Lucky Buck and the Madd Scientist

September 12, 2012 | Thyrl Nelson

Lucky Buck and the Madd Scientist

In Showalter’s case he came to Baltimore and a team that couldn’t get much worse, but also one with little expectation of getting any better either. Buck’s track record suggests that he has a knack for getting the most of his talent, and in Baltimore that seemed to be the case too, almost immediately upon his arrival. The Orioles finished up Showalter’s first season at the helm on a tear more likely due to a predictable “market correction” than to anything that Showalter brought to the table. The turnabout, in fact, happened so rapidly that you’d have to acknowledge at least that even if Showalter had all of the answers to everything that the Orioles were missing, he didn’t have enough time to give the team those answers before the inexplicable success began to happen. Still as the Orioles finished 2010 on a string of success that no one saw coming, fans in need of answers gave credit to the new manager as “Buck’s nuggets” were beginning to take shape.

Joe Maddon has over the course of the last 5 seasons or so for the Rays become the default answer for anyone looking for baseball’s best manager. The success of the Rays, particularly early on, despite their payroll (or lack thereof) made them tough to explain. And as Maddon has taken to shifting his defense more than seemingly any other manager and juggling his batting order on an almost nightly basis he has also been accepted as the gold standard for Major League managers. Somehow too, Maddon has managed to avoid scrutiny for putting together more lineup combinations capable of being “no-hit” than any big league club should be able to live with.

 

In a game where offensive failure is much more prevalent than offensive success, the most predictable commodities of all are good pitchers. While really good hitters fail 2/3 of the time (at bats) good pitchers are successful much more than half of the time (outings) and the best of the best are successful more like 75-80% of the time. Joe Maddon has been blessed with lots of very good pitchers and a couple of  great ones. While the wacky ever-changing lineup combinations get him lots of positive attention, the efforts of his pitchers make him successful as a manager. The abilities of those pitchers to pitch into the shifts authored by Maddon further cement him as one of baseball’s greatest managers, but truly the most important thing Maddon does on most nights is writing the name Price or Shields or Hellickson or Moore onto the lineup card.

 

It seems our need to be able to chart and quantify and predict every aspect of the world’s most unpredictable game has allowed us to accept some easy answers when it comes to explaining the inexplicable. The inexplicable is truly what makes baseball baseball, 162 chances per season to see your team do something that they’ve never done before or that you’ve never seen before. Can’t we enjoy that without having to understand or explain it?

 

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  1. waspman Says:

    You can enjoy it without explanation or understanding if you want. I get the idea you are probably not alone. But it is explainable and understandable.

    The first thing one must do is get the idea of “market correction” out of the conversation. Clinton in 1999 threatened regulation if Freddie and Fannie weren’t put to expanded use to help those who otherwise wouldn’t get a home loan. The threat worked and there was a flood of new buyers on the housing market. Housing prices went up. People cashed in on their new-found equity. Banks traded dubious loans. Eventually, people defaulted on their loans and there were more homes available than buyers. Housing prices went down. Some people who had “upgraded” owed more on their loans than what they had was worth. Construction went down. Inventories went down. Employment went down. These are examples of market correction.

    A coin is flipped heads eight times in a row. The ninth flip is still a 50-50 proposition (more or less). It is not “due to be tails” because of some corrective process.

    Sports is more like the coin flip except the variables are more numerous than one coin.

    A player may be streaky because that is his tendency. That’s where Showalter comes into play. That’s also where Duquette comes into play.

    Jones has hit 28 HRs. Eighteen have tied the game or put the Orioles in front. Showalter sees this and bats him fourth. Sure, Jones walk-strikeout ratio is still not all that good, and he still chases more unreachable breaking balls. But Showalter puts him in a position to succeed. And succeed Jones does. And so does Showalter. That’s not luck.

    Reynolds struggles with strikeouts but hits lots of meaningless HRs (many with his team up or down by at least four runs). But he bats well batting seventh. Showalter either bats him seventh or bats him sixth with another bopper (Davis) to follow. Showalter puts both of them in positions to succeed. Often enough, one of them does. That’s not luck.

    Roberts is the leadoff man except he has been injured a lot in recent seasons. Showalter puts Reimold in that slot when he was going well, and didn’t feel locked in with Markakis and what others had hoped he would be by later using him leading off because that is more the reality of Markakis — a number one or two hitter. That’s not luck.

    The Orioles are the wosrt fielding team in the majors. Although overall they are still the worst or very near that, they are in the top tier in recent months. Changes were made by Showalter to expidite that. That’s not luck.

    The Orioles have a core of regulars. They have a lot of “other” players who have some attributes. Showalter puts those players in position to showcase those attributes. That’s not luck.

    That’s also not just Showalter. Duquette has been a breath of fresh air as well. He made moves that individually created a shrug of the shoulders each time. Collectively, he has given Showalter Plans B, C and D. And neither is locked into a move they have made as being Thee Move. If something is not working, it gets discontinued.

    Not all that long ago, Uehara was traded from a crappy team and there was a great reaction as he was a big deal signing. Very recently, Gregg was designated for assignment and it’s barely back page news. Meanwhile, the collection of pieces and parts has made not only Baltimore a pennant contender, but has made Norfolk a winner for the first time as an Oriole affiliate and Bowie playing post-season baseball for the first time in a long time.

    Players at all levels are given the chance to develop. Players at all levels are given the chance at success. Not all of them do, but they are given that opportunity.

    This is different than what we saw prior to Duquette and Showalter. The Orioles acquire Scott, get a few good seasons out of him, then he departs without compensation. Same with Wigginton. Same with others. Meanwhile, it was throw the young pitchers out there and let them learn on the fly. Yeah. Learn to lose.

    Showalter won eight of his first nine games as an Oriole manager. Call it luck if you want, but Trembley never had that stretch in 470 games as Oriole manager. Showalter in 360 games as Oriole manager is 182-178 after the Orioles were 273 games under .500 since Gillick-Johnson. Showalter was top five for Manager of the Year in five of his 11 seasons as manager prior to coming to the Orioles. That’s not luck.

    And there are stats to back all of this up for those who want an explanation or to understand.

    What is luck is Showalter wasn’t MacPhail’s first (or at least second) choice. What is luck is Daddy Angelos wanted MacPhail to return and Duquette wasn’t on the radar when MacPhail reconfirmed he was bowing out. Somehow, Oriole fans got both. Now, that is luck.

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