Buck Showalter has been getting rave reviews from media all across the country for his excellent decision making so far this postseason. Buck pretty clearly out-maneuvered Brad Ausmus in the ALDS, and he’ll have another managerial mismatch ahead of him in Ned Yost and the bunting KC Royals.

Discuss this post and tell us who you’d pick on the BSL forums here.

Buck pushed all the right buttons to lead the Orioles past the Detroit Tigers in three relatively quick games. From his excellent bullpen usage to mixing in pinch hitters and replacement fielders, Buck did everything right. He’ll need to continue to put the O’s in the best situations to win if the O’s want to go on and win the ALCS and potentially the World Series.

The ultimate managerial move that helped launch the O’s over the top was his switching of Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez in the starting rotation. Norris pitched in game 3 of the series going 6.1 IP allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out six. Norris stepped up big time for an Orioles team that looked to close out a series win in the ALDS for the first time since the Bill Clinton presidency. As the O’s prepare for the championship series, Buck will need to make a few roster decisions.

The first revolves around Chris Davis who still has 5 games remaining on his suspension for amphetamine use. Davis wouldn’t be able to join the club until game 6 which means that the O’s would need to burn 5 games worth of a roster spot to have Davis for the final two games. Perhaps it’s worth it. Perhaps not.

The bigger question is whether or not should Buck use Kevin Gausman or Miguel Gonzalez as his fourth starter. Davis might impact games 6 and/or 7 in a significant way, but he’ll get at most 8-10 plate appearances in a series that may not even last that long. The fourth starter the O’s go with though will be called to face 20+ batters unless things go horribly wrong. Their impact on the series will almost assuredly be more significant than any impact Davis could possibly have, and so it’s crucial that Buck and Dan Duquette make the right call.

 

Why Miguel Gonzalez should pitch

One option is to stick with the rotation from the ALDS which would have seen Miguel Gonzalez pitch in game four after Buck opted to swap Norris in to start game three. It seems obvious that Gonzalez has the advantage over Gausman given that Buck originally had the veteran righty penciled in as the #3 starter in his playoff rotation. Not only that, but he had a strong 2014 season posting an ERA that was 17% better than MLB average.

Gonzalez  finished the 2014 regular season strong posting a 1.69 ERA over 32 IP in the month of September. He’s been a reliable member of the O’s rotation all season, and even over the past few years as the O’s have found themselves in important games late in the season. If anyone can be relied upon to stay cool under pressure, it’s probably Gonzalez.

When it comes down to Gonzalez versus Gausman, you need look no further than Gonzalez’s team-leading 3.23 ERA (more than a quarter run lower than Gausman) to find the best candidate. Besides, Paul Swydan makes a good point about Gausman’s value in the bullpen:

 

Why Kevin Gausman should pitch

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Seriously though, Gausman was lights out in his relief appearance in game two of the ALDS against Detroit. We don’t know how things would have gone down from the fourth inning on, in game two, but it’s safe to say that Gausman’s dominating performance was a key to the O’s ultimate victory. Over 3.2 IP Gausman K’d five Tigers while giving up just one run on three hits and a walk. This all came against a Tigers squad that five runs in less than four innings against O’s starter Wei-Yin Chen.

If you’re a FIP guy/gal (and I am) then Kevin Gausman was the best pitcher the O’s had on staff this season. In fact, Gausman was the only O’s pitcher better than league average when it comes to FIP (12% better) which is pretty astounding. I know, I know. The O’s pitchers out-perform their FIPs because of the defense, etc. etc. If you follow that line of logic, then you’d be hard pressed to tell me why Gausman, who has the best FIP, shouldn’t be trusted since he’s pitched in front of the same defense as all the other Oriole pitchers. The only thing Gausman is guilty of is being less lucky than his fellow starters.

 

Buck’s Decision

Ultimately Buck will need to decide if he wants to have Gausman in the bullpen or the starting rotation. There’s plenty of merit to the argument for putting Gonzalez in the rotation, especially since he was in the ALDS plans all along. There’s also reason to think that Gausman could be better utilized situationally if he’s coming out of the bullpen. Then again, having your four best pitchers start gives the O’s their best chance to take an early lead and hand things off to their shut down bullpen.

A lot of decisions will need to be made by Buck and Dan Duquette before the ALCS starts on Friday. At this point, Buck gets the benefit of the doubt, regardless of the decision he makes. Time will tell what the O’s opt to go with. What would you do if you were Buck? Is it Gonzalez? Or Gausman?

Jeff Long
Jeff Long

Jeff was the owner of the Orioles blog Warehouse Worthy, which focused on making advanced statistics a part of the conversation for the average fan. Outside of baseball, Jeff is a graduate of Loyola University where he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Business Administration. The Maryland native currently works for an Advertising Agency in downtown Baltimore. Previously a contributor to Beyond the Boxscore, he joined Baseball Prospectus in September 2014. You can reach him at [email protected]

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