So here we are at the end of another disappointing season in Birdland, and fans are starting to call for the firing of Orioles’ Executive VP of Baseball Operations, Dan Duquette once again, just like they did back in 2015 after the Orioles missed the playoffs and narrowly avoided a losing season finishing 81-81. This season, it would take a small miracle for the Orioles to avoid their first losing season under Dan Duquette’s tenure but I defended keeping Duquette after 2015 so I’ll defend him here again.
As I’ll discuss, the problems the Orioles have are largely due to ownership and the management structure that exists within the Warehouse between Duquette, Buck Showalter and Brady Anderson. That relationship clearly needs to end, but firing Duquette isn’t the way to do it.
Let’s go through some things that fans are blaming Duquette for and we’ll see how he is not at fault as much as some people think:
The pitching is terrible
Yes the pitching is terrible, yes Dan Duquette is the GM but there’s more to it. Let’s talk about three reasons why the pitching continues to be problem:
Time to home plate
This is something Buck Showalter has an obsession about and he’s gone so far as to convince ownership to allow him as a major league manager to dictate to all the Orioles’ pitching coaches that every Orioles minor league pitcher must have their deliveries altered or quickened to make sure they can get the ball to home plate within an acceptable time. For pitchers with timing problems in their delivery already like Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey (check the side note), this can be potentially harmful and I don’t think it’s a coincidence we’ve seen these pitchers along with others like Cody Sedlock go down with injuries and/or be ineffective after joining the Orioles’ system and forced to throw more quickly to the plate.
Supposedly there’s a term called “de-Oriole” for Orioles pitchers when they are acquired by other clubs and time to home plate is surely a factor.
The worst part about the whole scenario is that base stealing, statistically, is at its lowest point since the 1970s, therefore there is no need to potentially screw up a young arm purely to satisfy a manager’s fetish of watching would-be base stealers get thrown out.
If the runner steals second or third but never advances to home plate before three outs, the pitcher has still done his job regardless if he takes 1.7 seconds to get the ball to home plate or not.
I’m thoroughly convinced Buck Showalter is now a major part of the problem the Orioles have developing pitchers in the organization because of this obsession.
If the Orioles can’t develop pitchers because of Buck’s meddling, then they have to acquire them elsewhere and free agency is one avenue.
There’s a problem there though…
Nobody wants to pitch at Oriole Park at Camden Yards
OPACY is the best park in baseball to watch a ballgame; unfortunately, it isn’t the best park to pitch in because it’s is much less forgiving for mistakes. The telling comment was when Jeremy Hellickson, who wasn’t exactly some prize acquisition, made these comments:
“’I never liked coming here. I think that had to do more with the offense I was going to have to face than the park, but it’s definitely not a pitchers park. I definitely agree that a lot of guys don’t like pitching here,’ said the newcomer.”
It’s needless to say if somebody like Hellickson doesn’t want to pitch at OPACY if they had a choice, then your top free agent pitchers aren’t going to want to pitch for the Orioles either unless you significantly overpay, which Peter Angelos does not believe in, historically.
Thus, the Orioles are left with the mid-tier free agent pitchers, which as we’ve seen, they must – and have – overpay to sign. And with those mid-tier pitchers, there are going to be ups and downs, and unfortunately for the Orioles, it’s mostly been downs with pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo. Ervin Santana was another option the Orioles were pursuing after 2013, but Ubaldo signed first out of the two. Gallardo was the only mid-tier pitcher willing to pitch for the Orioles after 2015, as the other free agent arms on the market preferred other locations and even then, signed for more than Gallardo did.
Free agency just seems less likely as an option for quality starters for the Orioles. The only starting pitchers to have a season’s worth of success as Duquette acquisitions with the Orioles were cast-offs such as Miguel Gonzalez, low-key international signing in Wei-Yin Chen, and Bud Norris, who was crucial to the Orioles’ AL East title run in 2014. Kevin Gausman, the Orioles’ 2012 first round pick, has shown promise but he has yet to put a full season together.
Duquette does not have an easy job acquiring pitching to begin with given a ballpark that has a poor reputation with pitchers, and yet he’s done a pretty phenomenal job of acquiring bullpen talent for cheap, with Brad Brach and now Miguel Castro as major bullpen arms.
