2017 Orioles: Every move matters

Wes Stock

Wes Stock, who was traded away from an Orioles pitching staff that would dominate the 1966 World Series, helped mold two of the next great staffs as a minor-league instructor with the Mets in the late ’60s and the Oakland A’s pitching coach for two of the three Series titles in ’73-74. Stock was a pretty far reliever himself — he had won 10 games in a row over three seasons when the Orioles, in need of catching help, traded him to Kansas City in 1964 for Charlie Lau (the latter went on to a pretty fair coaching career himself as the Royals batting coach who in the 1970s). With the Athletics for most of 1964, Stock had hs his best season: he had a 1.94 ERA over 93 innings with the A’s, saved 5 games, stretched his winning streak to 12 and fanned 101 in 93 innings. Between the Orioles and A’s, Stock was 8-3 with a 2.30 ERA in 1964. Stock made 321 major-league appearances, but only three starts, coming up in 1959 and earning his first save against the Yankees. In 1963, he was 7-0 and won both games of a doubleheader at Cleveland on May 26: he pitched five scoreless innings in all as the Orioles rallied to win Game 1 10-6 and broke a 1-1 tie late to win Game 2 6-1. After his standout 1964, Stock pitched two more seasons for the A;s before turning to coaching and later broadcasting with the Mariners in his native Washington (he played in college at Washington State). Career totals: 27-13, 3.60 ERA, 22 saves, 321 games, 517.1 innings, 434 hits, 215 walks, 365 strikeouts, 102 ERA+, 3.99 FIP, .686 OPS against, 5.8 WAR (4.2 in 1964).

Up next: Welington Castillo will start as the Orioles catcher, but he might not want to strap the equipment on too tightly. There’s a reason the Orioles were ambivalent about Matt Wieters leaving, and it’s minor leaguer Chance Sisco. They drafted Sisco in the second round of the 2013 draft (first-round pitcher Hunter Harvey has had a hard time staying healthy) and he’s done nothing but hit ever since.  Sisco hit .320 in AA last year at 21 with 59 walks and a .406 on-base percentage. That’s consistent with his career totals: a .323 average and .402 on-base percentage. Sisco has shown doubles power thus far — 18 homers in four minor-league seasons — though either age or Camden Yards might bolster the home run numbers.

What he said: “But even at the time, during the game, when I was warming up waiting to see if I was going in, I never was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what is he doing?’ I always felt like he’s definitely got a plan. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him unprepared.” Zach Britton on Buck Showalter not using him during the wild-card game last season. What he meant: “Custer had a plan, too.”

Outlook: Orioles manager Buck Showalter still isn’t talking much about not using Zach Britton in last year’s wild-card game, which doesn’t bode well for this year.

With the Orioles’ staff, Showalter is going to have many more bullpen moves or non-moves to explain. Or not.

“I don’t even think about it,” Showalter said when asked about it earlier in spring training. “Supposedly, you (media types) all do. But I haven’t read any of it.”

That would explain the decline in circulation in Baltimore, where it’s been amply discussed.

Showalter won’t be clicking much this year, either, because with the Orioles’ rotation, the path between the dugout and the mound will be one long stair master. The man is going to get his steps in.

Earl Weaver believed in pitching, defense and the three-run homer, but there’s not much word on how he felt about the three-reliever inning.

Chris Tillman and Wade Miley are expected to start the season on the disabled list, which leaves the Orioles with a rotation of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and not many fun days.

The Orioles hit 253 home runs last year, a total not reached since the Blue Jays hit 257 in 2010, and had six players who hit 20 or more. All return, and Yovani Gallardo does not, which helps the Orioles’ chances even more.

(The Mariners dealt Seth Smith, platoon outfielder with an .827 lifetime OPS vs. righties, for Gallardo, who had an .813 OPS vs. everyone last year. Not as bad as Adam Jones and Tillman for 36 starts spread over four years of Erik Bedard, but it might behoove the Mariners to stop dealing with the O’s).

The Orioles have a potentially excellent bullpen behind a potentially wretched rotation, which makes your view of their chances in 2017 even more of a referendum on Showalter.

His reputation is as largely Britton described, a manager, like the football coach who watches endless film, who is ready for all eventualities. But his rep took more than a jab last year when he eschewed Britton for Ubaldo Jimenez and then gave incomplete answers worthy of, “We’ll have to see the film.”

It wasn’t that complicated, and a simple “I was saving him for the save,”  or “I felt lucky” would have explained his position, if not satisfied those assailing it, and the controversy would have shortly after been reassigned to some future oral history. Now instead it lingers like smoke above one of Weaver’s many cigarettes. Buck might have moved on, but the rest of us wonder what he was thinking.

Britton said Showalter called in the offseason, and “he kind of just joked around with how managers were using their relievers in the playoffs. And he was like, ‘Well, I guess I scared everybody. Nobody wanted to get the backlash.’ You know, just good humor, like Buck has. Kind of just laughed it off and said no one wants to wear it like he did.”

Showalter was right about that. The criticism might be heavy, like an extra layer on an unseasonably warm day, but Showalter has the security to carry it. He’s managed the Orioles into the postseason three times in his first six full seasons after the franchise was shut out the previous 14 seasons.

The Orioles are the third team Showalter has managed to the postseason, but once qualified, he hasn’t won much with any of them. Showalter has won 114 more games in the regular season than his opponents, but in the postseason he’s 9-14 overall, 1-4 in postseason series and 1-1 in wild-card games. Three times he’s lost series when his team had a better record (the ’95 Yankees were just percentage points better than the Mariners, but the 2014 Orioles won seven games more than the Royals, who swept them).

It’s a limited sample size, so it’s not fair to judge Showalter completely by it. But being prepared can be negated by being inflexible, and at some point you have to wonder whether reputation in the media is equal to accessibility.

The Orioles have a team that could make the playoffs or miss them, and if they do the latter, Buck will have, deserved or not, some explaining to do.

Team song: Nina Simone: Baltimore

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