A closer look at Houston's winning manager

AJ Hinch continues to be the driving force of Astros success

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With the win on Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs, AJ Hinch hit a milestone; 500 managerial wins. While that doesn't have him climbing to the top of the all-time manager win chart just yet, it does keep him moving up the list of best Astros managers.

The 2019 team is battered and beaten right now with injuries, yet still, they keep winning. Undeniably a lot of that has to do with the team playing well and executing on the field, but it also takes a captain who can overcome adversity to keep the team's confidence high.

Great fit for Houston

Hinch took over the helm for the Astros in 2015, taking over a historically bad team that was just a year removed from three consecutive 100-plus loss seasons. AJ could have taken the first year with his new team to take things slow and learn more about the players and pile up small improvements to build on for future years. Instead, he had the Astros in the playoffs in that first year, a pleasant surprise for many despite the early exit.

2016 wasn't quite as successful, missing the playoffs but still posting a record above .500 on the season. Then, the year we all remember, 2017 was the magical year of Houston's first World Series win, the highlight of Hinch's career so far. 2018 was another impressive year, making it to the ALCS with nagging injuries before eventually being outed by the Red Sox. All of this makes it no surprise that Houston locked him up for several years, giving him an extension through the 2022 season.

Now in 2019, Hinch has Houston out to a hot 40-20 start, making the Astros one of the best teams in the league even with injuries, and definitely the best team when healthy.

Manager of the Year frontrunner

Speaking of that hot 40-20 start; we haven't even made it to the halfway point of the season, but it's fair to be thinking about the potential Manager of the Year contenders. There are some other candidates like the Twins' Rocco Baldelli, who is making a huge splash in his first year as a manager, and Aaron Boone who has willed the Yankees to a division lead while also being decimated by injuries, but Hinch deserves to be very much in those conversations.

Not only has Hinch worked through significant injuries to keep his team on top of their division, but they also currently flirt with the best record in baseball. The team is riddled with great talent that Hinch would probably say make it an easier task than most, but taking some of these younger guys that are making the leap from AAA to the majors and getting them to contribute immediately is the testament of a great manager.

Already one of the Astros' best managers, ever

Let's address the elephant in the room; Hinch has a ring, and that should easily be grounds for him being the best manager in Houston's history since he's alone in that feat. Still, there are some other statistics that he can and likely will improve on that will solidify him as the undisputed best manager in an Astros uniform so far.

First, let's talk about regular season performance. Hinch is 414-294 all time so far, putting him third on the list in wins behind Larry Dierker (1997-2001) who sits with 435 and Bill Virdon (1975-1982) who had 544. Hinch not only boasts the best winning percentage of the three at .584, but he will also almost certainly pass up Dierker for second place this year and Virdon before his contract runs out in 2022. I would say that has him a lock as being the best in this category by the time all is said and done.

Then, there's postseason performance. Hinch currently sits at 18-14 in his postseason career with the Astros, while Virdon went 4-6 and Dierker went 2-12. There's a lot more behind those records that I won't get into now, but for the sake of simplicity, that puts Hinch ahead in this category.

That leaves awards. The Manager of the Year award started in 1983, so Virdon was not able to win one in his tenure with Houston. Two managers since the awards' inception have received it for Houston, Hal Lanier in 1986, and Larry Dierker 1998. While Hinch has come very close, coming in second in voting in 2015, third in 2017, then fourth in 2018, he has not yet taken home that award. As mentioned before, he's currently well in the running for that award again in 2019, but even if he never gets one, the number of wins and playoff success he's had for the Astros should cement him as one of the greatest managers ever.

So, while recent injuries to this 2019 team have created some mild panic and concern, AJ Hinch has shown that a great manager (along with a great team) can sustain a little adversity and still come out ahead over a long baseball season. Even more exciting, he's also shown what a manager of his caliber can do with a healthy, star-studded lineup, which we should get to see once again in a few weeks when the team is healthy again.

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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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