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October 15, 2010

GM for a Day

Baltimore Orioles

by Steven Goldman

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The Orioles have been rebuilding since 1997, and in that time have run through at least six general managers. I say “at least” because for a time they had a duumvirate running the team, and the only thing we know for sure about the way they split the job is that the Orioles achieved the rare feat of being half as successful with twice the executive manpower. Given that, it’s not completely unrealistic for me to imagine myself as the GM of the Orioles—the man on the street, equipped with a modicum of common sense and education, couldn’t have done much worse than the professionals.

The Orioles had a finish this year that was unique in the annals of baseball history. Since 1900, 342 teams have changed managers at least once at some point during the course of the season. Unsurprisingly, 258 of them had losing records. Of the 258, just 67 teams had a winning record with the second manager. Most of these teams had played too small a fraction of the schedule when they made the change to be truly like the 2010 Orioles. There have been just 16 teams in baseball in a similar position to that of the Orioles in 2010. In this case, “similar position” is defined as having played between 77 (half of the pre-expansion schedule) and 110 games with a losing record, making a managerial change, and posting a winning record under skipper II. For completeness’ sake, I’ve included two teams that were at 111 games when they made their change of managers. Interim managers with an insignificant number of games were ignored. The Orioles’ turnaround under Buck Showalter was by far the most dramatic:

YEAR

TEAM

M1

W

L

G

W%

M2

W

L

G2

W%2

DIFF

2010

Baltimore Orioles

Trembley/Samuel

32

73

105

.305

Buck Showalter

34

23

57

.596

.292

1938

Detroit Tigers

Mickey Cochrane

47

51

98

.480

Del Baker

37

19

56

.661

.181

1966

Atlanta Braves

Bobby Bragan

52

59

111

.468

Billy Hitchcock

33

18

51

.647

.179

1957

Pittsburgh Pirates

Bobby Bragan

36

67

103

.350

Danny Murtaugh

26

25

51

.510

.160

1976

California Angels

Dick Williams

39

57

96

.406

Norm Sherry

37

29

66

.561

.154

2007

Cincinnati Reds

Jerry Narron

31

51

82

.378

Pete Mackanin

41

39

80

.513

.134

1979

Cleveland Indians

Jeff Torborg

43

52

95

.453

Dave Garcia

38

28

66

.576

.123

1935

Cleveland Indians

Walter Johnson

46

48

94

.489

Steve O'Neill

36

23

59

.610

.121

1982

Houston Astros

Bill Virdon

49

62

111

.441

Bob Lillis

28

23

51

.549

.108

1959

Cincinnati Reds

Mayo Smith

35

45

80

.438

Fred Hutchinson

39

35

74

.527

.090

1997

Cincinnati Reds

Ray Knight

43

56

99

.434

Jack McKeon

33

30

63

.524

.089

1913

Boston Red Sox

Jake Stahl

39

41

80

.488

Bill Carrigan

40

30

70

.571

.084

1976

Boston Red Sox

Darrell Johnson

41

45

86

.477

Don Zimmer

42

34

76

.553

.076

1966

Cincinnati Reds

Don Heffner

37

46

83

.446

Dave Bristol

39

38

77

.506

.061

1975

Texas Rangers

Billy Martin

44

51

95

.463

Frank Lucchesi

35

32

67

.522

.059

1929

St. Louis Cardinals

Billy Southworth

42

45

87

.483

Bill McKechnie

34

29

63

.540

.057


To look at it another way, the pre-Showalter Orioles were playing on a pace to go 49-113. Showalter’s pace was 97-63. The turnaround was so extreme, so miraculous, that my first act as Orioles general manager would be to embrace that old saying, “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see,” and ignore the Showalter turnaround almost completely.

Even if you accept that Showalter’s mystique alone was the cause of the turnaround, when you look for concrete examples of where the effect expressed itself, you find that the major change was in run prevention. The offense was not vastly changed, but the pitchers were transformed:

 

RA/G

H/9

BB/9

SO/9

HR/9

UER/9

Pre-Buck

5.46

10.2

3.6

6.1

1.2

.40

Buck

3.72

8.0

2.7

6.7

1.1

.19

Did the pitchers just suddenly figure out how to pitch with Showalter around? There is some truth in that given the way they threw more strikes when Showalter was there to glower at them with his baleful countenance. However, the greater effect seems to have been in the way the defense changed at a moment coincidental with Showalter’s arrival. After three months on the disabled list beginning with the fifth game of the season, Brian Roberts reappeared on July 23, nine games before Showalter replaced Juan Samuel. This had the effect of displacing the defensively ineffective Ty Wigginton, Julio Lugo, and Scott Moore and replacing them with a solid glove. On July 29, third baseman Miguel Tejada was dealt to the Padres, and was largely replaced by Josh Bell. While no one has yet suggested that Bell is the new Brooks Robinson on the fielding job, he was a clear improvement over Tejada. These were the only lineup changes of the Showalterian Revolution (hereafter SR), and they had an outsized effect on team defensive efficiency.

