Showalter's right; blaming McDowell for pitching woes is 'wrong tree to bark up' - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Showalter’s right; blaming McDowell for pitching woes is ‘wrong tree to bark up’

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

The Orioles have the worst ERA in all of baseball at 5.20.

They have the second worst starting rotation ERA, 5.82, behind only a Cincinnati Reds’ group that has been decimated by injuries.

As bad as you may have thought last year’s pitching was – the Orioles were 19th in the majors with a 4.22 total ERA and 24th with a 4.72 rotation ERA – it’s much, much worse this year.

Historically awful, really. The Orioles have a chance tonight to become the first team in baseball history to allow at least five runs in 21 consecutive games.

The only major change in personnel from last season to this season has occurred within the coaching staff.

The five primary starters for this year’s team were in the rotation last year. The same goes for much of the bullpen.

So, the blame for this disastrous pitching stretch has to be on the shoulders of new pitching coach Roger McDowell, right?

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Wrong.

“If someone’s gonna try to use him as a scapegoat, it’s the wrong tree to bark up,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter told me earlier this week.

And I agree wholeheartedly.

Yes, the pitching staff under McDowell and bullpen coach Alan Mills has regressed as a unit from the group that Dave Wallace – McDowell’s mentor — and Dom Chiti had last year.

But it wasn’t a particularly impressive group in 2016. We all knew that. The hope was that young pitchers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy could take a step forward, Chris Tillman would be his steady self, Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez wouldn’t stink and the stout bullpen would remain so.

The bullpen, however, has taken its lumps, primarily because unhittable closer Zach Britton has been hurt most of the year. Also, Darren O’Day has been injured through a chunk of the year, Brad Brach and Mychal Givens have been put in unfamiliar roles, Donnie Hart has stumbled in his sophomore campaign and the bevy of optional arms acquired to stop the bullpen bleeding have been an inconsistent tourniquet.

Is any of that Mills’ fault?

Of course not.

Yet McDowell is receiving heat. It’s been a topic of conversation multiple times among the powers that be that run the warehouse – that maybe a change is needed at pitching coach.

And that’s ludicrous. Not after three months with a seriously flawed rotation.

This isn’t an offensive coordinator calling plays in the NFL, people. This is baseball, when a coach can provide a pitcher with plenty of information, plenty of instruction, but that player has to execute with his own ability. McDowell can’t send in an ingenious double-reverse, and he can’t throw the baseball for these guys.

Can McDowell make Kevin Gausman command his fastball better or leave fewer fat pitches in the middle of the plate? Can he make sure that Chris Tillman is healthy, strong and mechanically sound once he toes the rubber? Can he make Wade Miley more consistent or Ubaldo Jimenez not a train wreck?

To an extent, I suppose. There are suggestions, there are tweaks, there is confidence to build and mountains of video to analyze. But, ultimately, the ball is literally in someone else’s hands.

If you want to point fingers, there is plenty of blame to go around.

It should start with the pitchers themselves, obviously. But, as the saying goes, you can’t fire all of them.

Then there’s executive vice president Dan Duquette, who put this roster together. He is the one who looked at a terrible pitching market this offseason and decided to go with what he had. He chose to believe that Gausman, Bundy, Miley and Jimenez would all be better than they were in 2016. Only Bundy is making a case there.

He’s also the one that didn’t make a move when it looked like team anchor Tillman wouldn’t be ready for the season. To be fair, most teams are pitching-thin, the free agent class was dreadful and the Orioles had no shot of putting a prospect package together that could come anywhere near what the Boston Red Sox gave up to land star left-hander Chris Sale. They tried; the conversation was short.

But Duquette does oversee the farm system that is void of true, blue-chip prospects, so that’s on him. And so are the myriad trades he has made over the past few years that shipped away several mid-tier pitching prospects that are, at the least, now big league options for other teams.

