There’s been vast speculation amongst the Camden Chat talking heads in the past year over how each and every new addition to the Orioles will impact the team in 2011. But the arrival of one man and his subsequent impact on our organization has invoked the most varied and passionate opinions out of all of them. That man… is Vladimir Guerrero. However, a close second would be our new manager Buck Showalter, and for good reason. We’ve all read many articles about Buck’s no-nonsense attitude, and we’ve seen his track record of success. There can be no argument against the fact that he is the most prestigious skipper the O’s have had in almost a decade. But how will he change things? Buck will not throw a single pitch or swing at a single ball during any game this season. None of his contributions will be able to be statistically quantified in any way, shape or form, so it is not surprising that opinions on the impact that he brings have been greatly varied and consequently discussed ad nauseam.
How you feel about Buck’s impact on our team in 2011 really comes down to a simple question of your thoughts on the great debate of nature versus nurture. Are variances in the physical and behavioral performance of an individual athlete from year to year due to his/her intrinsic talents or due to his/her personal experiences? Would Kobe Bryant have had a Hall of Fame career on any team at any time in history, or has Phil Jackson’s triangle offense made him the offensive juggernaut that he has been for the past decade plus? Where would a late round draft pick like Tom Brady be without Bill Belichick? Under the tutelage of Buck Showalter, will a young player like Matt Wieters or Adam Jones finally live up to the potential that has been seen in him all of his life, and if so will his success be due to Buck’s influence or would that have been the natural progression of things regardless of the team’s manager?
In an attempt to answer this question I have researched Buck’s previous managerial stints in the context of individual player performance under his management as opposed to overall team performance under his management. In other words, I will not try to say that Buck took a losing Arizona Diamondbacks team and made them a winning team while ignoring the fact that they signed Randy Johnson, Steve Finley, and Curt Shilling after Buck had already started managing. Granted, a few of the players mentioned were also in the prime of their careers under Buck’s supervision. Ballpark factors can influence numbers, *cough* steroids *cough*,etc. etc. etc. So I will try to pick examples that show a spike in performance outside of the natural progression of a career.
Look at that face. That man means bidness!
During Buck’s four year stint managing the New York Yankees, he managed a good amount of everyday starters that enjoyed long MLB careers and got some of their best seasons out of them.
- In the twilight of his career, Wade Boggs posted an OPS of .922 in 1994 and .834 in 1995, garnering MVP votes in each season. Those were his highest OPS totals from 1992 to 1999, ages 34 to 41.
- Mike Stanley had two of the best years of his injury-plagued 14 year career under Buck, posting career highs in slugging and OPS while making an all star team and finishing in the MVP voting in ’93.
- Paul O’Neil similarly had his best two years out of 16 under Buck.
- Jimmy Key had two of his best three years under Buck, posting career highs in wins and strikeouts while making the All Star team and earning Cy Young and MVP votes in both ‘93 and ‘94. After a promising start to his 14 year career, he regressed and suffered through five mediocre seasons on a winning Blue Jays team in his late twenties, a time that should have been his prime, before pitching successfully under Buck in 1993.
In Arizona, Buck was hired two years before the inaugural 1998 season so that he could construct the team as he saw fit and hit the ground running.
- Omar Daal posted by far the best two years of his career under Buck, reaching lows in ERA and WHIP that he would never come close to again in his career before or after Arizona.
- Our old friend Gregg Olson suffered through a disastrous four years after leaving Birdland. He then spent two years in the desert with Buck and enjoyed success as the team’s closer before leaving for the Dodgers in 2000, returning to terrible pitching, and soon after retiring. His ERA totals post-Orioles from 1994-2001, with D’Back years in bold: 9.20, 4.09, 4.99, 5.58, 3.01, 3.71, 5.09, 8.03.
- Luis Gonzalez moved to the desert after 8 mediocre seasons with other teams and became an all-star.
- Steve Finley posted career highs in SLG and OPS in his two years under Buck out of 19 seasons.
- Randy Johnson’s long and storied Hall of Fame career cannot be attributed to any one manager. However it should be noted that he started his string of four straight Cy Young winning years under Buck at the should-be-past-his prime age of 35 in 1999.
While Showalter’s stint with the Rangers was his least successful, it had the most exciting and optimistic results as it pertains to our Orioles. Buck still had his reclamation projects, managing to get two excellent years out of 39 year old Kenny Rogers and turning him into an All Star pitcher. But his greatest achievement in Texas was his ability to get great production out of young talent.
- He took Mark Teixeira and made him into an immediate impact player in his rookie season at 22. Tex had career highs in SLG, runs, and homers at only 25 in Texas.
- Hank Blalock was also 22 when Buck came to town and hit the ground running, having three successful seasons before turning 25. Injuries and a clear decline in production leave him in relative obscurity today at the age of 30.
- Michael Young became a star in his mid-twenties under Buck with three of his four most successful seasons coming under his management.
- After struggling with command in his mid twenties, Francisco Cordero’s successful career as a closer hit full stride when Buck came to town in 2003. He’s been near the top of the league in appearances and saves ever since.
So can we look at any of this and make an accurate prediction about Buck Showalter’s impact on our team in 2011? Of course not. But the Orioles have a roster chocked full of players that fit the mold of those discussed above. We’ve got veteran reclamation projects coming off of down years in Derek Lee and J.J. Hardy. Can Buck get them back to the level that they have proven they can play at? We’ve got too much young talent to name. In their first full year under Buck, will we see sudden jumps to All-Star caliber numbers like we saw from his young offense in Texas?
I happen to be on the nurture side of the debate. I believe that if DeSean Jackson, Ray Rice, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and Chris Johnson had been playing soccer all of their lives instead of basketball and football, the U.S. would have won the World Cup last year. I think that under Showalter, this team will have the attitude and motivation it needs to succeed. And I say that because I saw this group of players mimic their manager’s attitude last year, when they started out slow and were not just losing, but were playing bad defense and not hustling. They had no persona just like their manager and had basically given up right away. There’s no way Buck lets that happen. What do you think?