Buck Showalter and the Orioles may have lost more than just one game with Zach Britton on the sidelines.
As writers and analysts, we often discuss, with the benefit of convenient removal from the situation, the merits of decision-making within major-league organizations. We wonder why a GM makes a certain trade or if the owner pushed for a particular player to be signed. We critique lineups and defensive positioning. We lampoon bunt proponents, and loathe bullpen mismanagers.
We do all of this, of course, because we know better. We have data and proofs and theories and algorithms. And more often than not, we’re not wrong. We might overstate the magnitude of these transgressions, or make a minor mistake seem like a life-or-death decision. This is why it’s so easy to criticize Buck Showalter for his decision-making related to inarguably the most dominant pitcher in baseball this season. Matthew Trueblood put it exceptionally well in his postgame recap:
Zach Britton's absence was the big story, but the Blue Jays' win was about much more than Buck Showalter's curious decision.
Because Twitter exists, there’s some chance that we’ll permanently misunderstand the Blue Jays’ win over the Orioles on Tuesday night. Because we can all document our feelings as Zach Britton remained unused through the ninth inning, then the 10th, then the 11th, and because we know everyone else was feeling it too, and because our worst suspicions about the whole thing seemed to be confirmed as the postgame press statements rolled in (no, Britton wasn’t hurt, yes, Buck Showalter was holding him back to protect an eventual, hypothetical lead), there’s a good chance this great baseball game will be forced to live in the too-short shadow of a single decision.
Marcus Stroman and the Blue Jays vs. Chris Tillman and the Orioles, in Toronto.
The playoffs start with a matchup of American League East rivals with identical 89-73 records. Toronto hosts the game thanks to holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, going 10-9 versus Baltimore during the regular season. It's a big advantage, as the Blue Jays were 46-35 at home and the Orioles were 39-42 on the road. Of course, last week the Orioles took two out of three games at Rogers Centre, so who knows.
It may seem radical, but the Orioles' best move in the Wild Card game might be to unleash the bullpen from the start.
The Blue Jays won Sunday in Boston, securing home-field advantage in Tuesday’s Wild Card game. The Orioles won, too, ensuring they would be the team making the trip to Toronto. The teams finished with identical records in the same division, but their seasons have been very different, and it might drive them to view this game very differently. It may even drive them to make the crucial decision of who starts on the mound very differently.
For Toronto, ending up in this situation is a slight disappointment. They led the division with less than a month left. Winning their final two games stopped the bleeding a little, but the Jays still stumbled to a 13-16 record from the start of September onward. They finished with the fifth-best third-order winning percentage in MLB and the second-best in the AL, but they now face the prospect of being eliminated from the playoffs before they’re really in them.
Ubaldo Jimenez's surprising palatability, a rare off-night for Edwin Diaz, and more from Tuesday's slate of games.
The Tuesday Takeaway
The number that describes Ubaldo Jimenez’s performance as a starter this year is perhaps not one of his individual stats, but instead one of the Orioles’ collective ones—a team rotation DRA of 4.65. Baltimore’s starters have been the worst of any team with a winning record, and yet Jimenez struggled so greatly that he was deemed unfit even for them. After a month in the bullpen, however, Jimenez is back as a starter courtesy of Chris Tillman’s trip to the disabled list. And two outings in, his return to the rotation been remarkably not bad. By the standard he set as a starter earlier this year, remarkably good, even! (When that standard involves averaging fewer than five innings per game and putting up an ERA over 7, “remarkably good” is perhaps not so hard to come by, but regardless.)
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Exploring a hypothetical: What if Zach Britton, extreme batted-ball outlier, didn't strike anybody out?
Hypotheticals are fun. If they weren’t fun, nobody would put any time into thinking about them because, well, they’re hypothetical. Recently, hypothetical scenarios have gotten a lot of press, what with Lebron learning handball, and Tim Tebow figuring out how to waste the time of scouts.
It was that sort of thinking that led the BP Stats team down an interesting path on the afternoon of August 24th. The question at the heart of the matter was equal parts absurd and vexing:
Dylan Bundy's back! How long will this excellent story last?
On Aug. 1, 2012, an Orioles front office executive with a BP subscription would have seen two Baltimore prospects in the top five on Kevin Goldstein’s midseason top 50. Manny Machado was fifth. Dylan Bundy was third. It was a good time to be Baltimore, especially after Machado debuted a week later, and Bundy six weeks after that.