Buck Showalter has been given the ultimate pass for everything he can do as a manager, because he revived the entire baseball community in Baltimore. Yet he has shown an unyielding stubbornness with his current group of players. Buck has backed the likes of Jim Johnson, Jason Hammel and others, almost to a fault, possibly losing key games throughout the season.
Now this has not always been the case for the O’s skipper, who earned a reputation as a dictator or tyrant in his previous stints. There is no denying he is one of the most intelligent minds in the sport, but was not always accessible to his players. He basically wore out his welcome with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers, but left all those franchises in good terms for the near future (especially New York and Arizona, who went on to win championships the year after his departure).
He spent some time with ESPN, where his analysis alone, led people to believe he was ready to take over the helm of another franchise. And that’s where the young core that Andy McPhail built in Baltimore came in. Buck was the right manager, at the right time, for a team with a lot of young talent, but little experience.
He seemed to turn over a new leaf, when coming to Baltimore; being more approachable by his players and communicating his ideas to the entire organization. The bond he made with rising stars, like Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, is evident on and off the field. He basically pulled a 180 with his demeanor from his past jobs. The problem arises now, with a team trying to make a second straight playoff appearance, where he lets his heart and not his mind make some of his decisions.
Buck continually sends Jim Johnson out in the 9th inning, following the save rule to a tee (even if he says he does not believe in it). Johnson now has eight blown saves on the season and is accountable for at least seven losses for the Orioles. Even in the games which Johnson finishes the job, he has struggled, putting runners on base and giving up runs. That has all led to his 3.42; which would be great for a starter, but really below average for pitcher who is relied on to finish one inning. I was a big advocate of Johnson not lasting at the closer spot, for the long-term, and should have moved on in the offseason, while his value was at an all-time high (noted here).
The Orioles acquired Francisco Rodriguez, who does hold the all-time single season save record (even though that was 2008 with the Angels). Though he has not pitched up to that prowess since 2009 (his first season with the Mets), he posted stellar numbers in the first half of the season (10 saves 1.09 ERA, 1.054 WHIP) with the Brewers, while switching from set-up man to closer.
Now Rodriguez has not played as well with the Orioles, having issues giving up the long ball, but actually has a lower WHIP (.875) with the Orioles. He has the “closer mentality” and stuff to strike out players in the pressure situations. It would behoove Buck to at least see what he has in closer spot now, before its too late.
Moving Johnson out of the 9th inning also adds depth to the back end of the bullpen. Johnson was an excellent set-up man two years ago and could rotate with the likes of Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz late in close games. This will add rest to some of the most overworked relievers for the Orioles (and all of baseball). Add in a decision to be made on the 5th starter spot by Sunday (where the team has listed TBA for the starting pitcher spot on Sunday; Scott Feldman’s turn in the rotation), which could add Feldman into the mix in the bullpen for the foreseeable future.
Other options to put into the closer spot include: O’Day, Hunter and a September call-up to Kevin Gausman. In the end, Buck could go the “Moneyball” route, using a closer by committee, with two or three options to finish games (depending on match-ups and rest). Either way the time is now to mix up the bullpen; an experiment to put every pitcher on the staff in their best role would suit the Orioles for the stretch run.