The way Buck Showalter organizes the Orioles lineup is confusing

The way Buck Showalter organizes the Orioles lineup is confusing

There are a lot of reasons why the Orioles are the worst team in Major League Baseball. Take your pick. Questionable roster moves back in the spring? Sure. The front office mortgaged the future and now the future is here? Makes sense. That Chris Davis contract? Absolutely. It’s all bad. Up and down the organization, many things have led to the 2018 Birds being so awful. That includes the decisions made in the dugout every night.

Buck Showalter has cemented himself as one of the best managers in Orioles history, and it’s not only because of the way his teams have performed on the field. Three playoff appearances and an AL East crown are awesome, of course. But he has stood out because of the way in which he has embraced the city of Baltimore, its people and the culture surrounding it during his time in town. For those reasons, he will always been a beloved figure.

However, he cannot escape the dark cloud of this season just because of past successes. His dedication to some of his tried and true veterans has been a problem. His recent inability to manage a less than full-strength bullpen has been a problem. And his old school approach to building the daily lineup has also, most definitely, been a problem.

Before we go too far down the rabbit hole, understand that lineup construction is not THAT big of a deal in the long run. If this was an Orioles team in the playoff hunt, you should worry about every little thing. But these guys aren’t good. The one or two additional wins that an optimized lineup would nab them is not worth worrying about on the whole, but it may be indicative of the way in which the coaching staff and, possibly, ownership think about strategy.

If you’re interested, Beyond the Box Score had a really good piece on building an ideal lineup nearly a decade ago. Keith Law has one as well. Both posts reference the same source material and explain that the way in which baseball minds have traditionally thought of the daily lineup was all wrong, even though it doesn’t make a huge difference anyway. A guy should not bat leadoff just because he’s fast, although that is a nice characteristic. A team’s best hitter should not hit third. The all or nothing slugger shouldn’t hit fourth. You get the idea.

The daily lineup of an MLB team can be an ever-evolving beast. A million factors can come into play and, on a team like the Orioles where it seems as if every hitter is struggling, it can be a tough chore to come up with an effective offensive strategy of any kind.

Even still, all of this data backs up a certain way of thinking that says a lineup can score more runs with a certain configuration of their hitters. No matter what a team’s aspirations are, they should do what they can to score more runs. Based on some of the Orioles lineups this season, it’s not entirely clear what the thinking has been.

First, let’s go back to Opening Day. Expectations were high. Temperatures were low. And the Orioles looked like a real baseball team. This is the lineup that Showalter went with that day, accompanied by their career statistics:

  1. Chris Davis (.323 OBP, .479 SLG)
  2. Manny Machado (.333 OBP, .485 SLG)
  3. Jonathan Schoop (.296 OBP, .444 SLG)
  4. Adam Jones (.317 OBP, .460 SLG)
  5. Trey Mancini (.330 OBP, .467 SLG)
  6. Tim Beckham (.305 OBP, .429 SLG)
  7. Pedro Alvarez (.310 OBP, .448 SLG)
  8. Craig Gentry (.332 OBP, .334 SLG)
  9. Caleb Joseph (.270 OBP, .359 SLG)

Davis leading off caught many people off guard, but you can kind of understand what Showalter was going for here. Even when Davis has struggled in his career (which he was this year, even back in the spring), he has been able to earn walks. This strategy didn’t work, but it was outside-the-box thinking that I can appreciate, and it wasn’t something the manager stuck with beyond the first week of the season because it wasn’t panning out.

Machado, we understand now and should have known then, is the team’s best hitter, so it’s nice to see him hitting second, but can we be sure that jives with Showalter’s actual thinking? Schoop was coming off of an all-star season and Machado had struggling to start 2017. It’s possible he viewed the second baseman as the bigger offensive threat and therefore hit him third.

Personally, I would have swapped Beckham and Alvarez and then done the same with Gentry and Joseph, but that is admittedly nit-picky. Overall, it is a lineup that is far from perfect, but it makes some sense.

Since then, 64 games have happened. Machado started unbelievably hot before coming back to earth, Schoop had some injury trouble and pretty much every one else is having the worst season of their careers.

