myles Straw). Also, Team President Chris Antonetti has received the Executive of the Year Award and just last week Ramirez received the AL’s Silver Slugger Award for third base.
The Guardians organization will enter baseball’s Hot Stove season well-decorated and with the opportunity to continue to improve its roster. With the wind at their backs, perhaps they can turn current good news into more good news as the off-season develops.