Do people remember the days when the Orioles spent $32 million on bullpen arms in one offseason, or the time when they spent $12 million just to get Kevin Gregg to pitch for the team for 2 years? You don’t really see those types of signings under Duquette unless ownership intervenes, which leads to the third and final point.
It is well-documented that Peter Angelos doesn’t believe in paying huge prices for good pitching because those contracts rarely work out. To be fair, it’s really hard to argue with him in that aspect, however that doesn’t exactly help when the Orioles are desperate for quality arms.
It also doesn’t help when ownership steps in to sign players that should have been allowed to walk like Darren O’Day. Vice President of Baseball Operations Brady Anderson represented ownership when he struck a four-year $31 million deal with O’Day, which has a been largely a disappointment as O’Day has struggled with injuries and is performing worse than he did before he reached free agency.
Anderson – again acting for ownership – negotiated another deal for Mark Trumbo this past offseason. Though not a pitcher, the contract took away valuable payroll room for the Orioles to sign a pitcher for the rotation or bullpen. Trumbo’s contract also looks like an albatross compared to what the Orioles could have spent for a platoon of Pedro Alvarez and Trey Mancini.
Likewise, ownership locked up a lot of money in Chris Davis, but at the time given his good health, defense and power potential, it seemed like an OK move. That one isn’t as indefensible, but it still ties up payroll that could be used to improve pitching.
In addition, there are still several front office members and player development staff that Duquette can’t replace because of their ties to Angelos. He can re-assign duties, but like with every GM under Angelos, a true housecleaning isn’t a reality and that’s what is going to need to happen for the Orioles to truly fix their player development.
So that answers the pitching complaints, now let’s talk about position players.
The hitters are too impatient
Yes, the Orioles constantly acquire hitters that swing for the fences, but once again it’s important to know who has the major input on that decision.
Duquette built his teams in Montreal and Boston around hitters that worked the count and got on base. It’s a staple of his. Every offseason, you always hear he wants to improve the team’s on base percentage and every season it never happens to the extent that it needs to.
The important thing to notice is in spite of his supposed attention to detail, who isn’t saying a peep about improving the ability of his team to get on base?
That’s right, Buck Showalter. I challenge any reader to find a quote of Buck saying the team needs to work the count and get on base more.
It’s pretty much a unicorn.
He’ll never say it directly, but it’s pretty obvious from the hitters he champions and the hitters he benches, Showalter wants hitters to be aggressive in the box and try to hit the ball out of the ballpark.
That’s also why I believe Duquette continues to acquire mainly free-swingers because it’s been proven that’s all Showalter will play. If you are a patient hitter, much like his obsession with times to home plate, you are going to be benched if you don’t adapt and start swinging more often.
For example, Seth Smith, known for his patient approach, had a 22.7% O-Swing% in Seattle last season. This season he’s at 27.0%, the highest he’s had since he played for Oakland back in 2012.
However, the only hitter to have 100+ PAs that had a better O-Swing% than Smith this season is Hyun-Soo Kim with 21.0% – and Buck benched him! He made sure Duquette had no other choice but to jettison Kim as soon as he could line up a deal for somebody to take him.
Speaking of international players…
International Players? No Thanks!
Once again, you’ve got to look at ownership.
Duquette even threw ownership under the bus a little when he talked about why the Orioles weren’t signing international amateur free agents to large bonuses like almost all the other clubs and trading the money instead. You can tell it’s something he struggles with because it’s how he built his previous teams. Using every avenue of talent out there was a staple of the Duquette playbook – until he came to work for the Orioles and Angelos and had to adapt.
But Duquette, smartly, is at least spending the money to try to acquire talent from other clubs. Chris Lee is an intriguing arm that might pay off as a dominant reliever or a back end starter and he was acquired for international bonus slots from the Astros’ deep farm system.
It’s certainly better for Duquette to buy a lottery ticket from another club with that money than to not spend it at all.
That’s something he should be praised for instead of being criticized.
So let’s go back to that pitching problem again to deal with the final complaint:
Duquette has traded away good pitchers
Hi there, Zach Davies and your league-leading 17 wins.
Do we really honestly think he would have reached that level with the Orioles though?
Fans also want to critique Duquette for trading away other arms that have already seen the majors like Josh Hader and Steven Brault. Well who were those pitchers drafted under in the first place? It seems they had plenty of talent compared to picks around them that didn’t make the majors, so scouting director Gary Rajsich should be praised for picking those pitchers in the first place.
