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Sports Authority

Klaus: Managers, coaches impact the postseason

| Friday, October 7, 2016

Across all major professional sports, the importance and impact of managers and coaches is perpetually debated. For those who are dubious of the notion that managers and coaches can have significant impacts on the outcomes of games, an American League (AL) manager in the MLB would have to be near the top of their list of inconsequential coaches. Compared to their National League (NL) counterparts — who have to be concerned with replacing their hitting pitcher and have double switch possibilities — the AL manager essentially only has to be concerned with two types of in-game decisions: pinch hitting, which is significantly less necessary in the AL because of the designated hitter, and bullpen usage.

Despite the perception some people have that they hold little responsibility, American League managers assuredly can have a direct impact on the result of a particular game. This was readily apparent in Tuesday night’s wild card game between the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, when Orioles manager Buck Showalter inexplicably refused to use superstar closer Zach Britton as a tie game progressed to the 9th, 10th and 11th innings in an eventual 5-2 walk-off defeat to the Blue Jays.

It is not really worth engaging in a debate focused merely on the merit of Showalter’s decision. As has been the almost universal opinion of anyone with a take on the subject, having perhaps the game’s best pitcher — who allowed a mere four earned runs all season — go unused in an elimination game is equal parts confounding and foolish. In short, Showalter managed the most important game of his team’s season like it was a mid-May regular season contest, and he accordingly deserves the criticism he has received.

Instead, Showalter’s decision-making gaffe underscores both the impact a manager can have on his team’s results and the assertion that the skill set needed to manage a team to the postseason is not always one needed to succeed once the playoffs begin. Sure, Showalter’s bullpen delegation was not the only reason why the Baltimore’s season ended Tuesday — their offense wasn’t exactly putting the Blue Jays pitchers under duress, given it had only four hits over the course of the game — but his decisions certainly compounded the lack of offensive output.

Depending on who you ask, luck also plays a role in the success of managers, as some will push all the right buttons out of seemingly pure good fortune. Nonetheless, finding the right combination of personnel in meaningful spots in the postseason while skirting the line of being too cute with decision making is an art in and of itself.

Due to the sheer historical unpredictability of baseball’s playoffs, the team which is ultimately crowned the World Series champion will not come as a surprise, regardless of who it actually is. However, as Buck Showalter proved Tuesday night, the eventual outcome for each team — win or lose — can be heavily influenced by the way managers exercise their inherent autonomy in the most crucial moments.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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