27 June 2017

Orioles are on Life Support and Need a Transplant

1991 Orioles were so bad that 45yo Jim Palmer
tried to come back and save them.
They are not dead yet.  The Orioles are only four games out of first in the AL East.  Additionally, they are just 2.5 games back behind the second Wild Card slot.  There are caveats to those numbers though.  For the AL East, three teams sit in front of them and the Jays are a game back.  No one really is out of it and that makes the probability of finishing top lower than that four games back sounds like.  The Wild Card is a bit tougher with five teams in front who are staring at the Indians, who currently hold that slot.  Again, the Jays are breathing down the Orioles' neck there, too.

It is a terrible position to be in.  In that, the club is too close to sell off pieces and probably too far (too many teams in between) to really have a great shot at the playoffs.  They are in more of a no man's land than they were in during the 2013 and 2015 seasons where they dealt away solid pitching for not much of consequence.  Added to that is just the brutality the Orioles have faced the past month as they tied the 1924 Phillies with the most games in a row giving up five runs or more.

Outside of their stellar 2014 season, the Orioles have had below average to poor starting pitching performances.  They have used a top notch bullpen and obscene raw power at the plate to erase their rotation deficiencies.  This year, the starting pitching is one of the worst the Orioles have ever fielded so far.  Below is how they compare amongst the 15 teams in the AL and what the median value is.  This hides some information, such as the rotation's ERA is almost an entire run worse than anyone else's.

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA
390.2 6.8 4.15 1.64 5.78
15th 13th 15th 14th 15th
420.1 7.8 3.13 1.42 4.54

To find a starting rotation worse than theirs, you have to go back to 1991.  In fact, when you consider the franchise's entire Browns and Orioles history, this rotation is the second worst all-time.

Year Club ERA-
1991 Orioles 132
2017 Orioles 130
2011 Orioles 128
1910 Browns 126
1939 Browns 125
1988 Orioles 124
2008 Orioles
1937 Browns 120
1909 Browns 119
1987 Orioles

This is an awfully large hole to climb out of and it pales in comparison to the humbug of past seasons where the pitching stumbled.  Last year's "headache" of a starting rotation had an ERA- of 110.  This year's rotation is almost 20% worse than that one.  Added to this, the offense, bullpen, and fielding have all been slightly below average this year.  Add that to all the other teams in competition, it looks more and more like a longshot that this club can be competitive even though, in terms of games back, this club is highly competitive.

So, there comes a time in any organization where succession planning becomes that great, big elephant in the room.  The Orioles find themselves in this place.  It has been there for awhile, but Duquette and Showalter have done well squeezing every drop of blood out of what looked like a bit of a turnip year in and year out.

The initial plan was for this club to continue its winning ways and run hard through 2018, but that seems a bit difficult.  Dan Duquette has squandered years of development by maximizing resources to the MLB roster while trading out compensatory draft picks, depth prospects, and continuing a two decade long practice of bare bones international amateur talent acquisition.  What is now left is an aging hulk of a core in Baltimore and the few younger pieces reaching a point of no return where extensions or a friendly wave goodbye is the final action.

There are two extremes as to what the organization can do.  They can live in the moment and forget about tomorrow.  They can keep pushing and hand out prospects that are irrelevant for 2017 and 2018, clawing their way into a Wild Card or, may I say, another AL East title.  Projection models doubt that path and, based on twitter, so fans.  The other extreme is to cash it all in.  It is an idea proposed by FanGraph's Travis Sawchick and some others online.  I think the main flaw to this idea is that this club is actually not that far from being a playoff contender.  I also think that it is always a mistake to let go of a potentially great player before their 30th birthday.  You simply do not willingly let Manny Machado leave.

That leaves us with a commitment to something in the middle.  This begins by deciding where the club should go.  This article is about the general places the front office might take this franchise.  There are four options:
1) Hands the keys to Dan Duquette for complete control over all baseball operations, signing him to a long term deal.
2) Fire Duquette, and force Buck to transition out of the dugout and into a long term vision baseball operations position with a day-to-day GM under him who he choses.  This includes 2018 as a transition year out of the dugout or starting 2018 up in an office.
3) Remove Duquette and hand it all to Brady Anderson to decide what happens.
4) Clean out the front office and let the new guy decide what is what.

Duquette as King
In this scenario, Duquette no longer feels the pressure of a contract ending as he would likely sign a five year extension.  He will be expected to remain competitive, but he would be given a more free hand.  You would likely expect that he would try to get Buck to resign and, in his place, install a mid-40s assistant coach who would implement everything from the front office that Buck ignored.  This would rub many players the wrong way, but it will be accepted.