Duquette blanches every time his minor league system is criticized, and he points to several homegrown players currently thriving for the Orioles. And there is merit to that. But with the rotation drowning nearly nightly, there is only flotsam at Triple-A Norfolk — pitchers who may drift in and out of the big leagues, but no one who can stick now and buoy the rotation for years. The Orioles are hoping lefties Chris Lee and Jayson Aquino can flourish, but, based on their Triple-A numbers, they’re certainly not the answers now.

While we’re casting blame for this pitching mess, let’s not absolve Showalter completely. He is the manager, and wins and losses should be his barometer, at least to an extent. He also has more decision-making power than most field managers, and he undoubtedly has the ear of majority owner Peter Angelos. He’s in his seventh full season, and his pitching staffs have never been a strength. So, he’s not faultless here.

Angelos, of course, will always be blamed for the failings of his club. That’s his cross as the man with the final say. Yet I’ve stopped complaining about Angelos’ lack of spending. The Orioles are 10th in the majors with a $168.7 million payroll, that’s plenty good enough to compete with and win.

You can certainly make the argument that Angelos has not spent on pitching. He’s never seen long-term, megadeal contracts for pitchers as a smart investment, and, history usually proves him to be correct. He amended club policy on not going beyond three-year deals for free-agent pitchers in 2014, when Duquette and company convinced him to sign off on a four-year, $50 million deal for Jimenez, which will go down as potentially the worst contract in club history.

If there is major fault with Angelos and his spending philosophy, it’s that the organization refuses to pay big bonuses to international amateurs — hitters or pitchers. Again, history has proven that can be a colossal waste of money, too. But the farm system is never going to reach its potential if one major avenue of talent procurement is almost completely ignored.

I guess my point in all of this is McDowell’s pitching staff is faltering at an historic level, but the root of the pitching problems goes way beyond McDowell, way above his salary grade.

Remember, McDowell spent his past 11 seasons as the pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves, including several years under managing legend Bobby Cox. During McDowell’s tenure, the Braves had the fourth best ERA in baseball. Surely all that success wasn’t simply because of McDowell, but it is one of the reasons he was hired by the Orioles.

“Bobby (Cox) said he’s one of the best he’s ever had. He said, ‘Buck, if he’s available, you better get him.’ He liked him, and that says something,” Showalter said. “I don’t think there is anybody that works harder at his trade than (McDowell). Before and after he got here. He’s done a good job. The pitchers, they think the world of him. He’s never wavered in his support of them. He’ll give them the tough love, too. I’ve been impressed with him.”

Showalter is exceptionally loyal. And he’s obviously going to defend his guy, his hire.

But the bottom line is McDowell can only do so much. Firing him three months into the season would be cosmetic, ceremonial. It wouldn’t solve any of the problems engulfing this pitching staff.

Duquette and Showalter have helped recover this organization from the ashes. That shouldn’t be forgotten, either. They deserve some rope here.

But they also are the ones that misjudged the quality and health of this starting rotation. That’s on them, not the new pitching coach.

38 Comments

38 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    June 24, 2017 at 7:53 am

    I agree with most everything you’ve said here Dan. In my opinion, it’s simply been a confluence of disastrous circumstances culminating in synergenic disaster. I do take exception to one thing you man have omitted. You stated that “The only major change in personnel from last season to this season has occurred within the coaching staff.” That’s not quite 100 percent accurate. I’m not saying this is the root cause of our problems, but let’s not forget that another key player is just down 95 doing his thing … albeit with a superior starting staff. I wonder how much this change has affected things? I’d like to remind everyone that some contributions to a team and it’s chemistry, can’t always be measured by the sabermetricians of the world.

    • Dan Connolly

      June 24, 2017 at 9:11 am

      Fair enough, Boog. I was concentrating on the arms, but yes, Wieters is a change. Not sure how much that has affected anything, but it is worth pointing out.

      • JHHUFF76

        June 24, 2017 at 12:46 pm

        Jiminez was here before Mcdowell. But, he has stunk . has he won 10 games as an oriole?

