I believe that it is safe to call the Orioles sudden post-season elimination a heart break, like a dagger to the back it was over as fast as it could be comprehended. After such an event strong reactions, some might say knee-jerk ones, are only natural – if not rational. But it shouldn't change anyone's opinions about Buck Showalter, the front office, or the players on its own. Opinions on baseball should be formed over trends, not singular performances.
Perhaps in it's dramatic fashion it could form the conclusion, the coup de grace of your thesis on the Baltimore Orioles, but singularly change your opinion on Buck Showalter, Dan Duquette, Ubaldo Jimenez, or anything else? No. One should really, really, really avoid basing their opinions on ANY aspect of a team on small sample sizes – let alone a single game.
Yes. I said the same thing twice. But I want to be abundantly clear what I'm discussing here.
I had been planning to write this piece in the offseason regardless of what the end of the season brought, but the end that did play out unfortunately couldn't form a better framing for this if I had scripted it. I've been lurking around Orioles forums, articles comments sections, and of course other fans for years and one thing that always sticks out is how much people love small sample sizes.
There have been a lot of good examples of this in 2016, starting before the season even began with the nonsense that surrounded Hyun-Soo Kim when many fans decided that from an early hitless streak totaling less than a week's worth of at-bats that he “couldn't hit a MLB fastball” despite the fact that most of the games weren't even televised for anyone to see for themselves what was happening. He ended with the highest batting average on the team.
On the flip side of that coin was Joey Rickard who batted a toasty .350/.359/.483 over his first 14 games...then batted just .239/.308/.344 over his next 66 (45 starts). Despite this, it took the fanbase months to come to terms with the fact that Rickard probably wasn't a burgeoning All-Star. Some still haven't.
Here's the thing about acknowledging an outlier: It is just that and its nothing more. If Adam Jones misses a catch or Manny has a bad at bat, acknowledging that isn't the same thing as saying you think he's a bum. On that same token, you can acknowledge when Buck Showalter makes a bad move and still think that he's a strong manager overall.
You can even acknowledge negative trends in talented people's games and still think they are great such as Adam Jones' struggles with low-outside breaking pitches. He can't handle it, but he's still great overall.
These things are not mutually exclusive. Appreciating, or the opposite, is not an all-or-nothing proposition.
So we indeed find ourselves in a national dialog about Buck Showalter's abilities as a manager. The debate of course predates his time in Baltimore, going back to three previous high profile firings while at the helm of very good or solid teams. It's been mostly silent in the midst of the Orioles turn-around, but it's not a new argument.
There are six and a half years of Orioles games – 1,029 games – and three playoff series in the book for Buck Showalter as Orioles manager. By now you should have a strong opinion of what you think he is, or isn't capable of. Before Baltimore he had manged over 1,700 Major League games and two other postseason appearances. He is the opposite of a small sample size.
(Now I will admit that many of the people suddenly coming out of the woodwork to question Showalter may have had these feelings all along. Online and on the radio Showalter is treated with something akin to demi-god-like infallibility, and from what I've seen nay-sayers are generally shouted down; so it's reasonable to assume that a number of these people felt this way before but were too shy to voice an unpopular opinion until this one big moment to go “AH HAH!”)
Even if that's the case, people coming out of the woodwork to call for Buck's head when they haven't even broached the subject of their criticisms of him in the past is somewhat of a bad look for the fanbase.
The move to bring in a starting pitcher to face the top of the lineup while there were still actual relief pitchers available, forget Zach Britton, I'm going to go ahead and agree is totally baffling and indefensible – but it really shouldn't change your opinion on him all on its own. And me saying that shouldn't make you think “Hey, this guy doesn't like Buck!”