In that time, this has been the O’s most typical lineup, according to ESPN:

  1. Trey Mancini
  2. Adam Jones
  3. Manny Machado
  4. Jonathan Schoop
  5. Chris Davis
  6. Mark Trumbo (.301 OBP, .459 SLG)
  7. Tim Beckham
  8. Anthony Santander (.250 OBP, .313 SLG)
  9. Caleb Joseph

Again, there are some aspects here that make sense, but it’s far from ideal. Machado should be hitting second. Having Mancini’s OBP so high is logical, but then is his power being wasted? Davis had been having monumental problems all season. Continuing to hit him fifth kills so many rallies.

This is a lineup that would be great if every man were performing at or near his peak. We all know that this has not been the case.

But that lineup is based off of the entire season. Perhaps Showalter has learned from his early errors and corrected the everyday lineup as of late?

On Sunday, the boss deployed this crew (along with 2018 stats):

  1. Jace Peterson (.304 OBP, .247 SLG, 6 steals)
  2. Adam Jones (.301 OBP, .453 SLG, 10 home runs)
  3. Manny Machado (.380 OBP, 591 SLG, 15 doubles, 18 home runs)
  4. Mark Trumbo (.298 OBP, .398 SLG, 7 doubles, 3 home runs)
  5. Jonathan Schoop (.255 OBP, .368 SLG, 9 doubles, 6 home runs)
  6. Chris Davis (.232 OBP, .233 SLG, 4 doubles, 4 home runs, 83 strikeouts)
  7. Trey Mancini (.309 OBP, .381 SLG, 11 doubles, 8 home runs)
  8. Chance Sisco (.338 OBP, .336 SLG, seven doubles, two home runs)
  9. Joey Rickard (.277 OBP, .383 SLG, one double, three home runs)

There are many things wrong with this picture. Peterson is not a lead-off hitter. Jones is not the team’s best hitter and should, therefore, not be hitting second. Davis should not even be in the lineup, and he certainly should not be hitting sixth. Sisco has the second-best OBP of anyone in this lineup and the third-best (Danny Valencia, .348) on the team, and yet he is buried at eighth, possibly the least important role in the entire offense. In short: this is not setting up a team to succeed.

Look, no one is saying that Showalter has an easy job here. You could inject an additional Machado into the lineup and these guys would still be pretty bad. The manager has been shuffling the lineup on an almost daily basis. There have been three different leadoff hitters this week. The catchers are moving in and out of the lineup. Davis has been on the bench more often. Adjustments are being made, but nothing is really working.

However, he has not exhausted all options. Against righties, bat Sisco lead off. He has the low power, decent OBP profile to fit there. Machado slots in behind him to give him more chances with runners on base. Trumbo hits third. It’s not as important of a position as once thought, and he’s been good enough (on this team) to stay there for the time being. Let Mancini bat clean up. It’s been a disappointing sophomore season, but his hard contact and fairly low BABIP indicate he’s due for a turn around eventually. Jones goes fifth, which is actually a very important role. The centerfielder has been, arguably, the team’s second-best hitter and this is a good spot for that. Schoop moves down to six and everything after that doesn’t matter much.

Against lefties, get Valencia involved somewhere in the 3-4-5 spots, stop removing Sisco (at least, for now) and bump every else down one. Voila, Orioles offense fixed!

It’s clearly not that simple. Correcting this club’s run scoring woes is more complicated than putting one hitter at the top of the order. It requires wholesale changes that cannot happen in the blink of an eye. It requires young hitters down in the minors to get a bit more seasoned and come to the rescue in the next couple of years.

The reason for this team’s struggles are not in how they stack up one through nine, but if they could even eek out an additional handful of runs each week, it could lead to a couple more wins and, in doing so, save the sanity of many Birdland faithful.

Orioles' Showalter: Jones' challenges in field 'not something that has been noticed to an extent'

Orioles' Showalter: Jones' challenges in field 'not something that has been noticed to an extent'

In the seventh inning of Tuesday’s 2-1 Orioles win over the New York Mets, as Mychal Givens was protecting a narrow lead, Mets right fielder Jay Bruce hit a soft fly ball to center field off the end of his bat that fell in for a single.

The ball was hit softly enough that Adam Jones was able to barehand it on a hop, but he couldn’t get his glove on it before it fell in. While ultimately harmless because Givens stranded Bruce, it’s part of a troubling spell for Jones in the outfield. When the Orioles last played Saturday, he had a ball near the wall go off his glove for extra bases and also committed a throwing error, both in the same inning.

Manager Buck Showalter skirted around the idea of whether he’s seen anything worth worrying about from his 32-year-old center fielder.

