Buck Showalter has a well-deserved reputation for getting the most out of his players’ talents. For the past five years, the Orioles skipper’s teams have outperformed preseason predictions on their way to three playoff appearances and one division crown.
He is credited with managing his 25-man roster effectively and getting the most out of many players with minor league options who shuffle back and forth from Norfolk, Bowie and even Frederick, to the chagrin of Wei-Yin Chen in 2015.
Given that the Orioles seem to annually carry a Rule 5 player who is likely to benefit the team in future years more than the current one, Showalter’s roster management is even more impressive.
With the Orioles bench not always being this team’s strong suit, Showalter has chosen to rely on a stable of core players by writing them in the lineup virtually everyday. And like many managers, he sticks with his veterans through slumps, the dog days of summer and consecutive games without off days.
But does his proclivity for relying on his veterans jeopardize their performance as the season progresses? There may be some evidence to support that. The chart below shows 2016 OPS results for the Orioles top four position players based upon plate appearances. Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Jonathan Schoop all experienced a significant drop in OPS in the last month of the season.
Of course, there’s a good argument for never sitting the all-world Machado. And Schoop is young and strong, but 2016 was the third straight year his September/October OPS took a nosedive. He played second base in all 162 games last year. It seems he could benefit from a breather every now and then.
Last year’s wild card loss to Toronto will always be remembered for Buck not using closer Zach Britton in the 11-inning loss. But the lost story of that game is that the Birds only had four hits. That’s why they lost. Maybe the fatigue factor had something to do with that. Adam Jones went 1-5 that day, after batting just .223 the last month of the regular season.
Let’s take a closer look at Jones’ late season performance over the past three years:
The difference in Jones’ OPS is significant. He plays a demanding position and plays it hard. Last year he played center field in all his 150 starts and didn’t DH once. It’s fair to conclude that Jones, who will turn 32 in August, wears down during the final weeks when the Orioles are battling for a post-season berth. He urged the organization to add more athletic players to help him cover the outfield.
Perhaps the addition of Craig Gentry and a healthy Joey Rickard – both worthy defensive center fielders – will allow Showalter to DH Jones occasionally or even sit him down for a few games here and there. It could help him be more productive this September as the Orioles make another drive for the playoffs.