Thursday, August 16, 2012

O Captain, My Captain

Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, Jason Hammel, Wei Yin Chen - all have been essential to the Orioles' success this year but as of right now, to this blogger, the most important Oriole is one William Nathaniel Showalter.

Honestly, has there been one person that is more responsible for the Orioles' year? Buck has been the rock, the steady-handed captain of this improbable team. He is calm, cool and clearly in charge. When you look at the team the Orioles have beaten each of the last two nights you see the polar opposite of Buck's Birds and, frankly, you see an image of the Orioles' past. Chaos, turmoil and the complete breakdown of communication and power structure. The result is clear, losses frustration and a manager who is currently the subject roughly one dozen office "death-pools" around the country. Meanwhile, in Baltimore Buck Showalter has guided this team and managed them to an impossible season.

There is a lot of debate over just how much impact a manager has in baseball on a win/loss level. Most people would agree that a manager's moves, or non-moves, have a direct impact on the result of maybe four to five games in a year. After all is said and done, the manager just pushes buttons and it is up to the players to perform. Now, the baseball manager needs to put his players in a position to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses, Buck has done an admirable job of this. He has been utilizing shifts much more this year to help the pitching staff; he has not been afraid to juggle the lineup to maximize hotter bats and trends; he was not shy about moving Reynolds off of third and certainly not shy about throwing Manny Machado straight into the deep-end of the major leagues.

Where Showalter has really excelled this year is in bullpen management. The Orioles' biggest strength this year has been the bullpen. And the bullpen continues to excel even after an inordinate amount of extra innings and a heavy workload due to inconsistent starting pitching. Showalter has done as good a job as anyone could be expected to do. He has worked to keep arms fresh and has not been shy about leaving young starters in the game an inning or two longer than other managers might do in an effort to save those arms.

But even then we aren't really discussing Showalter's biggest contribution to this team the way he runs his shop. Showalter has never expected less than 100% from any of his players because he himself gives 100% in everything he does. Showalter has the reputation of having near dictatorial like control over every aspect of his team. Rumor has it he even had a hand in the design of the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks' uniforms. It has been said that it is this desire for control that makes buck such an excellent manager, but also leads to Showalter outliving his welcome wherever he goes. You get the idea however that Showalter's brand of type-A attention to detail is exactly what the team, and the organization, needed.

As I stated above, the current situation in Boston is a complete disaster but Baltimore does not have to look far back in its history to see a very similar situation. The Orioles, like the Red Sox today, were a rudderless ship taking on water in an unforgiving sea. The Orioles as an organization was a revolving door of upper management and field management with no one staying around long enough to put any plan into action let alone see it through to the end. Former Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone said as much on ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning earlier this week. He compared Baltimore's turmoil to the regimented structure of the very successful Atlanta Braves organization. You could hear the spite in his voice when he talked about the complete chaos the Orioles' organization was. Buck and General Manager Dan Duquette have changed that culture. Buck runs a tight ship, his words carry weight and you can see how everyone on this team has completely bought into his ideals and plan for this team.

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