Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Welcome Bud Black


Jun 8, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Diego Padres manager Bud Black (20) watches a game against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 8, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Diego Padres manager Bud Black (20) watches a game against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Well, I wish I had published something predictive at the time, but as soon as I heard Bud Black‘s name being discussed as a candidate, I had a feeling he was going to be the choice.  Why?  I dunno; it was just a feeling.  Black was the 3rd longest tenured manager in the league when his under-performing/poorly constructed 2015 Padres team cratered, leading to his exit (behind only the bullet-proof Mike Scioscia and the excellent Bruce Bochy).  As noted by Ben Lindbergh in his post-axing piece earlier this year, Black had survived several changes in ownership and executive power, which speaks to his value as a skipper since most new regimes clean house to get “their guys” in place.  Point is, you don’t hang around that long unless you’re good … and he makes a lot of sense to be the next manager here.

In my “GM for a day” piece a few weeks back I wrote the following as “job requirements” for a new manager:


  • … Here’s some quick qualifications for the manager i’d like to see: able to communicate properly, isn’t a Micro managing inflexible drill sergeant, knows how to read a Run-Expectancy chart, knows how to properly set a lineup, realizes that saves are useless and isn’t afraid to throw his best pitcher when needed, understands that bunting was exposed as mostly useless 10 years ago, is open to new ideas about usage, shifting, match-ups and statistics in general, listens to his coaches, understands that sometimes the 23 yr old precocious rookie is actually a better player than the 38 year old vet on an 9-figure deal, and lastly, relates to the frigging players.  Shouldn’t be too hard.  Oh one more thing; I want someone who has actually managed a f*cking major league team before.

That was quite a rant.  Lets look at Mr. Black and see how he fits in, requirement by requirement (paraphrasing in order from above without the swear words):

  • Communication: Tom Boswell‘s leading point about Black relates to his communication.
  • Player’s Manager: Black absolutely has the reputation of being a player’s manager, not a disciplinarian.
  • Up on Sabremetrics: no idea, probably not as progressive as younger guys who havn’t spent a lifetime in the game.
  • Lineup construction: remains to be seen; see above.
  • Bullpen management/Meaning of the Save: purportedly a strength of Blacks, by virtue of his long career as a Pitching coach before becoming a manager.  Black himself had a long career (15 seasons) mostly as a starter in this league, so his presence as a manager makes him a rarity.  It should be noted though that Black has always had a dominant closer on his staff (Trevor Hoffman, Heath Bell, Huston Street and Craig Kimbrel this year) so maybe this is an area of concern.

What else?

  • Small Ball/Bunting: remains to be seen, along with shifting, run-expectancy matrix, lineup construction and other factors.
  • Open to new analytical ideas: presumably so to the extent required by *this* management team.  Mike Rizzo is not known as the biggest analytical guy in the game but certainly isn’t a Ruben Amaro type who completely discounts stats and still thinks Wins and RBIs are the biggest evaluation factors.
  • Listens to his coaches: seemingly a no-brainer, since the Nats cleared their entire slate of coaches and probably give Black full reign to name his staff.  This, to be entirely clear, was not necessarily a benefit given to Matt Williams it should be noted.  Maybe it isn’t that big of a surprise that the lines of communication broke down between Williams and his staff.
  • Rookies over Vets when appropriate: may be a problem given his own playing career (a similar issue that Williams ran into over and again), but then again, the team he inherits won’t really have an issue in that regard.  The only real high-flying rookie that he may end up having to deal with is Lucas Giolito, and he won’t be ready til mid-season/won’t be called up unless there’s an obvious injury to replace.
  • Relates to the players: see “players manager” above; Black was himself an accomplished Major Leaguer (as was Williams) so should command the respect of both rookies and vets alike.
  • Prior Management experience: plenty of it, and evidence (2015 notwithstanding) that he could do quite a lot with not a lot based on his low-payroll Padres having a bit of success during his tenure.

I read/heard an interesting analogy on divorce and remarrying once; often times people who re-marry end up over-emphasizing those specific faults they found in their first spouse.  So if your first wife was really opinionated and vocal … you find a second wife who is really demure.

What was William’s biggest faults in the eyes of management?  Lost the clubhouse, didn’t communicate, couldn’t manage the pitching staff.  Now look at Black’s purported strengths: player’s manager, great communicator and a former pitching coach.

Sound like someone who fits what the Nats are looking for?

Side note: I did a bit of quick-analysis of what positions the 30 managers this year played and came up with this analysis (this analysis was done at the end of the season, after Black’s removal but before the likes of Mattingly and Williams got fired):

  • Infielders (9): Hale, Weiss, Mattingly, Counsell, Collins, MacKanin, Williams, Ventura, Molitor
  • Outfielders (4): Hurdle, Showalter, Francona, McClendon
  • Catchers (14): Gonzalez, Maddon, Murphy, Bochy, Matheny, Ausmus, Hinch, Yost, Scioscia, Girardi, Melvin, Cash, Banister, Gibbons
  • Pitchers (2): Price, Farrell
  • Unknown or unclear (1): Jennings (formerly the GM; played in college but can’t find what position).

So, Black will be just the third active manager who was a former pitcher while nearly half the managers in the league were former Catchers.  Does this matter?  Not if he can do the job.  Former catchers make great sense to be managers for the obvious observation that they “cross the lines” between hitters and pitchers unlike any other player.

My opinion: the right hire for this team at this time.  I completely subscribe to a theory that teams that burn out on a disciplinarian manager then immediately embrace a player’s manager, thankful for the overall “relaxing” of the clubhouse.  Lets hope the 2016 Nats react similarly (oh, and stay healthy, and play up to capabilities).