My guess would be that an attempt would be made to retool for 2018 and, if things go south, a large scale sell off.  I would also expect in this scenario a strong push to sign Machado long term.  If not, then he would likely be dealt mid-season.

Elevate Buck
Buck has been worn down by this latest stretch of terrible baseball. He is also getting up there in age.  He might prefer a less strenuous schedule with more distance from the clubhouse.  The clubhouse would also be keen with this because many are strong supporters of his tenure.  Likewise, some in the club house have spoken out at times about the distance and aloofness of Duquette's tenure.

I would see two possibilies for who Buck would replace himself with.  First, one of his close colleagues: John Russell or Brian Butterfield.  Second option and a smart one, he could install Brady Anderson as the manager.  Why Brady?  Brady will be in the organization as long as Angelos is around.  Putting Brady in as the manager would keep him fully engaged in managerial duties and unable to stick his finger in everywhere.  Another option would be elevating Ron Johnson and putting Brady in AAA on the guise of training him.

A Showalter tenure would also likely involve a scaling back of the analytics department or perhaps a transition into more qualitative data processing.More resources would likely be engaged into the scouting side of things.  Machado is a big question mark.  Showalter was part of the brain trust that found Alex Rodriguez' contract in Texas to be too much of an albatross on the payroll.  Would he see the same thing with Manny taking up 25% of the Orioles' budget.  Such an arrangement with 40 MM to Manny and 120 MM to the rest of the squad would effective be a median payroll team being gifted Manny.  That really does not sound all that bad.

Brady as Teddy Roosevelt
Even though I have written extensively about Brady, I have no idea what a Brady Anderson tenure as General Manager would mean.  He has largely surfed between the waves and found his own niche.  Some guys like him, others tolerate him, and others think he abuses the social structure by insisting on being treated like a player, coach, and front office executive whenever it best suits his needs.  In that way, he has quickly gained a great deal of experience, but by taking what everyone else seems to neglect, he is not defining himself.

Brady comes across as brash, competitive, and a disruptor.  You could say the same thing about Billy Beane, Jerry DiPoto, and a number of other head honchos.  What differs is that contrary to other guys in the game, I cannot think of which baseball people are automatic fits in the Brady regime.  Anderson simply is a go it alone kind of entity right now.  One who tries hard to be player friendly.

I would expect him to try to keep Buck on, but I am unsure whether Buck would want to stay on with someone who seems to apt to abuse privilege.  I am at a loss at who would be showing up at the MLB level, but guys like Lou Montanez and Nolan Reimold would likely be welcomed into the fold if they sought out managerial careers.  Beyond that, I am at a loss.  Brady has done well at being a disrupter (depending on who you talk to), but he has not truly done much work as a head executive.

Brave New World
Every couple of years, word leaks out about Angelos selling the club.  His sons enjoy the presence and interest their connection to the club brings them.  It would be hard to think of one of his kids getting prime time play about his thoughts on President Trump without being able to hypothetically withhold a first pitch.  That said, their eyes seem wider than team ownership and pulling the money back out of the franchise would enable them to be active kingmakers for politicians or for personally meaningful social projects.  With MASN getting tidied up and the future of these deals looking bleaker and bleaker, it appears that maybe it will be easier to put a value on the club (this has been mentioned as the hang up the two previous times Angelos supposedly almost cashed out).

If the club is sold, then it is a safe bet that the house will be purged.  When the walls talk, they talk of misplaced loyalty.  Individuals who have been employed by the Orioles forever and that their aptitude is highly questioned.  Back when Duquette took over (and even MacPhail), it was noted that certain personnel were effectively made men.  Some could be juggled around in less consequential positions, but most were fixed.  An owner without loyalty to existing personnel, would likely mean wholesale changes.

You could easily imagine a Ripken or Buck being included somewhere in the new regime, but likely not as decision makers.  Neither of them may be interested in serving as figureheads.  Likely, a new ownership group would be heavily influenced by Wall Street, as they all seem to be these days.  This would probably mean the club would enlarge their analytics presence and move into a more uniform and modern approach.


Pip said...

Manny needs to go. The idea of a superstar surrounded by chaff is common and unsuccessful.
I'm unclear about who is in charge now. I've heard noise that Angelos favors Buck and Buck is making most of the decisions, but Buck is too good a baseball man to have made some of the asinine moves we've seen.
Also, most of the really bad moves involve pitching: either overvaluing what we get( and continuing to do so, i.e. Jiminez, Norris, Hunter, Matusz or undervaluing what we have( Gonzalez, Triggs, Davies, Miranda, among others)
And I don't think Buck can be a successful baseball guy and be so bad at evaluating pitching.
So the idea of Buck running the show is merely a myth, right?
Can you shed any light on that question?

