By all accounts, one of Buck Showalter’s strengths is his relationship with his players. There seems to be a mutual respect between the manager and his squad that might have something to do with why the Orioles consistently out-perform pre-season PECOTA and other “expert” predictions.
In the new baseball world of if you can’t measure it, it’s not worth talking about, attributes like these aren’t addressed all that much. Buck relies on his veterans to produce, sometimes to a fault, but the confidence he shows may payoff when he asks them to change roles for the team.
And when that change comes in the form of a lineup position shift, Showalter has had the Midas touch. And the resulting numbers back it up.
Last year when Adam Jones was struggling, Buck made the surprising decision to move him to the leadoff spot. Far from displaying the prototypical top-of-the-order type skills, Jones adjusted his approach to take more pitches and turned his season around.
Through his first 41 games in 2016, Jones batted second, third or fourth and hit .223/.282/.357. After moving to the leadoff spot for all but one of his remaining 111 games, Jones’ batting line improved to .279/.319/.463.
This year, the prized player scuffling the most was obviously Chris Davis. For many, Showalter showed to be too slow to remove Davis from the four or five spot where he batted for his first 85 games.
We suffered through whiff after whiff from the slugger’s long, loping swings. Davis’ mysterious attraction to taking called third strikes added to the frustration, especially since he was batting in a high-leverage RBI slot in the order.
But, better late than never, Buck may have pushed the right button when he slid Davis down to the seven hole three weeks ago. Prior to that Crush certainly wasn’t crushing it at .212/.311/.427, but he’s adjusted his stance while batting sixth or seventh and has produced a batting line of .303/.365/.530.
Manny Machado was hitting just .214/.288/.416 batting third in his first 60 games. Showalter moved him up one spot to second where Manny’s line is .314/.350./572.
Of course it’s likely a player of Machado’s ilk would find his stroke no matter where he hits, but his move to the second spot triggered Buck to build a strong supporting cast around him.
Jonathan Schoop has produced consistently throughout his breakout year, but has even bumped his numbers a bit after moving to the number three spot. Mostly hitting from the six, seven and eight hole for his first 71 games, Schoop batted .292/.344/.542. Batting third everyday since June 24, Johnny Baseball’s line is .319/.361/.544.
Things really started to sizzle at top of the order on August 10 when Showalter named Tim Beckham to replace Jones as his leadoff hitter and moved Adam to the cleanup spot behind Schoop.
Before that shift, Jones batted .268/.308/.444. Since then, he’s hitting .359/.383/.667 batting fourth. Those numbers clean up a lot of bases filled by the other members of the fearsome foursome. Check out their batting lines in the same time period:
During this 20-game stretch, the Birds have scored 129 runs for an average of 6.45 per game. That kind of production can make up for pitching deficiencies in a hurry. And if Davis can continue his upward swing batting sixth to complement the hot bats of Trey Mancini and Welington Castillo, we could be in store for one fun playoff chase.