I was originally going to write about how the Orioles should fire Buck Showalter, but although I think that this marriage with the Orioles and GM Dan Duquetteshould end, it won’t as long as Peter Angelos owns the team. I would love to see the Orioles turn in another direction as Showalter has had three cracks at the playoffs and has failed to advance the Orioles to the World Series, and this year was clearly his worst managing effort of his tenure. However, Angelos will never fire him, so instead of wasting those words, I’ll take a look at how a series of bad decisions by Buck Showalter added up over the course of the 2016 season before he ultimately made the worst managerial decisions of his career.
It’s going to be long and painful, but in a way this is therapy after a long season full of ups and downs and ultimately a bitter finish. Let’s begin…
The mistreatment of Hyun Soo Kim
I wrote in length about the Spring Training saga with Kim earlier this season here and followed it up as Kim’s season progressed with a couple of articles on my site, Orioles Anonymous, which you can read here and here. As we all know, once Kim made the team, Showalter benched him for most of April and May to play Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard and Nolan Reimold. When Kim finally got into the lineup as a regular in late May, in spite of having hit left handed pitching well in 2015 while he was in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), Showalter platooned him against righties, which worked out for the Orioles until Rickard was injured. Then instead of playing Kim every day and giving him a chance to prove he could or couldn’t hit lefties, Showalter continued to bench him against them and played Reimold who had a horrific .254 wOBA and 52 wRC+ this season when he faced left handed pitching.
Kim couldn’t have done better than that?
Admittedly, Kim’s defense was a problem, specifically his range and his arm. While he did have four assists, according to Fangraphs, Kim had a -13 DRS in left field. I would have liked to see him play some at DH and first base, especially when Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo were both struggling offensively in July and August. That would have allowed his bat to stay in the lineup, with a better defensive option in left field.
Probably the craziest thing Buck did with Kim however was to not put him at the leadoff spot after Rickard was benched against right-handed pitching and then injured. Kim was an on-base machine in the KBO and was again in MLB, yet he only started two games at leadoff all season. It’s true he didn’t bat leadoff in the KBO as he was more of a middle-of-the-order hitter, but I’m sure he could have done better than the free-swinging Adam Jones’ .335 wOBA at the position, given the time to adjust.
I should also add that the benching of Kim resumed in September, right after Duquette had brought Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs in as waiver trade acquisitions after Steve Pearce was hurt. With Buck having other options than Kim for left field, he found ways to play Bourn and Stubbs on numerous occasions to the detriment of the offense, while Kim only started 15 games in September and October. Bourn did eventually heat up, but Kim was certainly a better option than Stubbs, even against lefties.
Kim needed 600 plate appearances this season and even though he was completely healthy, only received 346. I’m sure, especially in April, May and September, had Kim been able to get those plate appearances he needed, the Orioles would have probably had a few more runs on the board to win games.
It only took one loss to make the Orioles have to travel to Toronto for the Wild Card game. They only lost the division by four games.
Playing Hyun Soo Kim more could have made up that difference.
Using Steve Pearce in the outfield
It’s hard to think this injury was a major blow to the Orioles; after all, Pearce didn’t become an Oriole until July 31st and only played part of August and September before going on the disabled list and having his season end. However, it was how he went on the disabled list that makes this decision stand out.
Pearce never played the outfield with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016, and there was a reason for that – he had a forearm injury that he was managing. The injury caused him the most pain when he had to throw from the outfield but he was fine with infield throws from first base and second base. The Orioles acquired him for catcher Jonah Heim with this knowledge, but they needed a right-handed outfielder to fill in for Rickard, so that’s where Buck decided he was going to play.
Pearce first aggravated the injury on August 7th when he started in right field against the Red Sox and had to make a throw to home plate. He got a cortisone shot afterwards and that relieved some of the pain so he was able to avoid the disabled list and only missed a few games. When he re-appeared in the Orioles’ starting lineup after some pinch hit appearances, it was at first base.