“If I had, I certainly wouldn’t broadcast it,” Showalter said. “I wouldn’t talk about it. Adam, he’s a guy that plays every day — obviously, not quite as much as he has in the past. But he’s made some adjustments in his positioning and what have you.

“Nobody is as good as they were when they were 22, but there’s some things he brings with experience and what have you. It’s something that everybody has a point, all of us — players, coaches, managers — where some adjustments have to be made in the way we approach things. But Adam is not in that phase yet. It’s not something that has been noticed to an extent. I like the way he’s been doing most things.”

Even when Jones was winning Gold Glove awards from 2012-14, there wasn’t much consensus about him in the data community — his value came from the proverbial eye test. But over the past few years, even as Jones adjusted his positioning to accommodate some of the new data trends available in the game, he hasn’t been viewed favorably.

There’s plenty of noise in these measurements in a single season, let alone barely over two months of one. Showalter often points to a ball Jones lost in the lights in center field at Yankee Stadium during the first week of the season that has killed his numbers.

But that’s just part of a statistical package that doesn’t like what Jones is doing in center field.

According to MLB Statcast data on BaseballSavant.com, Jones entered Wednesday 67th out of 72 outfielders with at least 75 chances with -6 outs above average, which takes the catch probability of a batted ball and either adds or subtracts that from a fielder’s total based on whether it’s caught.

Elsewhere, Jones is rated at -15 defensive runs saved and -19 UZR/150, both of which use similar formulas to estimate the run value of batted balls and assign the value to hitters based on whether they make the play or not. Of 23 qualifying center fielders in each category, Jones rates 22nd, one spot ahead of the Colorado RockiesCharlie Blackmon.

Jones is still providing plenty of value with his bat, entering Wednesday with a .284/.302/.470 batting line with 10 home runs that qualifies him as the second-best hitter on the club behind star Manny Machado. But as Jones nears free agency and a crossroads of his career on several fronts, his play in center field will become more and more of a factor in his evaluation.

Injury updates

Reliever Darren O’Day (hyperextended right elbow), who walked three of the five batters he faced in his first rehabilitation appearance for High-A Frederick on Tuesday, will need at least another appearance, Showalter said.

“He felt good,” Showalter said. “One of [the walks] wasn’t, but he’s going to have at least one more outing. He felt good. Obviously, the command was off a little bit, but he felt good. He’s close.”

Also with Frederick, outfielder Colby Rasmus (hip) went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and still doesn’t have a hit in three rehab games.

“He got his at-bats in,” Showalter said. “Not a whole lot of production yet as far as statistically, but he’s getting his reps in. he’s had a long time off.”

Both O’Day and Zach Britton (Achilles), who had a scoreless 1 1/3 innings Tuesday with Triple-A Norfolk, will pitch again for those respective clubs Thursday, Showalter said.

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Buck Showalter didn't even let Xander Bogaerts finish his home run trot before pulling his pitcher

Buck Showalter didn't even let Xander Bogaerts finish his home run trot before pulling his pitcher

Xander Bogaerts hit an absolute bomb off of Kevin Gausman in the fifth inning of Thursday night’s game between the Red Sox and the Orioles. It was a true rocket, staying in the park only because it hit one of the Green Monster light towers.

X Gon Give It To Ya, indeed.

As has been the case with Orioles pitchers this season, Gausman didn’t have a great night and that home run put the home team up 6-zip. That Bogaerts’ bomb would be the end of Gausman’s night wasn’t really a question as he’d already thrown 100 pitches before that one.

What was a surprising development was the quickness with which Baltimore manager Buck Showalter went to take the ball from his starter. He didn’t even wait for Bogaerts to get all the way to home plate before he made his move, cutting behind him on the third base line to pull Gausman.

Absolutely brutal move by Showalter. Also probably against one unwritten rule or another. Showalter somehow managed to make his pitcher feel worse about a bad performance and show up an opposing player at the same time. That is an elite Grumpy Old Baseball Manager move. They don’t teach that at the academy.

Buck Showalter starts pitching change before Red Sox finish home run trot

Buck Showalter starts pitching change before Red Sox finish home run trot

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SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale discusses the Nationals’ hot streak, if they can compete with the Yankees, and how much trouble the Dodgers are in. USA TODAY Sports

Things are going so poorly for the Baltimore Orioles, manager Buck Showalter just can’t wait to give his pitchers the hook. 

