Molitor is the first Twins skipper to win Manger of the Year honors since Ron Gardenhire in 2010. (Photo credit: Cumulus Media)

It’s awards season, and the man in charge of the team that made a 26-game improvement in the standings is bringing home some hardware, as Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor has been named the American League Manager of the Year, as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Molitor, who steered the Twins to their first playoff berth since 2010 this past season, has a record of 227-259 (.467 winning percentage) in his three seasons as manager of the club after succeeding Ron Gardenhire.

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The Twins have had just three managers dating back to 1986 — Tom Kelly, Ron Gardenhire and Molitor. Now all three have won Manager of the Year awards. Kelly won in 1991 and Gardenhire took home the hardware in 2010.

One underrated aspect of Molitor as a manager is that he was particularly good at in 2017 was using challenges. Molitor was 19 of 27 in getting challenges overturned (66.7 percent), which is a bit better than his career rate (63.3 percent). By comparison, Gardenhire was 21 of 40 (52.5 percent) on his challenges from the 2014 season — his only year with expanded replay as manager of the Twins.

Overall, Molitor’s role in improving the team from the No. 1 overall pick to playing in the Wild Card game in the Bronx saw him rewarded with a new three-year deal to come back as a manager.

That wasn’t the case for some of the other so-called “lame duck” managers who made the playoffs, as Washington’s Dusty Baker and New York’s Joe Girardi were not brought back even after their teams went deep into October.

Also, how’s this for serendipity? Torey Lovullo of the Arizona Diamondbacks won the award on the National League side. He was a finalist for the Twins job when they hired Molitor prior to the 2015 season.

Molitor on receiving the award:

“It’s humbling really. I want to congratulate AJ of course on a tremendous season and that run. Terry and I go back to our playing days back in the mid-80s with the Brewers. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys. An award like this, it’s certainly a reflection of the organization, and the work that my coaches and players put in. If you win Rookie of the Year, Cy Young or MVP, it’s about the players. But I think this award is a lot more about everybody who contributed to the Twins having a turnaround season.”

On selling at the deadline and still making the postseason:

“Well, I think Chris Gimenez was on a record pace for appearances by a position player in the first half. It’s one of those things where Cleveland was rattling off win after win and we were having a tough time keeping up, both in terms of the division and wild card. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine came in and their concern was to try to stabilize the organization going forward. They did what they felt like they needed to do. My place in that was just to let our players know that when things happen and you lose players, it’s not time to look externally, but internally. We had the guys we remained with, and I said we should see what we can do. Guys like Brian Dozier — who I know wasn’t particularly happy with the decisions to move people — backed it up. He went out and had an incredible last couple of months along with some other guys who really stepped up down the stretch, and we were able to get into the postseason.”

On the difference between 2016 and 2017

“Maybe there was some strategy in lowering the expectations last year. *laughs* You lose 103 games and it’s humbling — whether you’re a player, a coach or a manager. I had to do a lot of self-evaluation on things I thought I could have done better throughout the 2016 season. I definitely knew what I felt we had to get better at to improve. The big difference was in ‘16 that we had a lot of young guys and got off to a rough start. You see the mental fragility of young players, and we just couldn’t recover. This year was the opposite. We got off to a good start. We swept the Royals out of the gate and guys started to believe early. Combine that with some tremendous in-clubhouse leadership by players, guys we brought in from (Jason) Castro and Gimenez and (Matt) Belisle, and some emergence of veterans. Guys like Dozier and Mauer having good years. Seeing our young players come along. It was just something that no matter what we faced throughout the year, the guys just kept playing and looking at the big picture, and they were able to get into the postseason. I give the players a ton of credit for what we were able to accomplish.”  

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