Top 10 managers of the decade

December 21st, 2019

Will Leitch took an in-depth look at the game in 2019 with a series exploring Major League Baseball's Data Decade. From the best World Series, to the best starting pitchers and more, Leitch ranked, dissected and celebrated all the things we loved most about the Great American Pastime during the past 10 years.

Perhaps the most indicative moment in the public perception of baseball managers this decade came in the movie "Moneyball," when Art Howe, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, argues that he is the manager and therefore the final authority on everything that happens in the A’s dugout and organization. Billy Beane/Brad Pitt shows up, looking handsome and charming and brilliant and wearing nice clothes and no uniform, lets him know that’s not the case anymore.

Like it or not, managers don’t wield the power they once did.

In a changing game, they can feel less like managers, and more like … middle managers. This decade has had some great managers. But they don’t have the gravitas of an Earl Weaver, a Tony La Russa, a Whitey Herzog, a Sparky Anderson. We used to credit the managers for winning; now we only blame them for losing.

It is to the credit of the top managers of the decade that they have (mostly) escaped this. But one can only imagine what the top managers of the 2020s will look like. For now: Here’s our list of the top managers of the 2010s.

1. Bruce Bochy (SFG 2010-19)
There is obviously no other possible choice for No. 1 here. Bochy won three World Series this decade -- even though he never finished higher than third in NL Manager of the Year Award voting -- and he’ll retire at the end of the season having done one of the best jobs of his entire career. (It is entirely possibly he’ll win his first Manager of the Year Award since 1996 in his final season.) Bochy is as beloved and respected as any manager in the game, and he’ll in be in the Hall of Fame within the next half-decade. And three rings, baby.

2. Joe Maddon (TBR 2010-14, CHC 2015-19)
Maddon won 90-plus games for the Rays -- the Rays! -- in four of the five seasons of this decade, but, as fantastic as that was, that’s not what he’ll be remembered for. He’ll be remembered, of course, for being the skipper who finally got the Chicago Cubs a World Series championship (even if his bullpen usage that Series may have caused some Cubs fans to pull their hair out). Maddon also revolutionized the idea of a manager, looking wonky and being willing to be data-driven, flying in the face of the old cowboy idea of the manager. Even if it was just the cool-dad glasses that did that, Maddon represented the decade as much as any manager.

3. Terry Francona (BOS 2010-11, CLE 2013-19)
The way it ended in Boston was ugly, to say the least, though one suspects it hasn’t much damaged the way Boston fans see Francona, what with the two World Series he won for them. But he’s been steadying and even elevating for the Indians as well, and he came oh so close from winning a World Series with them in 2016. (And he may have another chance this year.) For all the wobbliness in Boston at the end, he never had a losing season with that team, and he’s never had one in Cleveland either.

4. Ned Yost (KCR 2010-19)
Kansas City Royals non-losing seasons in the 17 years before Yost took over in 2010: One. They had four this decade under Yost, but more to the point: The Royals made the World Series twice under Yost, and in 2015, they finally won one. Yost always seemed a little more old-school than he was, and more to the point, he was willing to adjust mid-series. The Yost you saw at the beginning of the playoffs was always a little different than the Yost at the end. That’s all you ask from a manager. And it might be why they won.

5. Bob Melvin (OAK 2011-19)
Melvin has done something truly amazing for a manager: He has resided over two eras of contention for his team, with a dip in the middle before a return to winning over the last two seasons. (Usually managers get dismissed for that dip.) Being on the same page as Beane and company goes a long way, but the A’s always seem to find a way to surprise. Admit it: You didn’t have them making the playoffs last year, and you probably didn’t have them on their way this year either. Did you know Melvin has won the AL Manager of the Year Award three times? Now, about finally getting one of those playoff series wins …

6. AJ Hinch (ARI 2010, HOU 2015-19)
Hinch’s reputation in Arizona, which in retrospect seems entirely undeserved, was as a smart guy whose experience was perhaps too far removed from the life of the average player to be an effective manager. It turns out, he might have just been ahead of his time. Still only 41 when the Astros hired him in 2015, Hinch has been in charge of perhaps the signature franchise in all of baseball, with a World Series title and three 100-win seasons. The question is how much the sign-stealing scandal ends up following him around.

7. Joe Girardi (NYY 2010-17)
Girardi’s tenure in New York might not have ended as happily as he might have liked, but managerial tenures rarely end well. He still never had a losing record in New York and won more than 90 games five times. Girardi may go down in history as the perfect transition from the Joe Torre era to the new, analytical, Death Star Yankees, and even though his one World Series title happened last decade, he still got one. To date, it’s still the last one in The Bronx. He’ll start a new decade in Philadelphia.

8. John Farrell (TOR 2011-12, BOS 2013-17)
Obviously, by the end of Farrell's time in Boston, no one was happy; though, again, if your final two seasons end with your team winning 93 games, you have to wonder why exactly everyone is so upset. His 2013 World Series win with the Red Sox will never be forgotten in that town, and he was a better manager with Toronto than you remember as well. Farrell is now a part-time scout with the Reds who spends his non-baseball time fishing for lobster in Ipswich, Mass., which is a rather excellent retirement plan, all told.

9. Dave Roberts (SDP 2015, LAD 2016-19)
Roberts managed one game in San Diego in 2015, in case you forgot. (He lost.) His Dodgers teams have been monsters since he arrived, though, winning more than 91 games each season, winning 100 games once (and well on pace to do it again this year) and reaching two World Series in a row. When the Dodgers dismissed Don Mattingly, it was largely because they felt Roberts could better get them to the next level. So far, he has done exactly that. Roberts still needs to get them over the top, though, and if he does, he may well zip up this list by the actual end of the decade.

10. Dusty Baker (CIN 2010-13, WAS 2016-17)
This is probably a bit of a controversial pick, considering Baker has been dismissed twice this decade (and the two teams that dismissed him before this decade ended up winning World Series after he left, albeit years later), but ask the Reds and Nationals how things have been for them since they let Baker go. Neither team has made the playoffs since, and each has been plagued with various headaches without Baker. Baker has five 90-plus-win seasons this decade … and you have to wonder, if his Reds had held onto that 2-0 NLDS lead over the Giants in 2012, if they would have been in the World Series that year. I’m just saying: Teams are always worse without Baker than they are with him. That sounds like a quality manager from this end.

Honorable mention: Bud Black, Kevin Cash, Terry Collins, Alex Cora, Ron Gardenhire, Clint Hurdle, Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland, Mike Matheny, Don Mattingly, Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter, Ron Washington.