Jon Shepherd said...

Simply put, Buck is application and Duquette is supply.

Buck has made plenty of errors too. Incredible errors on the field. See: Britton.

Buck was also pretty instrumental in sending Adrian Gonzalez away for proven veterans. Buck certainly has a shine to hard nose veterans or guys who listen...whatever that means.

Rob said...

To contend we need starting pitching...and I just don't see our prospects bringing back anything useful for 15 second half starts this year.

I've been perplexed by our lineups. Schoop and Mancini are the two best hitters but are consistently in the bottom half/third of the batting order.

I think we have to admit that this season we are a .500 team, and that our prospects need another 2-3 years to hopefully turn into something useful. The only path I see is signing solid veteran pitching to bridge that gap...but I'm not sure how we keep Manny and do that at the same time.

If I was the GM, I'd go all-in on keeping Manny and increase our international scouting, analytics, and hope that we can weather the next 3-4 years for a time when Manny is in his prime and *hopefully* some of the young talent starts to break out.

Pip said...

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that Dan is in charge of getting the guys, and buck is in charge of using the guys.
That's the way it should be,of course, but my question is whether Buck is directing the acquisition of guys. If so, he is to blame for the current mess, to whatever degree he was involved in making the personnel decisions.
Buck has certainly made some bad on field decisions, but that's irrelevant to the question of whether Buck or Dan is in charge

Pip said...

Manny is not going to remain, and the value he would bring in trade is significant.
Signing free agents is how you get Gallardo and Jimenez.
The Astros and Cardinals know that consistently good teams value their prospects and their draft picks.
It is impossible to make a meaningful run this year. Next year if we do nothing, which we must, it will be worse. The only logical path is selling our major assets now(including Manny) and regroups for next year or 2019

Unknown said...

Re: Buck: If you review Buck Showalter's career as a whole, you'll conclude that, for whatever reason, he's not very good at working with young players. That's not to say that he's a bad manager - he is very good at working with veteran or experienced players. But he isn't someone I would want overseeing a rebuild.

And, if you are going to blame him for the "current mess", you also have to give him credit for the previous five years of success.

tony2302 said...

the elephant in the room is Angelos. IF he decides to sell would Manny be willing to sign a 1 year with an option? until new ownerships was in place.he'll get paid regardless, but with the prospect of new ownership and new money he could decide that things were going to get better. of course, that is a HUGE if with Angelos selling, but it's the absolute best thing that could happen to this team.

Jon Shepherd said...

That is a traditional view. If you look at more current squads like the Cubs, Dodgers, or Pirates, what you have is the front office integrating their perspective in with the manager. This essentially means informative sessions to let the manager know how to make certain decisions. When these decisions are not made correctly as deemed correct by the front office, the next day conversations are had as to why a decision was made and whether alternatives would be better.

The traditional way of a manager having reign of the dugout is on the way out.

Buck does have interest in certain players and expresses that interest. Dan does ask for Buck's input. My guess is that Duquette has no interest in acquiring a player Buck does not want and usually tries to stay away from that conflict.

Buck's errors on the field do not suggest that he would be a poor GM. However, it does show that on that scale that he is not immune to poor decision making. When given some control previously, he has shown incredible desire to get veterans. With unlimited funds, that can work. As Joe noted, he has not been considered that great of a manager for young guys and is known to give up on them quickly. Machado is Machado, but he certainly gave Schoop time. That said, he begrudgingly gives accolades to Schoop. He has also been spoken of poorly by young pitchers who are now elsewhere and , arguably, succeeding in ways the Orioles did not think was possible. Anywa, the Adrian Gonzelez deal was pretty mind numbing at the time.

Jon Shepherd said...

Now, Buck has probably improved a bit from his Diamondback days when he effectively was a co-GM for a bit. He traded a bunch of young guys for Travis Fryman. One of those was a solid regular in Joe Randa. Buck tired of Fryman and traded him for Matt Williams. In that succession, Randa alone was worth twice as much as Fryman and Fryman was about 20% better than Williams. You have him giving up Suppan for nothing. Tony Batista for Dan Plesac. Brad Penny for Matt Mantei. What made him an average dealer was his acquisition of Luis Gonzalez and Curt Schilling. He was a major influence for about 25 trades.

When he was with Texas, he had more power in the beginning and was important in dealing away several promising youngsters for veterans.

Now, maybe his thoughts have changed, but as a team builder they look very traditional. He was firmly in the experienced veteran camp back in the day.

