Can the Orioles really be so lucky?
Last winter, three managers were elected to the Hall of Fame. Last spring, you might have spotted three active managers with legitimate shots at the Hall: Buck Showalter, Mike Scioscia, and Bruce Bochy. None of them seemed like automatics, though. At least not like La Russa and Cox and Torre, whose résumés were all essentially impeccable.
That might change this year, because Showalter, Scioscia, and Bochy all have solid chances of adding World Championships to their résumés. I’ll venture that if one of them does that, he’s punched his Cooperstown ticket (or punched it again).
These next few days, I’d like to write something about each manager. Today it’s Buck Showalter, and FanGraphs’ David Laurila has made things easy for me with a tremendous interview. One of my favorite bits:
On projections and predictability: "I don’t know what [our run differential] is and I’m not looking. What is it about our sports world, and society in general, that wants to know about something before it happens? I’m OK knowing about it when it happens. Our curiosity is going to be satisfied about this season. We’re going to play 162. And there’s no greater exposure of your strengths and weaknesses than a Major League Baseball season. I’m not talking about just physical either. There are no Cinderellas in our sport. You don’t get hot for a certain amount of time and have the football bounce a certain way one day. We have too round of a ball and too round of a bat. You can’t hide a bad defender. That white rat is going to find you."
I wouldn’t expect Showalter to think much differently; if he managed my favorite team, I wouldn’t want him to think any differently. But let’s be honest: He’s not allowing much room here for the vagaries of the human condition. We know that a 162-game season doesn’t tell us everything, because we’ve seen teams win a huge percentage of those 162 games, only to fall on their faces in October or crash to earth in the following season.
But you know, Showalter’s now got THREE YEARS of evidence suggesting the predictions and the projections and the run differentials don’t mean anything at all.
In 2012, Showalter’s Orioles outscored their opponents by the wonderfully grand total of seven runs, and yet somehow went 93-69 (thanks largely to a 29-9 record in one-run games).
In 2013, Showalter’s Orioles were supposed to regress, probably finish in last place. Instead they went 85-77.
In 2014, Showalter’s Orioles were again supposed to regress, probably finish in last place. Instead they’ve run away with the American League East. They’re going to win more than 95 games, with the third-best run differential — not that Showalter’s interested — in the league.
Have the Orioles been lucky for three straight years? Yeah, maybe a little. Should we attribute all their surprising success to good fortune? Yeah, probably not. Especially considering Showalter’s surprising successes in the Bronx, and in the Valley of the Sun (granted, those four Metroplex seasons don’t really fit our narrative, but then again sometimes that white rat will find you).
I can promise you that Lloyd McClendon will have his partisans for Manager of the Year, especially if the Mariners play well enough these next 11 days to earn a postseason berth. I can promise you that Mike Scioscia will have partisans. But considering what Showalter’s done with a supposedly last-place team that’s lost three of its supposedly best players, I’m not so sure this hasn’t been Showalter’s best managing job yet. And there have been a lot of Hall of Fame ones already.