        The great DD has to cut him lose, he is killing the so called great depth of the bullpen.
        I’d like to see Angelos sell the team and MASN (whoops lawsuit with MLB)
        When Nats give Harper that 20 plus million for 2018, that was a slap at Peter Angelos. And, i think it has hurt the whiny Machado.

      • OriolesMagic

        June 25, 2017 at 11:45 am

        I think Castillo is part (not all) of the problem.

        Castillo is VERY slow to present a target to the pitchers. Only Bundy seems to actually wait for Castillo to present the location of the pitch. The rest of the starters are actually delivering the pitch while Castillo is still in motion and NOT presenting a target.

        Contrast Castillo’s presentation to most any other catcher and you’ll see what I mean.

        As a result, the pitchers are struggling with location AND the umpire is less likely to give Castillo the close calls if he doesn’t first present the intended location of the pitch.

        I think Dempsey needs to give Castillo some lessons.

  2. afterp

    June 24, 2017 at 8:53 am

    Fire Dan. He’s shown he doesn’t want to be here and will be gone after 2018 anyway. Hoping players will play better is not a plan. His focus is on band aids through the end of next season rather than the long term health of the organization. He has no interest in improving the minor league system or going after international prospects. We need a visionary not a dumpster diver. Bump Showalter up to GM to give him a shot and make Russell the manager. Anything would be better than this.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      June 24, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Yeah, because Dan can’t paint the corners much less get the ball over the plate. Dan can’t hit 5 HR’s a game anymore and and Dan can’t stay healthy this year. Oh and one last thing, Dan has absolutely NOTHING to do with the Orioles being the team that’s won more games over the past what …. 4/5 years (?) than any other team in the league! Totally logical … Dan’s an idiot and the root of all evil. Fire Dan .. that’ll fix things.

      Ya know … if Dan had the funds to buy David Price or Chris Sale or any of the Clayton Kershaws of the world that hit the F.A. market … don’t you think he would have? Dan’s a dumpster diver for a reason.

      • Mau

        June 25, 2017 at 9:00 pm

        Hasn’t Dan presided over the gutting of the farm system and the ongoing saga of starters who struggle to throw 5 consistent innings yearly? I betcha Dan was behind Britton not playing in the last game last year. J/k on that one. Dan’s legacy is paying Ubaldo gobs of money to win 10 games (?) in 3 years and signing Mendoza line sluggers. Dan made it clear where he wanted to be 2 years ago. If I were owner for a day I’d oblige him.

    • Dan Connolly

      June 24, 2017 at 9:19 am

      There is definitely a Fire Duquette contingent. And he has made mistakes, specifically not boosting the rotation in the past few years. But that’s not an easy market to crack. And he also deserves credit for a lot of the things that have gone right in these 5 successful years. Throughout his career, his teams don’t post losing records. That’s not a coincidence.

  3. afterp

    June 24, 2017 at 9:40 am

    Dan deserves some credit for the past 5 years, but don’t tell me he didn’t have the funds to make a run at Price or Sale – as Dan pointed out the O’s have the 10th highest payroll. He over payed both Davis and Trumbo who are the same guy from opposite sides of the plate in a market that is stuffed with 1b/DH types readily available rather than addressing the need for SPs. Give him credit for the past, but he has to take the blame for not only the current state of the team, but the dearth of talent in the system for the future.

    • Dan Connolly

      June 24, 2017 at 9:51 am

      If you think the Orioles had a chance at Sale you have grossly overestimated the club’s farm system. The White Sox wanted controllable assets, the Red Sox had the best prospect in baseball among other high ceiling guys. The Os inquired. No chance. As for Price, yeah, they theoretically could have afforded him. But he’s 31, making $30M a year, has been hurt, has a 4.12 ERA in 40 starts for Boston and is signed for 5 more years. Not sure that’s a good one to pound the chest about.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      June 24, 2017 at 10:10 am

      He definitely overpaid for Davis, but I think that’s basically because the fan base would have revolted after the amount of homeruns Davis had hit for the prior 2 years. I’m on record around here as complaining about the albatross of a contract Davis has. But again, I think Angelos and the PR staff had more to do with that contract than DD.

