One season after his club lost 110 games and earned the chance to pick first in the draft, the darkness of a rebuild turning another ugly shade, Brandon Hyde is a favorite to win the Manager of the Year award in the American League. Arguments that I heard about him needing to finish above .500 became moot on Sunday afternoon in the Bronx.
Also, I never agreed with them.
Hyde oversaw an unprecedented improvement, which is a solid reason for him to collect votes, but there’s competition from the Guardians’ Terry Francona, the Mariners’ Scott Servais, the Blue Jays’ John Schneider and the Rays’ Kevin Cash – whether based on low expectations or surviving an avalanche of injuries.
Francona has the youngest roster in baseball. The Orioles are tied for fifth, with 38-year-old catcher Robinson Chirinos skewing the numbers, but the lack of experience can’t be measured by age. The untested starters and relievers with long minor league track records and little to show at the major league level before this season.
“I think this is the year that people are noticing what a talented manager that we have in Baltimore, but for me this has been four years,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said yesterday, with Hyde sitting next to him in the auxiliary clubhouse.
“We’ve been very process-oriented. He’s been working with the front office to build the entire organization. So, this isn’t something that’s new for me in 2022, but obviously he’s gotten national attention, and rightfully so, for the performance of the team, and for me more so, the style of play that I think we see from these players.
“I think this is a good year for him to win it, but in my mind it’s for the last four years, and hopefully many more.”
When I asked pitcher Tyler Wells whether Hyde should finish first in voting, his immediate response was, “Absolutely.” And Wells spoke from the experience of being a project for the Orioles after converting from relief to starting.
“The way that he’s handled this season,” Wells explained. “From my own personal experience and how him and the entire front office and strength-and-condition staff and athletic training staff, how they’ve all handled me with my situation with being on a pitch count and limited in innings. And then on top of that, too, the way that he’s been able to adjust around all these different limitations. The way that he’s been able to maneuver around those and being able to put such a great clubhouse environment, player environment, and being able to create such a good relationship with us, I think is exactly what you saw out on the field.
“We all love him. He’s a great manager, he’s a great person, he’s a great coach, and I think he’s provided so much insight for a lot of us younger guys this year that I think that you directly saw that into this year with the way that young guys performed, the way that I performed. I’ve had multiple conversations with him about that stuff, about how was it with John Lackey and Jon Lester whenever he was with the Cubs. Trying to take his wisdom that he saw from those guys that had very long careers, very successful careers, and being able to build off of that for myself.
“I think with the insight that he’s provided, working around the limitations for me and maybe for other guys, and the way that our guys have performed, I think is a direct correlation to what he has done this year as a manager.”
The Orioles improved by 31 victories this season. They became the third team in major league history to win at least 83 games following a 110-loss season, and the first since the 1899 St. Louis Perfectos.
Reliever Dillon Tate said Hyde’s influence on the team and its winning record has been “huge.”
Hyde is the type to deflect the credit. Players spin it back to him.
“That leadership piece has been very big for us, and I don’t think guys were necessarily expecting things to go the way that they did,” Tate said.
“He had the right guys in the right spots to have this record that we have. It’s still not what we would have wanted, but even still, we’ve exceeded expectations and we’ve had the right guys in the right spots this year.”
One reason that veteran starter Jordan Lyles hopes to return next season, which would require the Orioles to exercise his $11 million option, is the chance to pitch again for Hyde.
“It was a little difficult this offseason with the lockout and all that kind of stuff, but when I got to spring training, easy to talk to. Probably can’t tell that from the outside in. He looks grumpy all the time. But no, he’s been amazing,” Lyles said over the weekend in New York.
“He leans on his players to make a lot of decisions that go on in this clubhouse. Definitely what they say, a player’s coach or a player’s manager. His door’s always open. A lot of people say that, but sometimes it is not true. It’s definitely true with him. There’s an open dialogue, just anytime you want to talk to him, baseball or not. It’s just been really good.”
The Orioles were 131-253 under Hyde during his first three seasons. They picked up his option for next year, when expectations will be set much higher.
PECOTA won’t again project the Orioles to win 61 games.
"The sky truly is the limit for this group," said pitcher Spenser Watkins.
“I think you see the patience and you see where the organization was, and now the process is coming to fruition,” said outfielder Ryan McKenna. “Obviously, (Hyde's) had such an important part in that, just with everything that he’s done with us.
“This is one of the best turnarounds in MLB history, so allowing that environment to take place and making the right moves along the way intellectually, and surrounding yourself with good people, I think that’s something that Brandon has done really well and is a huge credit to him. Allowing the environment to do what it needs to to perform and expecting a good results whenever we’re going to compete against good teams in this league. I think he’s done a phenomenal job this year.”
Hyde laughed this week when asked how he made it through the lean years without letting it traumatize him.
“Well, I think I had my moments,” he quipped.
“I don’t know. I think that I knew it was going to be difficult going in. I didn’t know it was going to be that hard and that difficult for those few years, but I’m lucky to have the coaches that I have around me, front office support. A good group of players, good guys. I think that’s really helpful. I’ve had hardly any clubhouse issues.
“Sometimes, you have good teams that you’re dealing with something on a daily basis, and I have not had that. I’ve had easy guys to coach, so easy guys to pull for. And then just a lot of support from friends, family, people around the league. A lot of managers around the league have always said nice things and kept my spirts up.
“But really, in-house here, I’m extremely tight with (major league field coordinator) Tim Cossins, and Cuz helped me a lot on a daily basis through those tough times, as well as the other coaches.”
A person is bound to learn something about himself after swimming through the muck and coming out clean on the other side.
Hyde says he's the same man.
“I think as you do this job, you get more experience, but I don’t think that I’ve changed in any way,” he said. “I think that the players will recognize and say that. We had a better club this year. My days weren’t different. We were able to compete, and I just tried to stay as consistent as possible, like I’ve always done.
“What I’ve taken out of the year for me is that it’s just another year of experience, and hopefully continue to grow.”
A final scene from the 2022 season was Hyde going locker to locker yesterday and hugging players, referring to some as “brother.” This might be the tightest group that I’ve covered on the beat, going back to my first season in 1997.
Chirinos’ son was tasked with taking a group photo. Teammates embraced. It felt like a playoff atmosphere, but without the champagne and lockers covered in plastic.
They were eager to return home, but not quite ready to tear themselves away from the team.
“From my standpoint and impressions, we’re honest with the players, we communicate with them, we try to provide a supportive atmosphere,” Elias said. “Obviously, you’re not lovey dovey all the time. Guys need to hear the truth. But if you’re honest with them and they understand that you’re aligned with their best interests, I think it creates an atmosphere where they want to play for you. And I think Brandon does a great job with that.”