It’s difficult to see this Orioles season as anything but a success. The team won 30 more games than a year ago, and they made it to the final week in the season before being eliminated from playoff contention. Even as recently as June, few would have expected such an outcome.
That doesn’t mean that all of the questions about the organization and its direction have been answered. The upcoming offseason is set up to be a big one, and the 2023 squad will enter the summer with much bigger expectations than this year’s squad. Both on the field and in the dugout, they will need to be set up for success.
Currently in that Camden Yards dugout is Brandon Hyde, who is wrapping up his fourth season as the Orioles’ skipper, by far his best. He will certainly garner votes for Manager of the Year, and he might just win it. But that has not quieted all of his critics amongst the fan base.
Critiquing Hyde’s lineups has become an exhausting daily practice on Twitter, particularly in the second half of the season. Common complaints have been the continued use of veteran Rougned Odor, and the refusal to let rookies Kyle Stowers or Terrin Vavra face left-handed pitching.
Pitching management is another typical area of concern, as it is for nearly every manager in the league. Some believe he is too quick to pull starting pitchers, and others just hate the relievers he chooses to use in certain situations.
What all of those assessments ignore is that our knowledge, as fans, of how the Orioles make in-game decisions is not entirely clear. Sure, Hyde is the one that literally writes the lineup card, or the one that slowly walks out to the mound to make a pitching change. But there are surely mechanisms behind those decisions that involve the front office, the analytics department, potentially the training staff, and yes, the coaches.
These mechanisms could be face-to-face meetings, emails, PowerPoints, and (gulp) even spreadsheets to illustrate why Player A needs to be on the field in X situation. Admittedly, this is not nearly as intriguing as a montage in which Jonah Hill explains how to extract the most value out of a roster, but probably a bit more practical.
What seems less possible is that Hyde exists in a decision-making silo built on baseball intuition and good vibes from which he emerges with a gut feeling that Robinson Chirinos needs to start over Adley Rutschman because it’s a 4:30 start time after a night game the day before. As with most things, there is likely data to back up why this is a wise decision in the long run.
This is not to say that Hyde is a mindless drone, or that he doesn’t deserve any blowback when games go awry. It’s his job to have his finger on the pulse of the locker room, manage egos, maintain team chemistry, and handle daily media responsibilities. Mistakes in any one of those aspects could have repercussions on the field.
But when analyzing Hyde’s performance in his role, it seems relevant to take into consideration the factors within his control.
Has he maintained a positive locker room? All indications are that he has. Look at the comments made by veteran pitcher Jordan Lyles after his most recent outing.
“I would love to be back here,” he said this morning. “To see what we’ve done in the last calendar year as an organization, from what was expected of us coming into the season, and the transition to be where we are right now, it’s pretty special. I enjoy the guys. Hyder (Brandon Hyde) has been amazing. Definitely Manager of the Year in my eyes. A good clubhouse. Everything is positive here. I would love to come back.”
Yes, Lyles has an $11 million option that we can imagine he would love to have picked up, so of course he would be complimentary. But he is also a 12-year veteran of the league that has played in the bigs with seven different organizations. His words carry weight. We know that because the pitching staff had shirts made with his face on them, perhaps another indication of how tight this team has become.
Has Hyde made the most of the team handed to him? Yet again, the answer there seems to be a resounding “yes.” A common assessment of Hyde after last season was that it would be unfair to judge his job competency before the front office actually gave him some talent to work with. That finally happened this season, and look at how it turned out.
Even this year’s team stunk back in April, when Kelvin Gutierrez was the everyday third baseman, Chris Owings got time in the middle infield, and Chirinos shared the catching position with Anthony Bemboom. The moment Rutschman was promoted, things turned around. That effect snowballed as the season progressed, more talent made its way to Baltimore, and the wins started stacking. It even withstood the trades of Trey Mancini and Jorge López.
As of this writing, the Orioles have been outscored by seven runs this season. Their expected record is actually one game under .500. Instead, Hyde has them five games over .500 with the chance to add a few more this week.
Of course the players deserve most of the credit for winning games. On-field talent is, by far, the biggest factor in what makes a good team, but it cannot win on its own. Go look at the rosters of the White Sox, Twins, Angels, or Rangers. You could argue they have more talent than the Orioles, but they will finish behind them in the standings this season, and at least three of the four managers of those teams lost their job as a result.
Hyde deserves to be back in 2023, managing the most talented roster Baltimore has had in his time at the job. He has been a net positive influence on this organization, particularly this season, and he has earned the opportunity to guide them to the playoffs. Anything less than that could rightfully be seen as a disappointment, and a discussion about the manager’s role would be warranted. But until he proves otherwise, Hyde is the person for the job.