Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Showalter Rules

  • The Orioles will turn around under Buck Showalter:

In Peter Angelos's time as Orioles owner, he's had one proven, strong-willed manager who would win regardless of talent level----Davey Johnson; it's no coincidence that the only time the Orioles had any sustained success under Angelos's ownership, despite his willingness to spend money, was with Johnson as manager.

Apart from Johnson, the managers were respected retreads who would win with a superior team, but not with his decisions often making the difference (Mike Hargrove); overwhelmed pitching coaches not suited for managing (Ray Miller); and people with solid resumes who plainly and simply didn't work out (Lee Mazzilli, Sam Perlozzo and Dave Trembley).

All that has changed with the hiring of Buck Showalter as manager.

The Orioles had done all the right things in trying to rebuild from the mess created by throwing money at their problems and shunning the farm system. GM Andy MacPhail was allowed to start over organically with short-term, hole-filling free agents and youth from their system. They dumped veterans for prospect-filled packages and appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough in 2010.

But it didn't work.

To this day, I believe that had Mike Gonzalez converted save opportunities against the Rays on opening day and against the Blue Jays three days later, it could've gone far differently for the Orioles; Gonzalez's blown saves set the tone for a young club that it was going to be the same thing again. And it has been.

From a club that had a load of young pitching and bats ready to incrementally improve in the big leagues, they've again become a laughingstock; veteran acquisitions that made sense in Kevin Millwood, Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada haven't worked; burgeoning young talents Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Brad Bergesen have taken several steps back; and they found themselves having to do something drastic to try and right the ship. That something is hiring Showalter.

Is he the cure to all ills in the organization? Are the Orioles the ridiculous and hopeless entity that the simplistic and ill-informed have suggested?

No and no.

But Showalter is the man who will walk into the Orioles clubhouse and demand accountability and mete out discipline. He's going to have a lot of say-so with the constitution of the club and weed out players who are not part of the solution. Exemplifying the lack of respect inherent in the organization was center fielder Adam Jones who, when it was suggested that he play more shallow to prevent so many balls from bouncing in front of him responded by saying, "I'll think about it".

If Jones tries his "I'll think about it" trick with Showalter, he'll be allowed to think about Triple A Norfolk.

Showalter has a history of turning around the moribund (the Yankees and Rangers) and building (the Diamondbacks). That comes from talent recognition; a team concept; and putting his clubs in the right mental and physical state to win. One would assume that, in his fourth go-round as a manager, Showalter will ease up on the main criticism of him in his prior stops----he's an anal retentive, micro-managing, paranoid nuisance.

It's necessary to get the youngsters on the same page and discipline them, but Showalter goes a little far with the dictates on how players have to wear their socks and the like. That won't work with a veteran player, so Showalter has to get the remaining veterans like Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis on his side so they can be a conduit to the rest of the club. And I believe he will.

Strategically, Showalter is brilliant and fearless; it's all about team and considering the condition of the Orioles and that they're almost entirely made up of young players and few "star" level veterans, he's in a similar spot as he was with the Diamondbacks when he was hired as their manager two years before a big league club took the field. He turned them into a 100-win team in his second year.

The Orioles have enough talent to make a leap from wherever they end up this season (presumably well over 100 losses) to close to .500 next season based on nothing other than Showalter's history. Will his other history of Machiavellian scheming (not on the level of Bobby Valentine, but Machiavellian nonetheless) and grating on the nerves of his players and bosses cause another firing after three or four years? It's possible; but Showalter is smart enough to have learned from his mistakes and he has to realize that the Orioles situation is perfect for him to mold the club into what he wants and that Angelos has the money and willingness to spend it so they can get into playoff contention fast.

After a series of faceless managerial errors, the Orioles got it right----Buck Showalter is the last piece of their rebuilding puzzle and will turn them around very, very quickly.

  • Chemistry is not overrated:

There's a misunderstanding of team chemistry in thinking that it means the players have to be buddies. It's not the case. Players don't have to be friends to communicate well and play together. Many times teams that have a group of players who all get along is indicative of a losing, passionless bunch that doesn't care. There's no reason to bicker because what's happening on the field doesn't matter.

