There was a lot of controversy surrounding the Baltimore Orioles’ loss in the MLB playoffs earlier this month, much of it to do with manager Buck Showalter. First off let’s be clear; Showalter is the best manager this franchise has had not named Earl Weaver. In fact, the Orioles might very well be puttering along in the 60-70 win range if not for him.
I throw that bit in because in the aftermath of that wild card game there were fans who actually said that Showalter should be fired – for not using Zach Britton. That’s ludicrous, and there can be no denying that. What, do people think that Dave Trembley or Sam Perlozzo should be back in that dugout?
All of that aside, last week we saw Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts do exactly what Showalter was unwilling to do. He brought his closer in much earlier than he otherwise would have in an elimination game in DC. Los Angeles went onto win the game and the series of course, and Roberts’ managerial moves were hailed as brilliant. How true that is might well be another story, however needless to say the move worked.
So did Roberts possibly see Showalter’s perceived mistake and do the opposite? Perhaps. However both incidents have left fans clamoring for managers to change their thinking on closers. With that said, I do firmly agree that you have to manager games differently in the post-season than you do in the regular season. However I’ve maintained both privately and publicly that it behooved Showalter to leave Britton until the end. What if he’s used too early and someone else blows a would-be lead?
Part of that has to do with playing at home and on the road. However keep in mind that at the end of the day anyone on the pitching staff should be able to come in and record outs. But again, the question isn’t so much about Showalter as it is about the game in general. Do teams need to change their thinking and maneuvering moving forward?
I use the phrase conventional wisdom says this or that quite often – both in the context of baseball and outside. I love the term common sense, but more and more people are saying that if it was common sense it would work. And yes, to me common sense is that you use your closer in the end of the game (barring an emergency) – so in that sense I agreed with what Showalter did.
But common sense, savoir faire, or intelligence is now judged by success or failure. And I do feel that’s sad. Dave Roberts obviously made the inverse decision that Showalter did – and it worked. However had it backfired, then where would that leave us? What would be considered common sense in this realm?
Baseball’s situational across the board. You don’t manage any run-of-the-mill regular season game in the first or second inning the way you do in the eighth or ninth. And yes, you don’t manager a post-season game in the same manner you do a regular season game. Granted that doesn’t mean that nothing is absolute, but things have to be done differently.
And coaching/strategizing at any level involves rolling the dice at times. You’re a genius if it works and a goat if it doesn’t. In Buck Showalter’s case, most of the buttons he pushes in games work out brilliantly. What Dave Wallace did in that moment did as well – but play that scenario back again and perhaps next time things are different.