As the O’s were on their way to tying a franchise record with their 13th consecutive road loss, starting pitcher Kevin Gausman gave up a monster home run in the fifth inning to Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

Showalter popped out of the dugout and headed toward the mound so quickly, he crossed the third base line before Bogaerts had even completed his home run trot.

The Orioles went on to lose 6-2 to the Red Sox and are now a major league-worst 3-17 away from home this season.

The 13-game road losing streak ties the record set by the ill-fated 1988 team during its infamous 0-21 start.

Even worse: The O’s still have three more games to play at Fenway Park. And they’re on the road all next week with series at the Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays before they return home to Camden Yards. 

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Orioles notes: Showalter on handling rough start, Santander's future, pitching Wright and Araujo

Orioles notes: Showalter on handling rough start, Santander's future, pitching Wright and Araujo

Orioles manager Buck Showalter turned his thoughts toward those who support the team as opposed to those who are a part of it when asked before Wednesday night’s game about the toll the team’s 8-27 start has taken on morale.

“It’s a lot tougher,” Showalter said. “It’s tougher on everybody, whether it’s the hitting coach, the pitching coach, center fielder, the general manager, the owner — most importantly, the fans. That’s what I’m concerned with.

“I just try to walk that line between empathy and sympathy, but we all know what the reality is because it’s right there every night. But there’s an opportunity every night. You’ve got a lot of choices in life — how you’re going to treat people and how you’re going to try to be consistent in it. These are the times that really separate players coaches, managers, everybody. … This game can beat up anybody. I didn’t need to have the period we’re in right now to remind me of that.”

The Orioles are in this spot for plenty of reasons, from injured players who they counted on and replacements not playing up to expectations, but also because some of the players they’ve long relied on haven’t played particularly well either. Of all the factors, that’s one that still baffles him — and seems to be causing plenty of stress for his players.

“There’s so many things that are the same — the baseballs, the bats, the coaches, the hitters,” he said. “There’s so many things. So, it’s humbling, you know, to realize that what always appears on paper doesn’t show up every night. It’s a reminder of how much the human element plays into this game.

“It’s like they say, ‘I know the good Lord wouldn’t give me more than I can handle; I wish he wouldn’t have so much confidence in me.’ It’s kind of that way with players a little bit. I’d really like to see some of these guys let up for air. If you can see what I could see behind public eyes, so to speak, it’s tough on them — especially when you’ve had the success they’ve had.”

Santander‘s day coming

With just a few days left before the May 12 date that the Orioles needed to hit to be able to send Rule 5 draft outfielder Anthony Santander to the minors, Showalter said there are several factors that will go into whether that happens.

Santander broke a streak of 65 at-bats without an RBI in Tuesday night’s 15-7 loss to the Kansas City Royals, and brought his batting average up to .204 with a .565 OPS in the process.

That’s only a small consideration, Showalter said.

“There’s a lot of reasons,” he said. “No. 1, what’s in the best interest of our team? No. 2, of his development, and what would he be replaced with? There’s always some things to be gained by being here. But he’s been here, obviously, a lot. What’s he hitting now? … You can’t necessarily send down everyone who’s hitting under .200.

“He’s a good potential long-term player for us. We’re going to do what’s best for him and his development. And whatever happens, it’s been good for him to be kind of force-fed with it. He’s a smart-enough guy, I think he’ll take some things and learn from it, whether he stays here or goes back down. But I’ll tell you this, if he goes down, he’ll be back at some point. I feel strongly about that.”

That the Orioles have a doubleheader on that date, Saturday, when they can send Santander down creates maneuverability. They could add a reliever for the first game as their designated 26th man, then send Santander down in between to add another arm to cover the second game.

Results expected from Wright, Araujo

For different reasons, the Orioles are carrying Mike Wright Jr. and Pedro Araujo in their bullpen in hopes that they can stick and be long-term assets. Wright is out of minor league options, and Araujo is a Rule 5 pick who had never pitched above Single-A.

Each has struggled, and their difficulties were on display Tuesday. Wright allowed five runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings of relief, and Araujo gave up three runs on four hits in 2 1/3 innings.

“At this level, for the most part, it’s about getting people out,” Showalter said. “That’s part of development, especially with the number of innings and opportunities that some of the people you’re talking about have already had. Araujo is different. But some of our other guys, they’ve had a lot of opportunities. They need to take it and run with it regardless of how it presents itself.”