Team chemistry has more to do with trust and respect, even if there's a personal dislike. Ron Cey and Steve Garvey barely spoke away from the field, but were part of the longest tenured infield (along with Davey Lopes and Bill Russell) in baseball history for the Dodgers in the 1970s and 80s.

Because they've been slumping in recent days, there are all sorts of theories floating around as to what's wrong with the Yankees. Is it Alex Rodriguez's chase for his 600th homer that's distracting the whole club? Is it shaky top-to-bottom pitching? Or are they simply slumping?

Could it be that they made a series of somewhat unnecessary maneuvers that have shaken the clubhouse into doubting itself?

The Yankees will be fine----if for no other reason than the teams chasing them haven't enough firepower to catch them for a playoff spot be it from winning the division or the Wild Card; but it can't be denied that they've been off recently. A.J. Burnett's been bad for most of the season. This can't have been unexpected by anyone who's followed Burnett's career----it's always been "ace stuff, mid-to-back of the rotation results"; at the very least he's stayed healthy while wearing pinstripes. Phil Hughes has predictably struggled since the team (again) took steps to limit his innings and got him paranoid and out of his comfort zone (sound familiar?); Andy Pettitte is hurt; and Javier Vazquez can't be trusted.

You cannot discount the factors of new additions to a harmonious clubhouse and wonder if it's affecting the mentality.

I can't believe that the Yankees front office truly thinks they're going to get any use out of Kerry Wood; and that feeling is presumably more prevalent with the players. He was available and essentially free, so why not? But a pitcher who's performed terribly and has a longstanding association with losers is not a guarantee to come into a winning clubhouse and generate good will; it's nothing personal, but on the field, Wood has been a detriment and has the potential to get far worse.

Did they need Austin Kearns? No.

Lance Berkman is a good pickup because he'll play regularly and is filling a hole in the lineup.

The belief that chemistry is overrated and meaningless is ignoring baseball history in general and Yankee history in particular. They had an All Star team from the years 2002 through 2008 under Joe Torre and Joe Girardi and the edicts of George Steinbrenner to collect expensive baubles AKA mercenaries the likes of Jason Giambi failed; it was the cohesiveness that crafted the Yankees dynasty from 1996-2000. It can't be lost on anyone that those teams never had an MVP; never had a player hit more than 30 homers; didn't have a name-dominated starting rotation and won every year because the puzzle pieces fit.

Were the teams from the non-title years better on paper than the championship teams?


Did they win?


Wood is a free acquisition as is Kearns; but to drop sticks of dynamite (or at the very least, stinkbombs) onto a club that didn't really need to be mucked with is a sign of unnecessary tinkering "because we can"; and it might've distracted the core of the team as they try to acclimate the newcomers into the Yankees atmosphere.

It also might've been a mistake.

  • Viewer Mail 8.4.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Ozzie Guillen's rant:

I think some of the American-born ballplayers need a translator!

Players? Some of the GMs, managers and broadcasters need a translator from their crud into understandable English, but if that happened, it'd come out as: "I'm saying stuff, but not saying anything at all; it's just words, cliches and gobbledy gook coming out of my mouth because I don't know what I'm talking about, am portraying myself as an expert while doing it, and unfortunately, talking is part of my job----or my job in and of itself."

Either that or, "Whah whah whah, whahwhahahwhaahwhah!!!"-----like in Peanuts.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Ozzie Guillen and Ichiro Suzuki:

I think Guillen's rant is getting the necessary attention now... but you're right in that it was dismissed early on as 'just another Ozzie rant'.

We've talked about this before on your blog, how some guys don't need a translator but still employ them so they're there as scapegoats when the player doesn't feel like talking (ahem, ICHIRO)... and that annoys the hell outta me.

It's not only Ichiro who pulls that, Vladimir Guerrero speaks English too and doesn't speak to the press; unlike Ichiro, Guerrero is a team-oriented player. I've had enough of people referencing cultural differences as to why Ichiro doesn't speak English as if he's uncomfortable with sounding foolish; he's been here since 2001, I'm sure he'd get his point across and in a nation of immigrants, who'd care?