      As far as Trumbo goes … he did not overpay. If you look back, you’ll find that nobody was offering BIG money for Trumbo and he sat there unsigned almost all winter. They got him for a relatively short term (3 years) and at decent rate … what 12 million per? And in 2017 that’s not really big money. After the season he had last year, that’s a decent deal for the O’s, and they’ll be out from under it before they are the Davis Contract.

      As far as Price & Sale go … you’re dreaming. No way they could have gotten either of them.

      As for being the 10th highest payroll, much of that has to do with resigning their own like Adam Jones, Crush Davis, Darren O’day … replacing Wieters …Hyun Su’s contract … JJ Hardy amongst others. Which of these players would you have jettisoned to make room for Sale or Price? Heck ..dump all of them and you’re still coming up short of the Price & Chris Sale contracts.

      Scary part is, within the next decade, Angelos is going to lose the DC/MASN market. What do we do then?

  4. Bancells Moustache

    June 24, 2017 at 9:55 am

    The blame goes all around. The question is how many heads will roll. When a team has made the playoffs three times in six years and leads the AL in wins in that span, then suddenly begins playing the worst baseball the Baltimore has ever seen, everyone in the building should be fearing the chopping block, not just the pitching coach. People are saying make Buck the GM. This pitiful display merits a PROMOTION? I don’t think so. What about guys like Adam Jones and Darren O Day? Where are they? Does this look like a team with good veteran leadership to you? Last night MASN showed a shot of Machado standing at third in about the fourth inning or so. His hat pushed all the way back, hands on his hips, you could tell by the look on his face and body language he had no desire to be on that field. That’s not to pick on Machado, he just happened to be the one on camera. This team looks like it has outright quit, and in mid-June. When that happens, I’m sorry but everyone from Duquette on down to the guy at the register in the Team Store should be feeling the fire.

    • Dan Connolly

      June 24, 2017 at 10:00 am

      I’ve covered plenty of teams that played out the string and seemed disinterested. I don’t get that vibe here. I just think everyone is frustrated with how bad they’ve been.

  5. David G

    June 24, 2017 at 10:15 am

    I think you are correct plenty of blame to go around. I think that it starts with Development of young pitchers. The last pitcher I remember that came from the farm that was any good was Mussina. You mentioned trades and I agree 100%. Why trade Miranda, a lefty, who is young for a older lefty that makes 17 million dollars??? Lots of bad trades in recent history. Changes should be made top to bottom. Trade everyone that they can at the deadline and stock the farm system. Great read by the way.

    • Dan Connolly

      June 24, 2017 at 11:02 am

      Thanks David. I do stop short at saying changes need to be made top to bottom. You can’t discount the success this regime has had, especially given previous outcomes.

  6. JohnnyV1971

    June 24, 2017 at 10:31 am

    3 things here
    1) for last 5 years O’s we’re painted , good defense, good explosive offense , good to great bullpen , lack of starting pitching . It could be that they overachieved albeit for a long time and now they need 4 starting pitchers save Bundy.
    2) lack of vision and just made a mistake in trading all the pitchers we could have brought up now to save the season.
    3) strategy and approach : not confident in stuff and trying to nibble on corners or not being told well placed strike one to all hitters is expected.

    • Dan Connolly

      June 24, 2017 at 11:03 am

      I get one and two. 3 is just common pitching. So easy to say and teach but it has to be done. And it’s easy to lose your nerve when you do it and it doesn’t work.

  7. Steve Cockey

    June 24, 2017 at 10:41 am

    Even over the 5-year run of success, O’s pitching (especially the starters) has been just barely good enough to survive. The key word there is barely.

    Add a few key injuries this season and 1-2 guys (Gausman and Tillman) underperforming, and the usually-teetering staff has come 100% unglued. It was never going to take much, and here we are. What’s much more remarkable to me is how long they were able to hold it together in the first place.