Around the horn

Showalter said closer Zach Britton (Achilles tendon) might not go out on a rehabilitation assignment until close to the end of May. He’ll begin facing live batters Tuesday, Showalter said. … Infielder Tim Beckham had an appointment with the specialist who did his hip/groin surgery this week, Showalter said. … Right-hander Hunter Harvey, the Orioles’ top pitching prospect, went five innings Tuesday for Double-A Bowie — his first five-inning start since before he had elbow troubles in July 2014. Harvey allowed two runs on five hits in the win.

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Showalter strives for turnaround from last-place Orioles

Showalter strives for turnaround from last-place Orioles

Updated 9:29 am, Monday, April 30, 2018

BALTIMORE (AP) — The last time the Baltimore Orioles began a season this poorly, Buck Showalter was brought in to restore order to the floundering franchise.

Now, Showalter finds himself in a similar mess.

Back in 2010, the Orioles stumbled to a 1-11 start and were 5-18 at the end of April. They fired manager Dave Trembley in June and continued to slide under interim manager Juan Samuel before Showalter came aboard and guided Baltimore to 34 wins in its final 57 games.

Showalter has since taken the Orioles to the postseason on three occasions.

This year, however, he’s had to deal with a team plagued by injuries, lackluster hitting and inconsistent pitching.

With guys like Anthony Santander, Danny Valencia, Chance Sisco and Craig Gentry getting significant playing time, it’s no wonder Baltimore (8-20) has a minus-54 run differential and is deep in last place in the AL East.

That would be acceptable if the Orioles were tanking, but they fully expected to compete for a playoff spot this season.

Vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette resisted trade offers for pending free agent Manny Machado over the winter and added veterans Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner to a starting rotation that featured the home-grown talent of Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.

Unfortunately, things went awry well before opening day. Slugger Mark Trumbo (quad strain) and closer Zach Britton (Achilles tendon) began the season in the disabled list and were soon joined by All-Star second baseman Jonathan Schoop (oblique), outfielder Colby Rasmus (hip flexor) and third baseman Tim Beckham, who will be sidelined for the next six weeks after undergoing core surgery.

That opened the door for a variety of players who would otherwise be on the bench or in the minor leagues.

“There’s a great opportunity here for some people, and they’re trying to take advantage of it — mostly because we have a need,” Showalter said.

Through the weekend, however, Santander — a Rule 5 pick — was batting .213 and Valencia was at .204. Sisco, a rookie catcher who replaced struggling starter Caleb Joseph early on, was hitting a comparatively robust .255.

But hey, they’re not the only players struggling at the plate. Chris Davis has a .167 batting average, two home runs and six RBIs, just three years after signing a $161 million contract that the Orioles are stuck with through 2022.

“I’m sure there’s the inner pressure to live up to (expectations),” Showalter said. “It’s eating at him.”

Beckham was hitting .179 before going on the DL, Adam Jones is at .239 and Joseph is sputtering at .137.

The lone player with a hot bat has been Machado (.361, nine HRs, 22 RBIs), who might not be around past July if the Orioles can’t turn things around.

“I know what Manny’s done. Special player,” Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “But then you look at Jonathan Schoop, another special player that’s not there. They’ve been banged up, snakebit a little bit by the injuries. But they’ve got guys that are very capable of getting hot, and when they do, they can hit ball out of anywhere, put a lot of runs on the board.”

The Orioles haven’t abandoned hope of bouncing back. After all, Trumbo is slated to make his debut Tuesday, when the calendar flips to May.

“I have a lot of faith in the guys in here. I have a lot of faith in myself,” Davis said. “We’ve been in tough spots in the past and we got through it. We’ll do it again.”

Quite possibly, the team will get healthier. Perhaps Davis will find the groove that enabled him to hit 47 homers in 2015 and 38 in 2016. Maybe Cobb (0-3, 13.11 ERA) will begin to justify his $57 million contract, the largest ever offered to a pitcher by the Orioles.

“You have some guys struggling and some guys not,” said Cashner, who falls into the former category after going 1-4 with a 4.76 ERA through six starts. “At the end of the season, they’ll be where they need to be.”

The Orioles are trying to win. They want to win. Right now, it’s just not happening.

“It’s a hole that can be dug out of,” Machado said. “You can’t just wish it and hope it and think it’s something that comes with the mathematics of a season. We’ve got to do better. We know that.”

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