Pip said...

Joe, if you're talking to me, I only blame Buck for his occasional in-game lapses, which are part and parcel of any manager's portfolio.
I'm much more interested in knowing who is responsible for assembling the roster(bad) and the bulk of the trades(bad)

Pip said...

Joe, I just reread my comment, so I can understand why you misunderstood. What I mean is that at the moment I do not think Buck is responsible for the current mess. I think the Dan is responsible for the current mess. However, if it turns out as Jon has suggested that Buck is indeed in charge of the current mess, then of course he gets just as much blame as anyone else.
I do not think Beuck should be a general manager under any circumstance is, simply because being a general manager requires many skills that a field manager does not need.
Someone will first and statistics who is open to those the statistics, someone who values all forms of Scouting and hordes draft picks like first born children and who realizes The foolishness of long-term contracts and how limiting they are.
I would very much like to investigate hiring someone away from the Astros, and I would be quite happy giving Kim Ng(?) a chance. Baseball is not prone to promoting people who have not earned it, and she has succeeded in a man's job and I would be happy giving her a much closer look.

Anonymous said...

I am getting really kind of tired of everyone (especially the commenters) talking about how bad the O's are. I know they're not the Astros or the Cubs or the Yankees but they are and have been a successful team for the last five years and so much better than the prior 14-15 years. The Astros are on their 2nd good season since they turned their corner and the Cubs had one playoff run. The Yankees and Red Sox have had sustained success but that comes with enough money to fix holes when they make mistakes. Any team can be better than they are now, but just because the O's don't have the best record in baseball doesn't mean they are not a good team. And, yes, this is a .500 team. When they play above their heads they are a winning team and, when they play below their potential, they are a losing team. How amazing is it that they just got back to .500 with arguably the worst pitching in the league. I have said before and I will say again that if Britton comes back strong and Machado hits to his potential then the O's will win. There is every reason to believe that Gausman and Tillman will be much better in the second half - especially Gausman. As far as this discussion goes; I think the Yankees example is most pertinent. They had a really bad season last year and re-tooled without rebuilding. They brought up two sluggers (the O's have brought up one so far in Mancini) and traded just enough assets to fill their holes. Machado has incentive to stay. He and Schoop are friends. He is in a clubhouse that is a good one and good for him as it keeps his immaturity under control. He's in a home stadium that is favorable to his talent. Plus, if he has any intelligence, it is the rare free agent that doesn't decline after taking a big contract in a new environment. I see a lot of "grass is greener" people commenting here.

Jon Shepherd said...

Retooling is helped a ton when you have a great farm system. See: Astros, Yankees.

I do think there are some Chicken Little perspectives out there, but there are obvious and major concerns post-2018. Hand waving does not change that. And, yes, this club has been remarkable for where they are and how terrible some aspects of this team is.

Pip said...

The "obvious and major concerns" are obvious and major right now.
It is far wiser to trade now and maximize return than to fruitlessly struggle through this year and-presumably-another infuriating offseason before finally trading off assets that are worth less because of reduced time before FA and increased arbitration cost.
The possibility of making the playoffs at this time, though not impossible, are so low as to be statistically zero.
It is far better to divest now.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think there are three rationales:
(1) Trade off assets and plan for a soft landing into a full rebuild.
(2) Trade off assets unimportant to 2018 and give it another shot because this season is lost and the pieces to deal out in a rebuild are not going to get you all that close to a competitor.
(3) Go for broke because the club is in shouting distance of the WC this year and has all the major pieces for a run next year...and a rebuild with or without pieces is unimportant.

josh said...

Are you serious about Buck's on field decisions?? Of course there is Britton, and I am sure you could ID a few others, as you could with any manager. But the vast, vast majority of Buck's calls work, even the crazyy sounding ones. Moreover, he's taken charge of the clubhouse (inside of it and outside) in a way not seen in Baltimore since Davey Johnson. To my mind, nitpicking Buck seems very silly -- and does nothing to answer the larger questions raised by this article.

josh said...

In that list of pitching (good context there), I think it's interesting that Norris was a real beast for us for a time; MiGo was a tremendous underrrated pick up (tho mysteriously let go); and Hunter was servicable out of the pen until he got too expensive for that position.

I agree, it's hard to believe these are not DD's calls, for good or for ill.

Jon Shepherd said...

The issues I rose with Buck's decision making on the field is not to say he is not a very good manager, but that even in his own realm he does error. That point is that when we extrapolate to much more multifaceted position, we should note that there will be a learning curve, that he will have to make decisions about things he has little experience with, and that his decision making is not flawless even when doing something he knows very well.

Chicago Oriole said...