Yet, having observed those changes, they seem insufficient to account for the changes the pitchers experienced. In the last weeks of the season, Orioles hurlers enjoyed a dramatic transformation. These caterpillars didn’t turn into butterflies; they turned into the Incredible Hulk:

 

Pre-Buck ERA

Buck ERA

Jeremy Guthrie

4.23

3.14

Kevin Millwood

6.05

3.29

Brian Matusz

5.46

2.18

Brad Bergesen

6.63

2.88

Jake Arrieta

5.47

3.78

Chris Tillman

7.92

4.08

These changes would seem to be too good to be true, but that’s not necessarily the case. Of the 16 teams above, several were not truly bad teams but simply got off to a bad start in the middle of what was a sustained run of good records. However, with the benefit of hindsight we can see that their in-season turnaround suggested that the club was building toward something. The 1957 Pirates were a few years from a pennant, as were the 1959 and 1966 Reds. And yet, even knowing this the SR should still be ignored, because (A) those teams did not complete the journey without additional intervention, and (B) taking things for granted is always a foolish policy.

Being aware that the dawn could be a false one, “my” Orioles continue to make aggressive changes. With a good deal of young pitching either in the majors or on the way (Zach Britton gives the team one more promising young gun), this winter should be focused on the pursuit of improvements at first base (Wigginton is a free agent and a better sub than starter), shortstop (Cesar Izturis is also a free agent, and though a decent fielder, could not reach base if it was wheeled up to him on a dessert cart), and perhaps third base (Bell’s declining plate judgment is a truly frightening thing) and left field (Felix Pie is a tease, Nolan Reimold makes Pat Burrell look like Paul Blair). In-house options are few—while Manuel Machado had a nice pro debut, he’s 17 and it was all of nine games, so it’s not like he’s going to be making anyone forget Cal Ripken anytime soon.

Fortunately, the O’s do have a couple of players they should consider trading. Right-hander Jeremy Guthrie had a solid season, but he turns 32 in April, is about to get a raise through arbitration, and most importantly, isn’t actually as good as his 3.83 ERA would suggest. Bad teams pay big salaries to defense-dependent pitchers entering baseball middle age. Exploring the possibility that a contender might be more willing to absorb Guthrie’s inevitable raise in order to have a reliable hand at the back of the rotation is job one, because the risk of reversion is just too great and there are younger, livelier options on hand.

Designated hitter/outfielder/first baseman Luke Scott has also got to be dangled. Another player due a raise through arbitration, Scott was by far the best hitter on the Orioles this year. He’s also going to turn 33 in June, so time is wasting—he was far more value to a win-now team than to the Orioles. Neither Scott nor Guthrie should be dealt lightly, but if either can bring in even decent young position player, I’m making the move. One of the problems the Orioles have had is that in holding too tightly to their vets is that by the time it has become apparent that the players have aged out of usefulness in Baltimore, they no longer have value to other teams. In a very short time, this will be true of Guthrie and Scott. Branch Rickey was never more right than when he said that it is better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late.

These moves (hopefully) made, I’ll patch with free agents, leaning toward players whose gloves can help ease the young starters into the majors, as Roberts and Bell did in August and September. At the same time, I would stay away from the top of the market, because we’re not ready to start adding final pieces; dismissing the SR means understanding that this rebuilding will be an incremental process. Lyle Overbay is a mediocrity on a contender, but his defense is strong and his bat would be an Orioles-specific upgrade given that Baltimore first-sackers hit .226/.289/.336. Shortstop is going to be a difficult spot to upgrade, but if the Twins non-tender J.J. Hardy, as has been suggested, I’d jump on him.

One older player free agent I might want to re-sign is Koji Uehara. The right-hander may be going on 36, but he did a fine job of closing in the second half, and one of the most demoralizing aspects of the Orioles’ 2010 was their inability to finish games. While I would not invest in free agent relievers, believing that to be largely a sucker’s game, I would retain Uehara until midseason, hoping in the meantime that a suitable alternative presented itself from pitchers already on hand.

 My Orioles aren’t going to win anything, but then, neither will Andy MacPhail’s Orioles, not in this division, not with so much more work to do. What my Orioles will do is continue to stay young, aggressively exploit any opportunity to deal middle-aged players for more promising youngsters, and continue the process of getting the young pitchers established in the majors. Having done that, having shown real, sustained progress toward .500, I’d ask Peter Angelos to open up his wallet and buy the team the superman that is not presently in the system—but not a moment before.   