11 Responses to 'Welcome Bud Black'

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  1. Paint it Black!

    My opinion: ho hum. I can’t get terribly excited or upset at this, or really any managerial candidate. I likely would have chosen someone else but I don’t object to Black. The only thing that they couldn’t do was hire another high risk guy (looking at you, Cal).

    I agree with your point that this hiring was directly in contrast to Williams’ faults (perceived or actual). Boswell has made this point several times too (that it often happens with managers): easy going Davey isn’t strict enough, so bring in the Big Marine. Anyhow, one thing is clear, this is the safe choice. Hard to criticize. Generally a bad reason to make a decision but I am ok with this one.


    29 Oct 15 at 12:08 pm

  2. I’ll bring forward this link to Kerr’s interview with the Padre beat writer about Black:

    As for advanced metrics, here’s what this guy had to say:

    “I would say he’s pretty conservative,” Lin said. “I think (current Giants manager) Bruce Bochy was more willing to try things when he was here in San Diego. But Black is open to the new analytics, the advanced metrics, all that stuff. He’s pretty conservative, but also be willing to try whatever the front office recommends.”


    29 Oct 15 at 12:08 pm

  3. Cool good link KW, this does answer some of the points I just couldn’t in the post w/o doing more research that I didn’t have time to do 🙂

    Todd Boss

    29 Oct 15 at 12:29 pm

  4. As for me, I don’t love the move, but I don’t hate it, either. I had expressed a slight interest more in Baker, based mostly on him having had a bunch of teams that won more, although I’ll admit that I would have had a nagging concern about his use of pitching staffs.

    Let’s face it, the whole pool of guys with MLB managerial experience who are available isn’t exciting. Of course Yost was once thought to be a doofus, so perceptions can change rapidly.

    Boz wrote in his chat a few weeks ago that he once tried to quantify the impact of good managers and bad managers on the records of teams. He thought the difference might be as much as 10 games or so, but he found it to be only 3 or 4 at the most. In other words, a great manager could produce 3 or 4 wins more than expected, and a bad one might lose 3 or 4 more than expected. On that scale, going from Williams to Black, perhaps the Nats improved from -3 to E or +1. Maybe they’re three or four games better overall. But they finished seven games out of the playoffs, so they’re going to have to find three or four more games with talent upgrades and health.

    Maybe Black gets a break that expectations are a little lower. Or maybe the expectations aren’t lower, just the reality level is higher.


    29 Oct 15 at 12:30 pm

  5. KW

    29 Oct 15 at 1:50 pm

  6. Quantifying manager impact: I don’t see how you could ever do it frankly. Because you’re trying to measure things that *never happened*. Williams takes out Zimmerman at 8 2/rds, Storen blows the game and the team loses. Well what would have happened if he had left Zimmermann in? One of three things: Zimmermann gets the last out and Nats win, Zimmermann gives up the same hits that Storen did and the game continues exactly as it did, or Zimmermann falls apart and gives up enough runs to lose the game on the spot. You have no idea what Williams’ move did or didn’t prevent; all we know is what did happen.

    I feel that Black will be a welcome addition simply because he’s NOT Williams as a start. Clearly to me from reading the Svruluga articles the clubhouse was tuned out months ago. Combine that with a healthier team and you’ll get back to 90+ wins easily enough.

    Todd Boss

    29 Oct 15 at 9:50 pm

  7. Lets be honest, if it’s between Dusty ‘blow it out’ Baker & Black I take Black.
    It’s been said before but ho-hum.

    Mark L

    29 Oct 15 at 11:37 pm

  8. Boz didn’t mention his methodology; it may have just been looking at Pythagorean projections, as he’s big on run differential. By that count, the Nats were a whopping -6 games last season, nearly the difference in them making the playoffs. In 2014, despite all that went right, they were still -1. So by that score, Matt Williams was a -3.5 manager. Let’s see . . . quickly figuring Black by that measure. Over eight full seasons with the Padres, his cumulative is +1 for the total time, so he would be an “even” manager. That puts him +3.5 on Williams, which is right at what I speculated.

    I’ll be the first to admit that this is extremely unscientific. It does seem about right, though – that Black shouldn’t make the team worse with his decisions. That by itself should make things a little more comfortable.

    Moving on, Wagner has a good look at Black’s potential coaches. I would be interested if they could get Mike Maddux as the pitching coach. Wouldn’t you want to be a fly on the wall when brother Greg comes to visit and chats with Scherzer?


    30 Oct 15 at 7:20 am

  9. Svrluga lays out many of the remaining issues that we’ve already been discussing:


    30 Oct 15 at 7:30 am

  10. Pythagorean record is an interesting indicator, since it usually tries to quantify what usually turns out to be luck in one run games. And one-run games are often put on the manager for gaining the advantage when it comes down to bullpen usage. Hard to argue. Its an interesting look to see what teams under- or over-performed their RS/RA figures:

    Houston: 7 games under. Wow; they could easily be a 95 win team next year. Toronto: 9 games under! And they still won the division. That’s a huge playoff letdown for them.

    Todd Boss

    30 Oct 15 at 8:54 am

  11. Interesting. Here is the NL link:

    By Pythagorean records, the Nats should have been even with the Mets and Dodgers and just a game behind the Cubs. In fact, every NL playoff team was in positive numbers on the “luck” score.

    Just as a caution from reading too much into a single season of data on managerial impact, the only guy with three rings (Bochy) was at -5. The Nats were the “worst” NL team at -6. OAK equaled Toronto’s -9 in the AL, with Houston at -7. I suspect the Jays skewed their data with several “football score” offensive outbursts. The biggest difference at the top of a division was TEX (+5) over HOU (-7), for a “luck” differential of 12.


    30 Oct 15 at 10:11 am

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