Baltimore Orioles: Buck Showalter's Smartest Moves of the 2014 Season
The Baltimore Orioles have been one of the hottest teams in baseball since the All-Star Break, taking all but one series since then and establishing the best division lead in all of baseball.
Even though most of the credit must be given to the personnel who are actually playing the game, some of the credit needs to be given to the man in the dugout.
Manager Buck Showalter has kept everything in perspective for the club and has established a strong bond with his players due to mutual respect and appreciation.
The "I like our guys" phrase of Showalter's that has been popularized into a t-shirt giveaway at Camden Yards earlier this year isn't just a cutesy saying.
Showalter stays loyal to his guys—albeit to a fault at some times—but for the most part things usually pay off as players are allowed to push through their slumps rather than be benched.
Still, Showalter isn't afraid to mix things up at points in order for the club to improve as a whole, and these are just a few examples of his smartest moves of the 2014 season.
Moving Britton into the Closer Role
Buck Showalter had named reliever Tommy Hunter the team's closer prior to the start of the 2014 campaign, but it quickly became apparent that Hunter would not be the incumbent at the end of the season.
Through 17 appearances and 15 innings pitched as the closer, Hunter accrued a horrific stat line that included a 6.60 ERA, a .365 opponent batting average and a .414 opponent on-base percentage.
But in the middle of May, the back of the bullpen underwent a drastic improvement as reliever Zach Britton inherited the closer's role by picking up his first save on May 15.
Since then, Britton has already picked up 24 saves in less than three months and has been simply dominant, holding a 2.65 ERA and limiting opposing batters to a sub-.200 batting average.
Even though they've come in bunches when he has allowed them, Britton has given up an earned run in only four of his 37 appearances since being named closer.
Allowing Gausman to Get Through Struggles
Although this is Kevin Gausman's second professional season in the majors, he is still in the learning and maturation stage of his hopefully long and successful career in Baltimore.
The ace potential he has is apparent in his makeup and confidence when he takes the mound. He's a straight-up gamer who wants to compete and be out there as long as possible to give his team the best chance to win.
This isn't lost on manager Buck Showalter as he knows young players such as Gausman need to experience struggles and react to them in a positive way in order to be successful at the major league level.
In a start against the Los Angeles Angels on July 30, Gausman started off extremely strong but ran into some trouble in the top of the 5th inning when he walked the bases loaded with two outs and wound up giving up back-to-back hits that brought in three Angels baserunners.
Rather than pull Gausman after getting knocked around, Showalter decided to stick with him and see how he'd bounce back.
Gausman showed great composure to finish out his start, throwing two solid innings, giving up just a lone hit and stretching his start to seven innings.
Moving Chris Davis Down in the Order
After such a historic season in 2013, Chris Davis was naturally expected to take a step back this season.
This isn't a knock on Davis' ability as a hitter, but rather it is extremely unlikely that anyone could repeat such a remarkable season that saw the slugger break the Orioles' all-time home run record for a season with 53 round-trippers.
So far this season, though, things have gone far worse than expected for the 28-year-old lefty.
Davis is currently batting below the Mendoza Line with an average of .197, and even though his on-base percentage is more than 100 points higher at .302, it is still below major league average.
Still, Davis has clouted 21 long balls and has the potential to break open the game at any time.
It's a hard decision to move one of the team's most dangerous hitters down in the lineup, but Showalter gritted his teeth and conceded by moving Davis down in the lineup to as far as seventh in the order in two games during the series in Toronto.
Although Davis has only had nine plate appearances at the spot, he has a .286/.333/.857 slash line for the split.
Showalter hasn't slotted Davis at seventh since then, but for the mere fact that he had the willingness to do so already, Showalter may move him down in the order several more times this season to take some pressure off of Davis to ultimately improve him heading into the postseason.
Hitting Steve Pearce 2nd During His Hot Streak
Over a a streak that spanned from June 6 to July 19, Steve Pearce was the hottest hitter on the ballclub, clubbing seven homers and driving in 19 Orioles baserunners during that stretch.
The 31-year-old veteran also produced a sparkling .339/.423/.610 slash line, had 18 extra-base hits and even swiped three bags in those 33 games played.
With Manny Machado, the club's usual No. 2 hitter, struggling to find a groove offensively at the time, Showalter decided to move Pearce up in the order to that spot to mix things up and hopefully provide a spark to an offense that had been lackluster at the time.
Pearce thrived in the two-hole, hitting for an average of .281 and slugging for a .519 percentage for that split.
Although he has cooled off as of late, Pearce has already made a considerable impact on the team for this season, seeing as how he was thought of as just a utility-type player going into the 2014 campaign.
Winning a Majority of His Challenges
The introduction of the expanded replay for the 2014 season allowed managers to challenge questionable calls that would, in the past, be overlooked and thus could potentially alter the outcome of the game.
So far in its inaugural season, MLB instant replay has been a huge success, although we could do for shorter review times by the umpires and the crew in New York City.
The good people over at Baseball Savant have been tracking the instant replay challenges for the entire season, and the results show that 47 percent of all challenges have resulted in a play being overturned (442 of 926).
Buck Showalter's baseball intellect tells him when it is and isn't appropriate to lash out at an umpire for an incorrect call and for the most part, Showalter keeps a level head.
Up to this point in the season, Showalter has made 24 challenges and has had 13 of them overturned for just over a 54 percent success rate.
The positive success rate Showalter has had in the instant replay challenges could be a huge boon for the ballclub when and if they enter postseason play.
No matter how small it may seem, one call may change the course of an entire series.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.