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WLB Awards: Manager of the Fear

Some people wilt under pressure, but others Manage the Fear.

Baseball award season makes people feel all kinds of ways. Whether it is the inevitable snub for Manager of the Year, or a Gold Glove going to a strong offensive and popular player with mediocre defense, there is plenty of ire to go around. People take issue with the process and with the results. Unless, of course, it goes the way of their favorite teams; in that case, the entire thing is clearly on the up and up and well-deserved. Either way, the entire process provides intrigue, entertainment, and Twitter fodder galore.

And who doesn’t love a little intrigue, entertainment, and Twitter fodder?

So to capitalize on the energy surrounding the off-season debates over who should be the winner of what award, and only tangentially inspired by the real awards, we present to you the first of a series of We Love Baseball awards for the 2021 season.

Next up is: Manager of the Fear. This award goes to the players who had ‘ice in their veins’ this season and came up with big-time, clutch hits.

Honorable Mentions: First of all, thank you to everyone that picked Atlanta players. There were so many choices from the World Series champ, so to make it fair to fans of the 29 other teams, I only included 1 player from Atlanta in the nominees. However, here are some of the other options from Atlanta that I considered:

And now, for the real Honorable Mentions: Shohei Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Willy Adames, Kyle Schwarber

 

The Nominees

 

1. Eddie Rosario, OF | Atlanta

The postseason hero himself.

He flashed the leather, too!

We could go on and on with Rosario clips from the postseason, which indicates just how good Rosario was for Atlanta. Ironically, Rosario was traded from Cleveland to Atlanta for another notably clutch postseason player, Pablo Sandoval, at the trade deadline.

 

2. LaMonte Wade Jr., OF| San Francisco Giants

You had to know Late Night LaMonte was going to be on this list. He’s flashed the leather, he’s hit some dingers; he’s basically done it all.

Wade was another player who I greatly enjoyed watching grow into his own this year. Wade didn’t play every day (he didn’t even have enough at-bats to qualify), but he still made a significant impact on the Giants’ season, leading Major League Baseball in the “Clutch” statistic on both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.

3. Jared Walsh, 1B | Los Angeles Angels 

Watch this with the sound on, please.

Iconic call, iconic home run.

Also, teeing off on Aroldis Chapman always gives you a couple of extra points in the clutch category.

What a joy it was to watch Walsh finally come into his own as the primary first baseman on this roster. It probably wasn’t as much of a joy for Mariners fans when Walsh nearly crushed their postseason hopes here:

You may also remember this elite Jared Walsh defensive play, at a position he doesn’t normally play:

 

4. Kyle Seager, 3B | Seattle Mariners

Even if he’s no longer a Mariner after this offseason, Kyle Seager has given Seattle fans a lifetime of great moments, and many of them came this season, in the midst of a playoff hunt.

2nd in Baseball-Reference’s Clutch standard. 4th in Fangraphs’ Clutch standard.

I can’t wait to see where he goes next!

 

5. Chris Taylor, UTIL | Los Angeles Dodgers

Speaking of players who went nuclear this postseason, may I introduce you to Mr. Taylor?

Yes, the guy who hit 3 home runs in a single game against Atlanta.

 

6. Josh Hader, RP | Milwaukee Brewers

The list wouldn’t be complete without a clutch reliever or two. Hader, as reliever of the year, was put into plenty of high-leverage situations for the Brewers. He did pretty well in those:

Disgusting sliders and absolute heat on his fastball. Yuck.

Only one blown save all year! His one blown save was thanks to a HR by Jose Peraza, but still, only one blown save!

No, I’m not putting Freddie Freeman’s postseason HR off of Hader on this list.

 

7. Zack Wheeler, SP | Philadelphia Phillies

Zack Wheeler did everything he could to Ring the Bell for the Phillies this season, pitching a zillion innings, striking out a zillion dudes, and knocking in a zillion runs:

Best hitting pitcher in the NL!

Starting pitchers aren’t always referred to as “clutch” as often as position players (by the nature of their position), but when you’re as dominant as Wheeler was this season, you earn that label. He was invaluable to the Phillies this season and valuable by basically any WAR metric you find.

 

The Process

 

Picking just one player from this list was incredibly difficult. How does one define “clutch” anymore? How much value should we place in postseason results? In Clutch metrics? In flashiness? I’m not sure I like using the Win Probability metrics available on baseball sites as a be-all, end-all way to determine the “clutch-ness” of a particular player because I’m not sure they capture the ‘essence’ of a clutch play particularly well. Wade and Seager grade out well on the Clutch metrics, but other players, like Ohtani or Guerrero, who are arguably very clutch players, don’t grade out quite so well. But, in a high-leverage situation, I would much rather have someone like Guerrero at the plate than Kyle Seager against any given pitcher. So, the Clutch stats are just one piece of the pie for my process.

There are some players on this list who have undeniably come up big for their teams, but walk-offs are essentially the same. For me, the things that change how ‘clutch’ a play can be are:

  • The “Flashiness” of the play
  • The quality of the opposing player (the pitcher for a batter, or the batter for a pitcher)
  • The overall ‘vibes’ of the moment.

These factors are mostly attendant circumstances, but it’s my way of distinguishing between the various 2-run walk-off shots and seeing-eye singles that score the game-winner.

My colleague, Matt Goodwin, suggested picking a player based on the process of elimination. So, I’m going to separate the players out into categories for convenience:

Thanks, But No Thanks | These guys had some big plays. They just don’t have the chops (by my standard) to be considered in the upper echelon of Clutch-ness. The players who didn’t make the cut are:

  • Josh Hader – I found myself getting more disappointed by the Freeman postseason HR the more I thought about Hader’s season. He’s an incredible ballplayer and definitely deserved the Reliever of the Year award, but I just can’t get past the big postseason dinger.
  • Kyle Seager – I love the Captain, but his walk-offs didn’t quite get up to snuff. He suffers from a little bit of non-flashiness.
  • LaMonte Wade, Jr. – He’s got the stuff, he just misses the flash and the drama of the clutch play.
  • Zack Wheeler – A true workhorse, a dominant player for three-quarters of the season, and a heck of a hitter. It just doesn’t feel like enough to me.

Upper Crust | These are the favorites. I’ve narrowed it down to two postseason heroes and one guy who knocked in a ton of game-winning runs with flair, except during the regular season. In 3rd place, we have Chris Taylor, the utility player with a ton of postseason clutch-ness. That NL Wild Card HR was huge for his resume. If Rosario wasn’t on this list, Taylor would be in the Top-2 conversation.  Ultimately, though, I had to narrow it down to Walsh and Rosario.

 

The PL+ Choice

 

Before crowning the winner, it’s time to reveal the insider pick from PitcherList’s Discord. The PL staff and PL+ members contributed to a poll wherein they chose which players should win the WLB awards, including Manager of the Fear. The choice of the masses goes to…

That’s right, it’s Atlanta postseason hero Eddie Rosario. I have no qualms with this pick, as Rosario was a monster at the plate against the Dodgers and the Astros.

 

The Winner Is…

 

I could hear that bat crack over and over and never get tired of it.

Look how far Walsh has come since 2019:

From cow-milking champion to walk-off hero. Congratulations!

 

Photo by Ariel Basaar/Unsplash | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)

Adam Sloate

Die-hard Angels fan since birth; misses the good ol' days of Vladdy, Kendrys, and Weaver. Temple University alumnus, UCLA Law student.

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