    The farm system has also been right on the brink of disaster over the 5 years, producing just barely enough on the pitching side (Mychal Givens, an up-and-down Gausman, Donnie Hart, etc.) to get by. And now there’s nothing left. The Shuttlers were all roster casualties of other organizations, and the O’s can somehow fit 6,7,8,9 of them on their 40-man at once? It speaks volumes, both about their quality and the state of the O’s farm system.

    Many more-legit pitching prospects that might have been providing quality depth by now (Davies, Hader, Miranda, Brault, Tarpley, etc.) have all been dealt away over the past few years, with the O’s unfortunately receiving close to nothing in return. That’s a huge factor here as well.

    The organization is in a terrible spot right now, with an aging major league roster, its best players less than 2 years from free agency, and a barren farm system. Add in an owner that’s historically reluctant to sell, and things get even scarier.

    • Dan Connolly

      June 24, 2017 at 11:05 am

      I think if Gausman has been who we all thought he could be this year based on last year’s second half, these arguments wouldn’t be as strong. But they certainly are right now.

    • Steve Cockey

      June 24, 2017 at 11:47 am

      Agreed, and that somewhat proves the point as well. If the strength of these arguments all hinge on one guy, it shows how fringy things were to begin with.

  8. speedbump210

    June 24, 2017 at 10:53 am

    One thing I haven’t gotten clarity on is where the international bonus pool money comes from. Is it from MLB or from the team itself because if it is the former, we aren’t even fully using the money being given. That’s what I don’t understand. And it’s not as even spending top dollar on bonuses is required. There are bargains in even this route if you have the scouting talent to identify them.

    Of course, having the talent is no good if you don’t have the organizational infrastructure to develop them and the team has not had a good track record for decades. Not sure what, if anything, could be done about that.

    • Dan Connolly

      June 24, 2017 at 11:41 am

      The international bonus pool is the allotted money a team is allowed to spend — of their own funds — for international amateurs. When you trade the slots you are basically taking from your pool and allowing the other team to have that amount. It’s not money give by MLB.

    • speedbump210

      June 24, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      Thanks. I’ve been wondering that for awhile. Makes a bit more sense, but it certainly hurts the organization to close off a potential stream of talent.

  9. Bancells Moustache

    June 24, 2017 at 11:20 am

    I think we also need to be mindful of the fact that hindsight is 20-20. Take Davies. A lot of the voices braying about his being in Milwaukee were the same ones who were impatienly demanding DD pick up an on base guy to get them over the hump at the 15 deadline. Many were actually pleased when Gerardo Parra came striding out of the clubhouse. The Eduardo Rodriguez argument is even more agitating because, trash Duquette all you want, that was the right move and it worked. My God, we had Zach Britton being set up by Andrew Miller! And the bats failed to get it done in the ALCS! So everyone said we were too dependent on the long ball, needed an athletic on-base guy and POOF! Davies is in Milwaukeen

    • Dan Connolly

      June 24, 2017 at 11:58 am

      I’m with ya here. I thought Parra was worth the Davies cost at the time. But Parra did nothing. Add that to the fact that Duq traded Brault and Tarpley to get Snider earlier in the year and he was a bust, the RF situation in 2015 was costly. But trades are always risks. He’s made some good ones too — Trumbo, Brach, Smith so far.

  10. Winger

    June 24, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. i.e; Jimenez, Tillman, Gausman. What has McDowell changed. Nothing I can see. Send all three to Sarasota and try something different. A pitcher from triple or double can give up 9 runs so we are no worse off. Peace!!

    • Dan Connolly

      June 24, 2017 at 12:01 pm

      Tillman has made 9 starts this year. And had a 4.03 ERA in five previous seasons combined. I’m not sure that’s insanity at this point. That’s just waiting for something that may or may not come. And you can’t send them to Sarasota. You can’t make up 3 injuries. And a guy from AA or AAA could be worse. Otherwise, I’m good.

  11. DutchDinger

    June 24, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Wholeheartedly agree with all of above. What do we do to fix it now?!