However, it wasn’t long before Buck put Pearce back in the outfield, so it was only a matter of time before he aggravated the injury again, and he did so on a throw from the outfield on September 12th. This time the pain was so great, Pearce couldn’t even swing a bat. His season was over and surgery awaited him.
All of this could have been avoided had the Orioles, when Pearce would be in the lineup, played him at first base like the Rays did and moved Davis to right field or benched him for Trumbo against tough lefties.
I posted the following in a response to a post on the Orioles 247 Facebook page after Pearce came back from his injury:
“Pearce has a forearm injury – flexor mass – that hurts when he airs out throws from the OF. He doesn’t have to make those throws from 1B or 2B. It’s why he played strictly IF for the Rays. His shoulder is fine. Sadly it doesn’t appear that he’ll be able to play the OF anymore this season which is likely why the O’s acquired him. But I’ll take his bat vs. LHP in the lineup”
When I saw that he was back in the outfield, I was flabbergasted. It just made no sense to me to put him back out there when you know that he has a likely possibility of re-aggravating the injury. It seems Showalter was going to roll the dice with Pearce instead of making sure to preserve his valuable bat for the playoffs. I’m sure Davis would have been willing to play right field if it was what was best for the team. Davis was probably also one of the team’s best defensive outfielders, but Buck didn’t want to move him from first base.
The impact of the Pearce injury is fully realized when you consider that Pearce – and not Reimold – could have been up as a pinch hitter for Kim in the top of the 11th inning of the Wild Card game against Francisco Liriano. I think that AB and perhaps the result of the game may been different if that were the case.
It didn’t seem season-altering at the time, but the Orioles missed Pearce badly down the stretch and especially in the Wild Card game. Buck Showalter is solely to blame for him not being there.
Letting Manny be Manny
Manny Machado was the Most Valuable Oriole as voted by the Baltimore media, but there were numerous times where he cost the team dearly with his failure to execute and his over-aggression. Manny made numerous baserunning blunders this season and completely regressed at the plate in the second half from the leap he took in 2015 and the first half of 2016. He also continued to add to his reputation of being a hothead as he was suspended for four games after charging the mound and throwing a punch at Yordano Ventura in June after being thrown at and eventually hit by a pitch.
The question that has to be asked is, why was that behavior allowed to happen, then allowed to continue? There’s aggressive and there’s stupid, and Machado made a lot of stupid, stupid decisions in 2016, and with very little said by the manager publicly and seemingly little corrective action taken.
Plate discipline and production wise, Manny went from having a .393 wOBA and 147 wRC+ in the first half to only a .335 wOBA and 108 wRC+ in the second half. In September, when the team needed him to step up the most, he only had a .293 wOBA and an 82 wRC+. His O-Swing% for the season was 32.3% – the highest of his career – after being only 25.3%, his lowest ever, in 2015.
Many of Machado’s errors also seemed to come when he was trying to do too much, trying to make the flashy play instead of just getting the out. Davis also saved multiple throws of Manny’s this year; otherwise his number of errors could have been even higher.
Machado ultimately needed a reality check this season and Buck Showalter should have given him one and sat him at some point after one of the many poor decisions he made, if for nothing more than to give him a rest and let him reflect on his play.
Showalter needed to challenge Machado into becoming a team leader in 2016 after his monster 2015. Instead he allowed Manny’s regression to carry all the way into the Wild Card game, where he once again embarrassed himself at the plate, swinging at everything outside of the strike zone and having little patience.
Right now any comparison to Alex Rodriguez is invalid. Manny is more selfish and impatient than A-Rod was at his age and the fame has clearly gone to his head. I don’t see him achieving that similar Hall of Fame status unless he cleans up his game soon.
For somebody with an attention to detail, Manny Machado’s play and regression somehow largely escaped the judgment of Buck Showalter this season and it cost the Orioles in the end.