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

23 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

McNulty

Uehara is a free agent. Josh Bell played pretty sparingly in September.

I have to say, I'm disappointed in this article. Given full reign and this is all you'd do? Obviously Werth or Beltre isn't a good investment for this franchise, but certainly there are other bargains to be had besides Lyle Overbay.

Oct 15, 2010 03:34 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

You're right re Uehara. Corrected.

Oct 15, 2010 06:06 AM
 
Hokieball

If I'm the O's I get in on the bidding for Adam Dunn at 1st. His glove isn't going to help them but his bat sure will ... and it would stick a nice thorn in the side of the interloping franchise to the South.

Oct 15, 2010 06:07 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

This idea occurred to me as well for exactly that reason, but given the positive charge the pitchers got out of a few defensive changes, I'd rather go with the Atlanta Braves '91 model and keep emphasizing the gloves for awhile.

Oct 15, 2010 06:09 AM
 
PeterBNYC

This is a lazy, cheap shot unless you come up with better suggestions. Given the resources available, it seems to me there are no magic moves available, and "Don't be stupid" is a better guiding principle than any other. It's hard to be the Orioles- wrong division, wrong ownership- and the best counsel for them is what Steve offers. Thank you, Steve.

Oct 15, 2010 16:04 PM
rating: 2
 
PeterBNYC

Sorry, this was a response to Mike and wound up in the wrong place.

Oct 15, 2010 16:06 PM
rating: 0
 
McNulty

Well, there's no mention of what to do about third base. I'd try to explore trade options (Gordon, Reynolds, Figgins depending on the price), but Encarnacion, Inge or Peralta are a possibility. SOMEONE has to be there come opening day, and Josh Bell isn't ready at all. One could argue that THIS is the biggest hole on this team right now, given Luke Scott if retained can play there (not terribly well, but he can play there).

For first, if defense is the plan (which I'm good with), I'd much rather spend a little more for Derrek Lee or to a lesser extent Carlos Pena. There's always the option of moving Luke Scott, assuming he isn't dealt, and picking up a bat for DH. Brad Hawpe isn't a bad buy low option (career .862 OPS). His LD rate didn't fall much and his BABIP was 40ish points below his career numbers. Or there's Berkman.

I'd take a long long look at Nakajima. If that didn't work, I'd hope that Hardy (as mentioned) or Bartlett get non-tendered. Bringing back Izturis has to be seen as a failure.

For pitching, I'd use the Marlins model of bringing in a bunch of live arms and seeing what sticks. Its not that I'm disagreeing with Steven here, I just thought it wasn't enough. There's plenty of room to be aggressive without being stupid or impatient.

Oct 15, 2010 21:11 PM
rating: 0
 
McNulty

Er, Scott can play first (meaning its not as big of a hole), not third. Its late :D

Oct 15, 2010 21:12 PM
rating: 0
 
McNulty

Man, I'm all over the road...Hawpe has a .862 Road OPS

Oct 15, 2010 21:14 PM
rating: 0
 
Scott44

Are you expecting rebounds from Markakis and Wieters?

Oct 15, 2010 05:39 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

This is one of the areas I didn't get into for space. I don't think the Orioles can look at those guys as problems right now given other more urgent issues. I also do expect better things from them in the future.

Oct 15, 2010 06:08 AM
 
Matt Kory

Sorry, Steven, but why are there space concerns here? Was this article cross-posted elsewhere?

Oct 15, 2010 20:57 PM
rating: 2
 
ddrezner

I understand not going all out on the free agent market for relievers, but wouldn't it make sense to sign an Octavio Dotel clone in the hopes of picking up decent talent at the trading deadline? If you're a team like the Orioloes, it might not make sense to spend much money on "win now" but spending money now of free agents that can be converted midseason into rent-controlled prospects makes some sense.

Oct 15, 2010 07:22 AM
rating: 1
 
npb7768

Let's no down-play what Buck has done here...As an Orioles fan, it was pretty amazing to watch...Here are the Birds' records from August 1st through the end of the season for the past 10 years:
2001 19-35
2002 18-40
2003 21-36
2004 32-28
2005 23-35
2006 22-33
----------
2007 19-38
2008 16-37
2009 20-40
----------
2010 34-24

In any sport, there are certain common-sense items, call it low-hanging fruit, that any manager/coach with any brains can come in and change right away...Bill Parcells comes in and immediately changes special teams, QB, and what-ever else the moron before him was screwing up, and the improvement is evident immediately...Rick Pitino gets his team in shape, presses all over the court, and shoots a ton more three-pointers than the previous moron...Here, Buck has come in and said, "OK, no more Scott Erickson losing concentration and walking the lead-off batter in the third inning on four pitches...OK"...There are a lot closer to contending than this article leads one to believe...

