While I thought the season was symbolically “over” when the Nats got swept at home by the Mets in early September (and, if you were looking for the pin-point event that buried them, look no further than the 6-walk bullpen implosion to blow a 7-1 lead), the Mets officially clinched the NL East crown yesterday by virtue of their 10-2 defeat of Cincinnati.
So how ironic is it that this morning, finally, there’s an honest assessment of the clubhouse from one of our beat reporters. The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga published a story titled “Manager Matt Williams lost the clubhouse; will he lose his job?” where he quotes the well known “players who did not wish to be identified” to talk in a wide ranging factor about the ills in the Nationals clubhouse that have been alluded to and reported by National guys all season long. Apparently, Williams’ “strategy, communication and trust” have all been issues with the players, across the spectrum of vets/rookies and position/pitchers.
Reading the story, I think it has finally dawned on me what the big problem is with Matt Williams and this particular team. Read this quote: “Some players now wonder whether that management of minutia leaves him unable to adjust, to think on the fly.”
He’s a classic micro manager! Of course, how obvious was this all along. I’ve talked frequently about his “color by numbers” managing and his inability to adjust to the situation at hand … but (tying this back to roles we all know from our own workplaces), in reality he’s a classic micro manager who fails to let his veterans do what they have always known how to do, attempting to ramrod in his methods, irritating them so much in the process that they’ve tuned him out. The signs are all there; his famous spring training rigorous schedules, his detailed plan that he brought to his job interview, his adherence to “bullpen roles” all season costing him game after game.
How would you feel if your boss asked you to write a memo about something or another and then pulled a classic Micro Manager move like sitting over your shoulder while you typed it, editing ever sentence as you wrote it? You’d probably be irritated at first and then if it persisted for months and months, you’d likely either tune him out, refuse to do the work or just flat out avoid him. Now imagine if you had no outlet; you’re on a team that spends 8-10 hours a day together in a tight space, takes trips together, is forced to just “deal” with each other for 6 straight months, and you can’t stand your boss. Yeah; no wonder someone was quoted as saying that the “environment was terrible.”
It is what it is: this 2015 team had a number of well established, long since proven they know what they’re doing veterans. A handful of them are on long term contracts with no-trades and job security (Werth, Zimmerman, Scherzer), others are seriously accomplished players who have nothing left to prove in this league (Desmond, Escobar, Gonzalez, Span, Fister to a certain extent), and others may be younger but certainly have stated their claim for respect (Harper, Rendon, Strasburg). I don’t think any of these guys would appreciate being told that their approach is wrong or that their method of preparation isn’t right.
Williams has to go, and the Nats brain-trust needs to really take a hard look at their next manager to make sure they find someone who can properly handle the clubhouse issues that clearly torpedoed this season. I’m sure some of you will argue that “chemistry” is BS or who will blame this season on injuries or pitching or whatever else. Fair enough; you can’t exactly quantify human behavior. But everyone has injuries; hell, the best team in the NL St. Louis lost their Ace starter after just 4 games and are 40 games over .500. And the Mets by pretty much any measure have been more affected by injury in 2015 than the Nats.
Oh well. Better luck next year. As others have said, we’ve just wasted an MVP season from Harper and a precious year of Strasburg; hope 2016 goes better.