After leading a 107-win team that was baseball's biggest surprise, Giants manager Gabe Kapler has had a predictable start to his offseason.
Four days after he signed a contract extension that was the easiest move of the Giants' offseason, Kapler was, as expected, named National League Manager of the Year. The vote was not close, with Kapler receiving 28 of 30 first-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Kapler beat out Craig Counsell of the Milwaukee Brewers and former St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, becoming the first Giants manager to win the award since Dusty Baker in 2000. Kapler joins Baker, a three-time winner, as the only Giants to be named Manager of the Year. Bruce Bochy certainly should have won at least a couple, and he joined a presentation special on MLB Network to give the award to Kapler, his successor.
Kapler had extremely large shoes to fill when he was hired in 2019, and he was not initially a popular choice. The Philadelphia Phillies had fired Kapler after two middle-of-the-pack seasons, but it didn't take long for him to reward Farhan Zaidi's faith.
The Giants finished one win away from a playoff spot in a shortened 2020 season and then stunned the baseball world by setting a franchise record for wins in 2021 and ending the Los Angeles Dodgers' eight-year run atop the NL West.
"What he has done has even exceeded our high expectations," Zaidi said last week.
Despite showing progress in Kapler's first season, the Giants were widely picked to finish third -- and sometimes even lower -- in their division this past season. Kapler and the team's veterans set the tone early, making an unlikely NL West title their goal. They held off the heavily favored Dodgers to win the division by one game.
The Giants had the best record in the Majors for 125 days and became the first NL team since 1942 to have a .600 or better winning percentage in every month of the season. Kapler's positivity and calm demeanor helped the clubhouse stay consistent despite 37 different players hitting the Injured List. He pushed a "next man up" mentality that led to breakthroughs for players like LaMonte Wade Jr. and Darin Ruf.
Kapler left Philadelphia with questions about his in-game style, but he has more than answered those in two seasons with the Giants. He was criticized early in his career for bullpen management and made some high-profile late-game mistakes in 2020, but a year later the Giants had the lowest bullpen ERA (2.99) in the big leagues.
The offense embraced a style pushed by Kapler and his handpicked hitting coaches, crushing a franchise record 241 homers, the most in the NL. Kapler's most notable in-game moves may have come with pinch-hitters. He used an MLB-record 406 pinch-hitters, leading to a record 18 pinch-hit homers.
At the end of the season, Kapler said that success was something he was particularly proud of because it showed how invested his players were in each other. He appreciated that all his players, veterans and young ones alike, bought into the plan.
"I just don't think it's all that normal," he said at the time. "Oftentimes (getting hit for) is an opportunity to sulk and this group is just different. It's not who they are. They don't sulk in those moments, and it's obviously made it much easier to do my job. I'm really grateful for that."
Kapler pushed all the right buttons during the regular season, and that made his November easy to predict. As the Giants handed Kapler a two-year extension last week, Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris made it clear they expected Kapler to pick up a big award a few days later.
"I think he deserves to win," Harris said. "He did a phenomenal job. The results speak for themselves. I think Kap's pregame preparation is excellent, but what makes Kap special is his commitment to making adjustments to new information from coaches, players and what the game is telling him. I think he brings a competitive advantage to our dugout every time he steps out there and I think he's a huge reason why we won 107 games this year."