The owner is not committed to having a robust operation to provide young talent to the major league club. Without a consistent feed of cost-controlled talent into the big league club the amount of money you need to spend to be a competitive ball club is too large for the owner to tolerate. Duquette does a good job of adding marginal players worth a fractional win each on the cheap. an the Orioles have landed some bargain-basement production on a 1-year basis by dumpster-diving for free agents.

I personally don't think that the Orioles can sustain getting to the playoffs in a lucky year. Their string will definitely have run out of Machado moves on. It is a real shame because if the Orioles had developed farm and international free agents better during Angelos' tenure, the Orioles would be the best team in the AL East.

Pip said...

Josh, Norris was good in 2014, but it was a career year and trading him in the offseason would have been wise.
Releasing Miggy was inexcusable as was giving Hunter way too money to be a bad middle reliever.
If these are Dan's moves( and in the absence of evidence to the contrary we must assume they are) Then Dan knows less than nothing about pitching.

Pip said...

Josh, if you were responding to me, I agree that Buck is generally a very good field manager. He does some things which make me want to tear my hair out, but generally he's very good.

Anonymous said...

Jon, thank you. I know the O's are not exactly comparable to the Yankees and Astros, but the situation is not hopeless ether. And, yes, I understand that "come to Jesus time" is on it's way. I was also struck by the discussion about Buck's preference for veterans over inexperience. This seems logical on the surface but, as many have noted, doesn't work well on the extremes. And, I think that Baseball had a period early in free agency where veteran production was everything. But Baseball has now turned into young, overproduction-for-the-money being the most prized players. Analytics should help but, apparently, the O's don't use them to their fullest extent. The Gallardo example is most prescient. I remember the stories about Gallardo being the #1 groundball style pitcher on the verge of imploding when he was signed by the O's even though he had a solid track record of injury-free production. Anyone having read the data would never have signed him. But if you go only by experience and past performance, he was a very good signing. Seems like Buck's tendencies are especially vulnerable to this kind of mis-analysis. The Miley/Miranda trade is another example. Both have similar production and projection but Miley is older so one would think holding and promoting the younger, less expensive, controllable talent would be better. Somehow, I think this also leads to the O's over-valuing rejected, controllable talent - the Ynoa's, Verrett's, etc... of the world. It's unfortunate that so much of the potential has not played out among these candidates. I would have thought that random chance would have yielded at least a couple of winners among them.

Jon Shepherd said...

Re: Gallardo. His shoulder was also a mess and he had some suspicious decreases in velocity. That, along with the analytics and the comp pick, was why he was available to the Orioles basically when position players reported to camp. Comp picks in the old CBA never impacted great talent. It impacted players who were on the fringe of being good.

Chicago Curmudgeon said...

The wait-and-see approach to free agency where you take what is left can result in good one-year signings like Trumbo and Cruz, when done with pitchers it results in signings like Jimenez and Gallardo. I think it has to do with the fact that the floor of the price for 150 innings of major league pitching is a lot higher than for major league position players.

So I don't know how good Duquette is at scouting pitching when the owner seems to drive the free agency strategy with waiting for players he can drive a hard bargain with.

Unknown said...

from someone who is in need of a kidney transplant, I find your analogy to be in extremely bad taste. You could have found another way to put it.

Jon Shepherd said...

I hope the process gets you what you need quickly. You are in my prayers.

Unknown said...

Roger you're living in a dream world. Our "ace" right now has never even come close to 150 innings in a season in his career. We have nothing in the rotation and nothing coming to help. What do you propose? We can't be like the Yankees and just call up 2 guys and be good again. We don't have 2 guys in the minor leagues who can make an impact. Best case scenario our farm gives us a slight upgrade in catcher next year with sisco over castillo but that would probably be a stretch asking that from a rookie. We are not a good team. Yes, Gausman will be better, but there's no guarantee that he'll be anything special. If you look at his career before this disaster of a season, his advanced metrics have pointed to him being a pitcher with an ERA around 4. He's young and could improve on but from what we've seen this year, thats anybody's guesss. We'd certainly take that right now but you have to win post season games and that's not a guy you're given the ball twice. Tillman is a mess and he is a FA, so what does that leave you next year? Bundy, Gausman, Blank, Blank, Blank. Please fill in those blanks for me because we don't have the personnel. How does a retool for next year like the Yankees work for you because it doesn't for me. I just don't see how you could possibly compare our situation to the Yankees because it's not even remotely close. We can deal Brach and we'll get a top50-100 prospect, hopefully a pitcher who is close to ready but then what? Are we going to rely on that guy for big innings into the postseason next year?