|Buck Showalter pictured alongside one of his tactical muses. (Getty Images)|
Orioles skipper Buck Showalter, who's piloted his team into contention despite a dubious roster and negative run differential, is all but a lock for the AL Manager of the Year award. He's certainly deserving.
What's his secret? As with any manager, it's putting his players in position to succeed. That can take the form of sniffing out the platoon advantage, keeping peace in the clubhouse, having a deft touch with the bullpen, balancing hunches with data-driven decisions, and so on. One of the ways managers can distinguish themselves is by juggling lineups and rotations based on non-traditional "platoon points" -- e.g., ground ball-fly ball tendencies, park effects, and strengths/weaknesses of the opposing defense.
Additionally, as Jonathan Pitts of the Baltimore Sun explains in an outstanding piece on the peculiar phenomenon of the strike zone, Showalter also lets the umpiring drive his tactical decisions. Pitts writes:
The skipper, now in his 14th big league season, points to a spreadsheet on a wall in his office. It ranks all big league umpires by how greatly they favor pitchers or hitters.
The top name on the list is Brian Runge, an ump known for calling a big zone; lower down is veteran Joe West, whose zone is seen as smaller, his ball-strike distribution more even.
When Runge's behind the plate, Showalter says, he might tell hitters to "go up there swinging." When West is back there, "we know we'll have to throw the ball over the plate."
Showalter is known to tweak his pitching rotation when he sees the umpiring schedule for the week.
It stands to reason, right? After all, the discrepancies among umpires have a bearing on the game itself, so it only follows that those discrepancies also have a bearing on how managers approach the game. Maybe Showalter's ahead of the curve in this approach, or maybe he's the only one talking about it. In either case, it's interesting to know he's thinking about the umpires as he fills out his lineup card.