    • Dan Connolly

      June 24, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      Now THAT’s a great question.

  12. Paul Folkemer

    June 24, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    Regarding McDowell, I think the one big argument against him is Gausman’s regression. After Gausman’s impressive 2016, especially in the second half, this was supposed to be the year that he took the next step forward and became an ace or at least ace-like. And instead it’s like he’s forgotten how to pitch. There don’t seem to be any injury or velocity-related explanations for his struggles, so you can’t help wondering whether the shift to McDowell as his pitching coach has been a factor.

    Besides that, I find it hard to point blame at McDowell for the other starters’ struggles. Tillman is coming back from an injury that seems to have affected his mechanics. Ubaldo and Miley are erratic veterans. And Bundy has been just fine until recently.

  13. JohnnyV1971

    June 24, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    of course what beats all is the Orioles could have gotten Lincecum in draft that would have changed the whole organization around back in the lean years and maybe we would not be in this mess now because we would have kept being pitching rich through out our farm system. we don’t need big ticket free agents just guys that can play defense, bunt , steal , get clutch hits, walks and score runs.

    • Bancells Moustache

      June 24, 2017 at 6:11 pm

      I disagree. Lincecum had the good fortune to be drafted by a world class organization that knows how to develop pitching. If Tim Lincecum was drafted by the Orioles, you wouldn’t know who he was unless you were a really hardcore Delmarva Shorebird fan because he’d be out of baseball by 2011

  14. Ben1

    June 24, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Duquette did nada to “recover this organization from the ashes”. If anything, he keeps pouring gas on those ashes.

    • Paul Folkemer

      June 24, 2017 at 5:09 pm

      You can’t be serious, Ben. The Orioles had 14 straight losing years before Duquette showed up, and haven’t had a losing season in 5 years since. Yes, some big pieces of the team were already in place when he took over, but there’s no denying he put some other pieces in place himself that helped the Orioles make the final push.

      That doesn’t mean he’s been perfect. The farm system hasn’t improved under his watch, which is a big red flag. And I certainly understand why people are calling for his head now. But to say he’s done nothing to help the organization is seriously short-sighted.

  15. Glstem

    June 24, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    red Sox sign Doug fister. where were we?

  16. ptmt86

    June 25, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    Outstanding article. I concur completely.

  17. Tim Ward

    June 26, 2017 at 10:33 am

    I’m just going to quote Mark Brown’s article from apr 26, `16

    Britton said:

    They took away the individual approach to everything. Things we did extremely well in the minor leagues to get to the big leagues – we were told that just doesn’t work here. And you’re like, ‘That’s kind of weird, right?’ You don’t just reinvent yourself in the big leagues. That was the struggle. And the struggle, as we got older, was trying to get back to what made us what we were before.
    Britton agrees that he, Arrieta, Matusz, and Tillman were all suffering underneath Adair at the time. That’s pretty serious stuff, and maybe it is a possible explanation for Adair’s mysterious departure in the middle of the 2013 season, and why Adair has been out of baseball since then. At some point, maybe enough was enough.

    • Tim Ward

      June 26, 2017 at 10:38 am

      I’m just going to quote Mark Brown’s article from apr 26, `16

      Britton said:

      They took away the individual approach to everything. Things we did extremely well in the minor leagues to get to the big leagues – we were told that just doesn’t work here. And you’re like, ‘That’s kind of weird, right?’ You don’t just reinvent yourself in the big leagues. That was the struggle. And the struggle, as we got older, was trying to get back to what made us what we were before.
      Britton agrees that he, Arrieta, Matusz, and Tillman were all suffering underneath Adair at the time. That’s pretty serious stuff, and maybe it is a possible explanation for Adair’s mysterious departure in the middle of the 2013 season, and why Adair has been out of baseball since then. At some point, maybe enough was enough.

      And Tilman, well, nuff not said already AND i AM HAPPY i FINALLY FOUND YOUR SPACE HERE AND SIGNED UP, Tim

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