I like Matt Williams. I thought he was the obvious choice for manager of this team, and I thought he made a great change of pace from Davey Johnson‘s laissez-faire approach.
But, man, I’m seeing some warning signs thus far through four games in some of his decisions. Base running and lineup construction specifically.
The Nats made not one, not two, but THREE critical base-running errors in Friday’s home opener 2-1 loss to Atlanta. Lets see if we can correctly second-guess these moves:
1. Gee, I wonder what would happen if I sent a guy with 20 speed (Adam LaRoche) home when a guy with an 80 arm (Andrelton Simmons) is getting ready to make the relay? Oh, you think the 20-runner gets thrown out by 15 feet? Check. This isn’t on Williams of course … but if he holds LaRoche the team has 2nd and 3rd with one out (run expectancy: 1.44) versus just Zimmerman on third with two outs (RE: .385). That’s huge. If LaRoche stays put the team is almost guaranteed a run and perhaps more (a single scores two). What happens? Bryce Harper strikes out to end the inning.
2. One on, one out, and Harper gets thrown out trying to steal second on such an obvious steal attempt that the Braves pitched out and one of the lesser defensive catchers in the game (Evan Gattis) had Harper so dead to rights that he stopped running to second. He was out by 20 feet. This wouldn’t have led to much of anything likely .. but come on. Maybe Harper gets to third on Ian Desmond‘s subsequent single up the middle.
3. The most egregious, the most obvious bone-headed running error though was the one that changed the game most. After Desmond’s ground rule double (an opinion here: why was this call missed in the first place? Every frigging little leaguer in the country knows the universal thing to do when a ball gets stuck in the fence; you raise your hands and its an automatic ground rule double. Have MLB umpires just forgotten this? Why did we need a 5-minute replay, arguments from both managers and a complete waste of time to determine this??), Desmond INEXPLICABLY tried to steal third and was again thrown out by 15 feet. Why would you possibly try to steal third there? You’re on second base with none out; RE of 1.1. Your hitters have three shots to get a single to drive you in from there.
This steal completely changed the course of the game; instead of having a guy on second with none out, who you could bunt to third with Lobaton and then sac fly with Nate McCloud and voila; game tied. Nope; instead Lobaton walks, McClouth feebly flies out (also removing the starter Jordan Zimmermann in the process) and opportunity wasted.
Just dumb, all around.
One last thing: why the F is Harper batting 6th?? He’s got the most power on the team, in arguably. He’s one of the better hitters on the team. The 6-hole bats approximately 30 times less per season than each subsequent position above it. It just doesn’t make sense to be batting him behind guys who hit .220 last year. I just don’t get it, and i’m not the only one out there who’s noticing this as well. There’s a ton of science behind lineup construction that goes against conventional thinking, and hitting Harper 6th just invites criticism needlessly. Hit the guy 4th and leave him there.
I won’t bother to comment on Harper taking strike-3 down the frigging middle of the plate in the 8th; that was pretty inexplicable to me too. And I’ll give Williams a pass for yanking the effective Zimmermann after just 81 pitches; he was sick yesterday and the Desmond CS basically forced the move.
Nats have to play smarter.
Grr. Great day at the ballpark wasted.