The hallmark of a Buck Showalter team is usually two things – home run driven crooked innings and a lock down bullpen. That’s what Buck’s team does. In his 6th full season as the skipper, the O’s are fitting the mold. It’s been a progression to come from the team he inherited to the team that takes the field now. As you can see in the graphic below, the O’s have moved to be one of the best HR hitting teams in the league, while the bullpen ERA has moved all the way from flirting with 5 to a top-five unit.
Showalter has a reputation as the manger with the contender touch, having had success rebuilding the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Rangers, and now the Orioles. Power and late-inning pitching have served well as the main ingredients to the recipe for success that the Birds have used to climb from almost dead last in the league to the second best record in baseball last year.
This has been the longest Buck has stayed a manager with a team, a journey that started when the O’s parted ways first with Dave Trembley and then interim manager Juan Samuel in 2010. As has been well documented, in the beginning of the 90’s he managed the Yankees for four seasons. Buck left and the Yankees won the World Series. In Arizona, after three years of Buck, the Diamondbacks changed managers and won the World Series. Four years of .500-baseball in Texas set the table for two World Series trips for the Rangers a few years later.
So, maybe Buck is due. Or was there a missing element that Showalter lacked in management?
While this O’s team has broken through to having some success in the playoffs, what will put them back in the Fall Classic after more than two-decades? What is the missing piece? Let go a little deeper. Get ready to get your inner stat geek on, y’all.
Below is a graphic comparing the Orioles to the eventual ALCS champs of each of the last six seasons. The rankings are for all of baseball. I included the rankings for numbers alone, without comparison, don’t tell the full story. Even with some context, I acknowledge these are just statistics. A metric for Magic has eluded even those deep in the bunkers of the Sabermetrics super computer facility.
What’s it all about, Alfie? Well, what stands out to me most is the lack of a running game. Now, you might argue that it’s hard to steal bases if you’ve cleaned them with a homer. Noted. But looking at the last six AL champs, 5 of the 6 were at least in the top third in base stealing. The O’s were dead last 2 of the last 3 years. As Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket would say, the Orioles run like old people f*%#.
The Orioles didn’t have one player with a double-digit stolen base total in 2014. Not one. Even the World Champion 2012 Tigers, who would have been last in stolen bases had the Orioles not existed, had two players with double-digit steals. David Lough led the O’s with 8 steals last year. That’s right. Only 8 more steals than you and I had last year.
Comparing the Orioles averages from the last three years versus the averages of the last 6 AL champs, we see the glaring 60 stolen base difference. The starters’ ERA is higher than the average previous champ, but that improved to 12th in baseball last year. However, excluding the anomaly of 2013 when Nate McLouth stole 30 bases, the O’s have been in the bottom third, if not last, in stolen bases.
You could argue that the O’s aren’t on base enough. Well, they were 16th in the majors last year in On-Base-Percentage… one spot behind the Kansas City Royals, who led the majors in stolen bases. The Orioles only attempted to steal a base 64 times all year. That is 15 less than Miami, making the O’s last in the majors in attempts as well. Just like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play.
This year, the O’s have stolen 8 bases so far. That would put them on pace to steal 72 bases for the season. That’s on par with what they’ve done for 6 seasons. Perhaps, for Buck and the Birds to win the big one, they need to tweak the formula that has helped them turn it around and add that final piece to their game. They gotta run!