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?