5 Reasons Buck Showalter Is Favorite to Win AL Manager of the Year
Without question, the Baltimore Orioles have been the biggest surprise in big league baseball in 2012.
Near the halfway mark of the season, Baltimore is 41-31, and trails the New York Yankees by 3.0 games in the AL East.
For Orioles fans this is exciting news. This is especially true when one considers this team was 33-39 last year at this time, a time when Baltimore was again in last place, already 10 games behind the first place Boston Red Sox.
As a baseball fan who has endured the pain of losing baseball since my arrival in Baltimore more than a decade ago, it is impossible not to enjoy the intoxicating smell of winning baseball in the city.
At 333 West Camden Street, Baltimore’s brick and mortar ballpark has come alive with excited fans that sense something not seen since the late 1990s.
Outside the park, popular bars and grills and businesses along Russell and Pratt Streets boom with orange and black. This, as opposed to watching an onslaught of out of town fans who have come and gone after the teams they rooted for won on the road.
Sportscasters on local television have beamed in the face of another Orioles victory, instead of quickly mentioning another loss before moving on to Ravens football.
And radio show personalities—local and national—are doing interviews with Orioles players whose excitement for playing for this team oozes through the speakers.
Looming in the background of these positive developments is a quiet, gruff, straight-forward manager, Buck Showalter.
Never one to steal the show from his ballplayers, Showalter has led this team like a seasoned four-star general on the field of baseball battle.
Most importantly, Showalter has gotten both this team and this city to begin to believe in hopes for a bright future.
With that said, in this slideshow, I will highlight five reasons why Showalter deserves to win his third AL Manager of the Year Award.
Showalter Has Demanded Accountability
Showalter’s message to his players is clear—fight to be great or flee the Orioles' nest. To be a player on Showalter’s team means hard work, determination and preparedness.
In Showalter’s mind every game is a dogfight, which is key to excel in the always competitive AL East.
"It's all-in's—pitching, hitting, fielding. If guys aren't playing to their potential, we might not be here too long,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones told MLB.com reporter Brittany Ghiroli. “[Showalter] has added the accountability factor of we are grown men."
To be objective, while the Orioles have excelled so far there are some players on this ball club who have not played to their potential. And if it continues, Showalter will have his say in getting these players out of town.
This, in an effort to acquire players who will not strand runners in scoring position and who will not do their part to help the Orioles to a league leading 63 errors, according to ESPN statistics.
Rest assured, the trade deadline is coming.
Showalter Has Been Resourceful/Patient
While working with Dan Duquette to acquire players who meet his philosophies, Showalter has had to be incredibly resourceful with what he currently has.
Using the third base position as example, it is safe to say Mark Reynolds has not been exactly the most ironclad ballplayer at this position for the Orioles. Yet Robert Andino, who can also play third base has not batted that well either. And Wilson Betemit always proves an adventure when a baseball hisses his way. But Showalter has done the best he can to minimize damage until better options come available.
Chris Davis is another example. Normally a first baseman, Showalter moved Davis to right field after Nick Markakis fell to injury. Davis responded in his first start by making an excellent diving catch off the bat of Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, per the Baltimore Sun. Davis may have also saved his team Sunday when he made a nice shoestring catch in the Orioles 2-1 comeback victory over the Washington Nationals.
There are other examples—that include shuffling and showing patience with starting pitchers. But these examples go to show Showalter has been both a resourceful and patient manager.
Showalter is the Bullpen Master
While Showalter works to find the most efficient batting lineup, and while he fights to plug holes in his starting rotation, this manager has nonetheless proven masterful with his bullpen.
Led by Jim Johnson, Darren O’Day and Pedro Strop, Baltimore’s pen is the best in baseball.
According to ESPN, through 71 games the Orioles have a league leading 2.30 bullpen ERA. The Yankees come in a far second behind Baltimore with a 2.63 ERA (through 70 games).
With a 15-5 record, the O’s bullpen is also first in the league in bullpen victories. The same is also second in saves (28) and second best in earned runs given up (57). Opponents are hitting just .216 against them.
While 235 innings pitched is a cause for concern, it points to a manager who had done a tremendous job doing the best he can in spite of a troubled starting rotation.
Showalter knows when to use and when not to use his bullpen. One can see it in the balance of innings with his core relievers: Strop (34.0), Troy Patton (34.0), Ayala (33.1), Johnson (32.2), O’Day (32.1), Dana Eveland (25.0), Kevin Gregg (18.1) and Matt Lindstrom (14.0). There are other relievers, of course, but these point to the major players in the Orioles bullpen.
More critically, knowing his dilemma, Showalter does not burn his relievers' arms in the pen. In other words, Showalter does not usually make his relievers warm up if he does not intend to use them.
Showalter Has Inspired Confidence
Like New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Showalter is very methodical in his public approach with the media.
Yet beneath his calm, sometimes flat-line press conferences, lies a fierce competitor who does not buy into the hype the Orioles cannot win the AL East.
While demanding accountability and being resourceful, Showalter also exudes a cool, quiet confidence.
Showalter knows his team has talent. He knows his team has potential. And he knows his team can win.
This confidence has rubbed off on the Orioles’ players this season. Together, this ballclub plays baseball with a never say die mentality. This is seen in the spat of come-from-behind wins Baltimore has earned this season.
Yet when questioned by reporters after games, Showalter answers as if it were just another day at the ballpark.
Meantime, in the clubhouse and throughout the city, confidence in this team starts to grow more and more.
Showalter Fosters “The Oriole Way”
While Cal Ripken Jr. has been remembered for epitomizing “The Oriole Way,” it was Baltimore’s GM/Manager Paul Richards who pioneered this philosophy, per the Society for American Baseball Research.
In laymen’s terms, “The Oriole Way” meant all players at all levels of Baltimore’s organization would bear allegiance to sound fundamental baseball.
More simply put, excel at the fundamentals and get promoted. Fail to do the same and falter.
At some point in the last two decades, Baltimore’s front office got away from Richards’ message that helped the team to three decades of baseball excellence.
But Showalter’s arrival in Baltimore has seemed to mark a return to “The Oriole Way.”
For long-time Orioles fans who long for the happier days at Memorial Stadium, as well as those early days at Camden Yards, Baltimore’s turnaround is inspiring to say the least.
While it is still too early to tell if the Orioles can maintain its winning ways, hope is beginning to build in and around Baltimore that the Orioles can make the postseason.
Should this happen, Showalter should not just win the AL Manager of the Year Award.
He should be given the key to Baltimore.
James Morisette is a Featured B/R Writer for the Baltimore Orioles. You can follow him on Twitter.