Oct 15, 2010 08:00 AM
rating: 1
 
baserip4

The only way this team is closer to contending than this article leads us to believe is if the young pitching continues its breakout and the young hitters that were very mediocre turn into All-Stars. That may or may not have anything to do with the manager, but it certainly isn't a strategy around which to spend tens of millions on veteran free agents. Or get your hopes up for 90 wins any time soon.

Oct 18, 2010 07:31 AM
rating: 0
 
TGisriel

I don't write off the "Showalterian Revolution" as readily as you do, not that I'm expecting the O's to win 97 games next year.

Sure, I'll listen to offers for Guthrie and Scott, but trading them is not at the top of my list. There is talk of acquiring a veteran innings eating pitcher to help the young pitchers. I think Guthrie is the veteran, and I would simply let the young pitchers pitch. Scott is the O's best power threat. If he is traded he needs to be replaced.

I am not convinced that Pie is a tease (but neither am I convinced he is a long term keeper). Left field, however, would not be a priority for me.

The obvious problems are 3B, SS and 1B. I hope the O's don't sign Wigginton. He got hot for 2 months this past year, and was mediocre at best the rest of the year.

I am torn between sending Bell back down to develop his batting eye, and keeping him up to develop at the major league level. As with all of this, the question is: what is the alternative?

The Orioles are neither as good as the Showalter period, nor as bad as the pre-Showalter period.

I still have faith in MacPhail (despite the Atkins fiasco).
It should be an interesting winter.

Oct 15, 2010 08:45 AM
rating: 0
 
krissbeth

The .500 level cutoff means we missed out on Joe Morgan of the Red Sox in 1988. He won at .597 rate over 77 games, while McNamara had a 43-42 record.

Oct 15, 2010 09:41 AM
rating: 0
 
krissbeth

How about Carlos Pena? Why not buy when his value's low?

Oct 15, 2010 09:48 AM
rating: 2
 
cordially
(917)

"Bad teams pay big salaries to defense-dependent pitchers entering baseball middle age. "

This may have flown in 2000, but in 2010 you can't just throw that in there as if unloading a player to one of these bad teams is a viable thing to do. There just aren't that many bad teams out there anymore. And given that there are so few remaning, you'll have to show that one of them has a need for a Guthrie type.

Saying stuff like this is I expect is simply due to inertia and habit, which is understandable, but nevertheless inaccurate.

Oct 15, 2010 10:54 AM
rating: 0
 
bbienk01

Maybe I misinterpreted Steven, but I read that sentence differently.

I thought he was saying that it would be a "bad team" style move for the Orioles in the position they are in to pay a big salary to Guthrie, not that only a bad team would do so.

In the following sentence, he suggested seeing if a contender would be willing to pay Guthrie to be a reliable 4th or 5th starter:

"Exploring the possibility that a contender might be more willing to absorb Guthrie’s inevitable raise in order to have a reliable hand at the back of the rotation is job one, because the risk of reversion is just too great and there are younger, livelier options on hand."

This makes sense to me. While its a bad move for a team in the Orioles' position to pay big bucks to someone like Guthrie, having him for the same salary might be a good move for a team in contention with money to spare and a sub-replacement level 5th starter.

Oct 15, 2010 15:31 PM
rating: 3
 
JoshC77

I concur with your interpretation. Guthrie might have more value to a team like the Yankees (or heck, I bet the Dodgers would have loved having him this year) as a good number 4/5 than to the O's as the token veteran SP. Handing out a big, multi-year contract to this guy instead of utilizing resources for positions of need would be a huge mistake.

Oct 16, 2010 06:12 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

That was exactly what I meant. Sometimes, as a writer, you compose something and you say, "I really should have put that better." In this case, I got caught between knowing I didn't clarify that as well as I might have and not wanting to disrespect the audience by over-explaining. What I was trying to get at is that tolerance of risk on a Guthrie type depends on your position. For the Orioles, the downside outweighs the upside, particularly in regards to contract length. A contender without better back-end options might see the gamble of getting another defense-lucky season worth the risk given that the rewards could include a trip to the postseason.

Oct 16, 2010 07:46 AM
 
reznick

Here's something for the BP stat people: create a 3rd order winning percentage by treating the Orioles under Trembley and the Orioles under Showalter as separate teams; same thing for the Cubs under Piniella and the Cubs under Quade.

Oct 15, 2010 11:23 AM
rating: 2
 
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