What can Buck Showalter do for an encore in 2013?

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Buck Showalter - Spring Training

The 2012 Orioles ended a streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons in Baltimore and came within one game of the ALCS. They recorded more than 90 wins for only the third time since 1983. And they did it on the heels of a 2011 season when they needed a September surge to avoid only the third 100-loss season in Baltimore Orioles history. So what can the 2013 Orioles do for an encore? As the season approaches, Roar from 34 will consider whether the successes of 2012 can be repeated in 2013 in the "For an Encore" series. 

Feb. 20, 2013

I can't help but associate Orioles manager Buck Showalter with Kool Moe Dee. I'll admit it's an odd association, but the man who took the O's from the depths of baseball despair to a playoff perch deserves the opportunity to kick back with a satisfied smile and drop Kool Moe Dee's signature chorus on fans and media alike: "How Ya Like Me Now?"

The problem with this scenario (okay, there are many, but I'll stick with just one) is that Showalter may not get the answer he wants and deserves. That's because his latest managerial magic trick still ranks as a bit of a fluke for those in the supposedly know.

Tom Verducci, SI.com (emphasis added):

Somehow, like one of those mentalist tricks where a spoon appears to bend untouched, the Orioles won a wild card spot with 93 wins.

How did they do that? It made sense if you let yourself believe that the O's won an inordinate amount of close games because of the depth in their bullpen and because they hit more home runs than all but one team in Baltimore history, with many of those homers late-game decisive bolts. A cynic, fully aware of the randomness of one-run outcomes, would suggest they were one of the luckiest teams in baseball history.

Bill Madden of the New York Daily News takes a different angle on the same story, framing it instead as part of the old "us against the world" ethos for the Orioles:

The players all understand why the front office was idle, Showalter said, and they take it as a vote of confidence. They know what they are and what they can be and are quite content to let others dismiss them as one-year wonders who’ll never be able to repeat all the magic of 2012. “We’re very comfortable,” Showalter said, “laying in the weeds.”

MLB Network recently ranked Showalter as the fifth-best manager in baseball (watch the video). Showalter received a lot of praise during the segment, including recognition that last year was not "just luck." However, Larry Bowa did sneak in a mention of the fact that "it will be interesting to see what he does this year" given the Orioles' limited activity during the offseason. 

In keeping with the "For an Encore" theme of this Roar from 34 series, the obvious answers to the question "What can Buck Showalter do for an encore in 2013?" are to win the division and go deeper into the playoffs. 

Here are some additional things Buck Showalter can do for an encore:

1. Demonstrate that there's no drop-off in his third full season with a team.

Showalter has managed in four different organizations, and he's guided each of those teams to a winning record in his second full season at the helm. However, his third full season has come to be regarded, unfairly so, as a bit of a hiccup. 

The 1993 New York Yankees went 88-74; the 1994 Yankees went 70-43 in a strike-shortened season.

The 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks went 100-62; the 2000 Diamondbacks went 85-77.

The 2004 Texas Rangers went 89-73; the 2005 Rangers went 79-83.

The thinking goes that players tire of Showalter's exacting ways and don't perform to the levels he expects. However, had it not been for the MLB strike Showalter would've surpassed the previous year's 88-win total with the '94 Yankees. Also, he won A.L. Manager of the Year in his third full season with the Yankees.

So the third-year theory surrounding Showalter is tenuous. Nevertheless, people will be looking for it this season. A competitive Birds outfit that posts a winning record and stays competitive for a playoff spot right down to the wire could do a lot to put this stuff to rest.

2. Win manager of the year.

Since 1983, when MLB's Manager of the Year awards were first given, five managers have won the award three or more times. It's happened twice in the American League. Should Showalter win A.L. manager of the year in 2013, he'll reach rarified air among modern managers.

Jim Leyland and Tony LaRussa are the only skippers to win A.L. manager of the year three times. Over in the Senior Circuit, Bobby Cox has won the N.L. manager of the year award four times, while Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker have done so three times each. LaRussa also won his fourth overall manager of the year award in the N.L.

The manager of the year award is obviously subjective. After all, Joe Torre, who was declared by multiple sporting publications as the "manager of the decade" for the 2000s, only won A.L. manager of the year twice. Torre is the guy who replaced Showalter in New York. Showalter winning a third A.L. manager of the year award would, at the very least, have symbolic value.

3. Match Davey Johnson's two-year win total in Baltimore.

There's only one Earl of Baltimore. And Hank Bauer brought Baltimore its first World Series victory as well as its first three 90-win seasons (97 wins in '64, 94 wins in '65, and 97 wins in '66). That leaves Davey Johnson as the most recent measure of Orioles managerial greatness.

Johnson was the last architect of winning baseball in Baltimore prior to Showalter's arrival. He twice took the Birds to the ALCS and won A.L. manager of the year on his way out of town. He won 186 games in two seasons. Showalter would need to win 93 games (again) in 2013 to match Johnson's efforts.

So what can Buck Showalter do for an encore? More of the same.

-34-

Related reading:

What can Matt Wieters do for an encore in 2013?

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