October 1, Orioles vs. Yankees, Game 2
The Ubaldo Jimenez decision officially ended the Orioles’ season, but the choices that Showalter made in that game, namely to leave Wade Miley in against the Yankees, might as well have done the job. The Orioles could have clinched a wild card berth and ultimately played at Oriole Park at Camden Yards had they won this game, but as we all know they didn’t and Showalter’s decisions in that game are a big reason why.
Miley was clearly gassed in the 6th inning, and I understand Buck wanting to trust his starting pitcher, but to bring him back out for the 7th inning at 108 pitches was completely inexcusable. Worse yet, in the 8th, he let Brad Brach continue to pitch with runners on second and third and nobody out. Brach gave up the go-ahead two run single but Buck made things worse by bringing in Oliver Drake, who gave up two more runs, putting the game out of reach for the inept Orioles offense.
Leaving Brach in was bad enough, but with all the options available, why Drake? Showalter typically manages a bullpen for the season, but that right there was pretty close to a playoff game as it had significant consequences.
Sure the Orioles only scored three runs that game, but they had a 2-1 lead in the 6th inning and Showalter should have known what the game meant and that his offense was struggling and managed from there accordingly. Instead he managed the rest of the game like it was June when the Orioles could score five runs in one inning.
The result was a huge 7-3 loss, and while it was seen as just a delay and the Orioles celebrated the next day after beating the Yankees in the finale, it also doomed them to their fate. Toronto couldn’t walk off at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in extra innings, only the Orioles could.
In a one game playoff, that home field advantage can be crucial if the game goes to extra innings – as we all found out.
Wild Card, Orioles vs. Blue Jays
This one hurts the most. The Wade Miley scenario was more like the situation when Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in too long in 2003, but this was definitely Buck Showalter’s Grady Little moment. Unless Showalter takes the Orioles to a World Series in the next two years, this is ultimately what he will be remembered for years from now, just as Little is for the Red Sox.
Zach Britton should have been in that game at some point – either earlier or in that 11th inning. Even if Buck wanted to wait on Britton for a save situation, you still bring in Dylan Bundy or Tommy Hunter, two players that have had success as relief pitchers, unlike Ubaldo, and you let them pitch until they are gassed or they lose. Going to Ubaldo Jimenez in the bottom of the 11th inning in a tie game of a one game playoff made absolutely no sense.
Pinch hitting Reimold for Kim against Liriano in the top of the 11th also made no sense given Reimold’s terrible stats against left-handed pitching. And not subbing Stubbs for Reimold in the bottom half of the inning made no sense either, given the fact that Stubbs is the superior defender which is why he was on the roster.
Sure, you can argue the offense should have performed, but then I’ll point you back to the immature Machado at-bats, an impatient Jones seeing the most at-bats, and the lack of Steve Pearce.
Like I said, it’s a series of previous bad decisions that doomed the Orioles in the end.
Ubaldo had no business being in that game at that time and neither did Reimold. There were better options.
The Orioles had no business being in Toronto. They should have been playing in Baltimore, or watching the Wild Card game, getting ready to play in Cleveland.
But the Orioles had to play for the Wild Card in Toronto, Reimold did pinch hit, struck out and made that costly bobble to put more pressure on Ubaldo, and Ubaldo served up a gopher ball to Edwin Encarnacion that will be remembered similarly to the Tony Fernandez home run served up by Armando Benitez in the 1997 ALCS.
I could go on with other examples, such as the strike zone being terrible for the Orioles for most of the season and yet Showalter only being ejected for arguing it once, and not until the last week of the season. He seemed more and more like Mike Hargrove to me than Earl Weaver – calm, collected, and a bit too comfortable.
The Orioles’ season is over though, and it’s time to look toward the offseason again and 2017.
When I look back at the 2016 season there’s really only one way I’m going to remember it: the Orioles simply got Bucked.