Remember when the Orioles drafted arms like Richard Stahl, Beau Hale and Chris Smith? How about Matt Hobgood?
Duquette’s scouting staff is also hitting on these guys after the first round. Again, this is an improvement in scouting that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Also, as I asked, with Showalter’s time to home plate insistence, how many of these arms like Davies would have truly reached the level they did if they stayed in the Orioles organization and weren’t “de-Orioled” by their new teams?
I look at these trades as Duquette trading these arms for players to help the major league team before they have a chance to get screwed up in the Orioles’ system and lose value – unlike previous GMs before him who relied on these arms in the past to develop and become part of the rotation.
Remember “The Cavalry?”
They didn’t exactly live up to the hype.
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to point out that Duquette is being blamed for a lot of things out of his control yet fans still believe this ultimate myth:
Replacing Duquette will help the Orioles
Let’s take a look at the scenario.
The first question that needs to be asked: who are the Orioles going to replace him with?
I’ve seen some fans suggest it should be Showalter.
I don’t want to even imagine what would happen if Buck was in charge of the entire baseball operations department. I’ve talked about what a disaster that would be elsewhere but all you have to do is look at the mess he made in Texas and the fact he was fired with several years left to go on his contract just so the Rangers could be rid of him.
Considering we’ve seen how personal he can get with players, imagine him making trades and signings of the same players. Can he really keep his personal feelings out of it like a GM has to do for the better of the team? I highly doubt it.
So then there’s Brady Anderson.
I give you the O’Day and Trumbo contracts as Exhibit A and B as to why that would be a bad idea. Trumbo has a no-trade clause. That itself should be a fireable offense. Also, for all the praise he gets for taking players to work out in California, who has actually come back better from that training? How exactly has Brady made the Orioles better?
Let’s not forget he was also a big reason the team held onto Nolan Reimold forever.
It seems he can’t keep personal feelings about the players out of his deals either.
So if it is not Brady or Buck, then who will replace Duquette?
Well if you look at how the last round of interviews went before Duquette was hired, we’ve reached the end of the list.
You can forget about any up and coming names because Showalter and Angelos via Anderson are both going to want control and no top GM candidate is going to cede that when they have opportunity for total control elsewhere, just as no GM candidate other than Duquette wanted to be part of that arrangement with Showalter and Angelos in 2011. Showalter was part of the interview team that hired Duquette and likely would be again for the next GM if he remained as manager. It’s not usually an attractive situation for a GM candidate when your manager has significant input on hiring the person who is supposed to be his boss.
Breaking up “The Band”
It’s also important to realize the Orioles also owe a large part of their success to the scouting team and advisors that Duquette has had with him. They have been the reason for his success in both Montreal and Boston, the latter which won a World Series with building blocks he acquired.
If he goes they also go, and “The Band” is really something the Orioles can’t afford to lose.
On the other hand, Showalter has no World Series ring, and the Orioles’ 2014 run to the ALCS is the farthest he’s been in the playoffs. There’s really nothing you lose by jettisoning Buck other than nostalgia. The team already knows it can win and that is credit to Buck, but now the team needs to take that next step and Buck’s never taken it with any team.
So it’s Buck that needs to be shown the door, and Anderson as well, though that’s much less likely because of his close ties to Peter Angelos.
Instead of firing Duquette, the Orioles would be wise to try to lock him and “The Band” up for several more years so they can continue to find players like Austin Hays, Trey Mancini, Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle, Chance Sisco, and the Orioles can continue to find bargains like Miguel Castro as cast-offs that make a major contribution to the team as well as talent in areas like Australia and Korea.
Duquette can then hopefully hire an assistant GM other than Anderson to succeed him just as former Orioles GM Harry Dalton groomed him with the Milwaukee Brewers. He can also hire a manager that will be on the same page as him with talent acquisition, especially the need for players to have a patient approach and get on base.
Duquette isn’t the problem; he’s the solution. As unlikely and as questionable a match it seemed when he was first hired after the 2011 season, he’s been the most successful GM in the Angelos era.
Considering all the losing that happened before Duquette arrived and the success he has had at every stop in his career, that is something for Orioles fans to think twice about before wanting to show him the door.