Entering the month of September, the Baltimore Orioles found themselves 3 games back in the wild card race, certainly within striking distance.
Fans had reason for optimism as Buck Showalter since his arrival in Baltimore has led his team to successful September performances. In 2010, Showalter, having taken over as manager mid-season, led the under-talented Orioles to a 14-12 record in September.
He continued his September success in 2011 going 15-13 and in 2012 going 19-9. This brings us to 2013, with yesterday’s win the Orioles crept to a record of 14-14 in September. The Orioles were 10-13 when they became officially eliminated from the playoffs (or when the games stopped mattering).
This was their worst September record under Showalter. The worst September under Showalter but with possibly Showalter’s best team; so what went wrong? Of course, there a multitude of factors that contributed to a rough September, but one of the major factors was fatigue.
The Baltimore Orioles have seven players who have played at least 146 games (and 3 who have played 160 games!). These seven are Adam Jones (160 games played), Chris Davis (160), Nick Markakis (160), JJ Hardy (159), Manny Machado (156), Matt Wieters (148), and Nate McLouth (146).
This is a lot of players, playing a lot of games. No other team in baseball has their starters playing so many games. The Red Sox for example only have one player (Dustini Pedroia) over the 145 game mark. Most teams have only one or two players at or over 145 games played, so the Orioles having seven players over this mark should raise some eye brows (or some unibrows; I’m not here to judge).
In 2012, Showalter had two players at or over 145 games played (Jones and Hardy), and two years ago he had four players (Markakis, Reynolds, Guerrero, Jones) likewise in 2010 Showalter had four players at or above the 145 games played (Markakis, Wigginton,Izturis, Jones).
These past numbers show two things: 1. Buck Showalter has always relied on his starters to play a lot of games, even when his starters weren’t great. Reynolds, Guerrero, Wigginton and Izturis were all fine players for the Orioles, but they weren’t elite players that demanded to be in the lineup every day. 2. Though Buck Showalter always uses his starters a great deal, in 2013 he has outdone himself.
To look at how well this worked out for Showalter let’s take a look at the September batting averages and strikeouts of the seven “well-used” (to put it nicely) players.
Adam Jones .233 BA with 30 strikeouts
Nick Markakis .255 BA with 14 strikeouts
Chris Davis .216 BA with 37 strikeouts
J.J. Hardy .303 BA with 9 strikeouts
Manny Machado .194 BA with 21 strikeouts
Matt Wieters .276 BA with 22 strikeouts
Nate McLouth .218 BA with 15 strikeouts
As you look at these numbers, keep in mind these are the players playing every day because these are the Orioles best players. With the exception of Wieters and Hardy, these players batted atrociously in September as they hit well below their career averages.
Of course, there are other factors that contribute to a hitter’s success (or in this case lack of success) and to put it all on fatigue would be unfair, but it is definitely part of the equation. The result of these combined hitting numbers is an unspectacular and disappointing September for the Orioles which resulted in the Orioles missing the playoffs.
Of course, this opens up a larger discussion as to why Showalter pushed his starters so hard. Is it because the players insist on playing and Showalter doesn’t have the guts to say, ‘no’? Is it because he doesn’t trust his backups (Flaherty at SS anyone?) Or does Showalter simply need to change his philosophy on how much he plays his starters?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that if this ball club wants to take the next step next year and make the playoffs, they’ll need to find a better way to keep their players fresh down the stretch.
Matt Sroka can be found on the Section 336 Podcast.