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE Ozzie Guillen:

Mickey Rivers and Rickey Henderson could have used a translator.

I think Ozzie brought up a great point that has gotten dismissed outright in the past by Baseball. The Old Establishment never saw it necessary to provide such services for reasons that I don't need to get into. Baseball is much more sensitive/helpful today but not nearly enough for Ozzie. Latinos have gotten around the language because of the quantity of players on a given roster/system. Spanish Media has helped along the way. But listen to Tony Perez, Tony Oliva, Orlando Cepeda, Vada Pinson......etc and they'll tell you. Ozzie didn't say anything malicious. But sometimes the truth comes off as a little rough, especially when Ozzie makes the pitch.

You couldn't be more right about Mike the Sports Pope. I'd like to use a different word for him.

The backwards talk is what made Rickey interesting----that and Rickey referring to Rickey as Rickey repeatedly in the third person.

I'm not sure why there was such a vitriolic reaction to what Guillen said especially when his heart appeared to be in the right place in this instance; to me, this was nothing in terms of controversy.

Ah, Francesa----what will we do without him? I suppose we're learning as he takes the entire summer off. We are greater for having lost him.

Max Stevens writes RE the Mets, Jeff Francoeur and Fernando Martinez:

I hope you're right when you speculate that F-Mart will be in right field for the Mets when the club returns home from this roadie. But what do you think would be the fallout once Jason Bay comes off the DL (assuming he's not shelved for the rest of the season)? Would they try to trade Francoeur before the August 31 deadline? As much as I like Carlos Beltran, I wouldn't mind seeing him moved as well as part of a larger attempt to get younger and cheaper in the outfield.

Francoeur's homer exemplified what's exasperating and likable about him----his joy was infectious and you could see how popular he is with his teammates when he reached the dugout after hitting it; but it only happened because he didn't hack at any pitch that came his way and went to the opposite field with the outside pitch.

I have no idea what the Mets are going to do; it's only logical to have a look at F-Mart, but who knows if they will? They might wait until September call-ups and see where they are in the standings before making that kind of call.

Beltran will get through waivers and perhaps a team might be willing to make a move on him----I'd absolutely listen although it's highly unlikely he'll be traded with his free agency after 2011, the draft picks they'll get as compensation and that he'll want to have a big year to get another payday.

Francoeur could be traded.

John Seal (West Coast Spiritual Advisor) writes RE the Athletics and Ozzie Guillen:

It's been a while since I last wrote--I've been too busy paying attention to the A's pennant drive. Just wanted to chime in on Ozzie Guillen's accurate statement regarding the accommodations made for Asian players, and recommend that (if you haven't already seen it) you watch the movie Sugar. Besides being a very good film, it's also an excellent examination of this very topic. Your West Coast Spiritual Advisor says check it out!

I always take advice from my West Coast Spiritual Advisor although my spirituality sometimes eludes me and I listen to the baser instincts. It seems to work out in a mediocre, though adventurous way.

Ah, the A's. They've taken advantage of the Pirates, Orioles, Mariners and Royals to reach .500 when we both know that if they were in the AL East, they'd be ten games under; but they don't make the schedule. I'm just wondering if people are going to misinterpret or (more likely) twist their moderate success to validate what Billy Beane's done this season; I also wonder if, during Mariners-A's games if Beane and Jack Zduriencik commiserate and wonder where their "genius" has gone and how to get it back.

I wonder a lot of things.

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz yesterday talking about the trade deadline, Ozzie Guillen and the pennant races. Click the link above or go to the site to download it on I-Tunes. Or you can get it directly here.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.


She-Fan said...

How could the new guys on the Yankees possibly be responsible for upsetting the team's chemistry? They've been there for like five minutes. Every team goes through slumps. Period.

AndyD said...

The Orioles will be a great test for Showalter. Its crazy to see how far they have slipped. My dad still goes on about how strong they were.