Nationals Arm Race

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Law trashes Williams and their handling of Harper

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Harper Harper Harper.  Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Harper Harper Harper. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/keith-law/post/_/id/2286/the-mishandling-of-bryce-harper

(Yes the post is ESPN Insider only; if you don’t get ESPN insider then ask yourself why you’re not willing to spend $3 a month for access to quality baseball writers like Dave Symborski, Keith Law, or Buster Olney, as well as access to the whole slew of scouting content from Law’s staff… and that’s just their baseball stuff.  $3/month; I spent more than that on my bagel this morning.   And if you’re in that whole “anti paywall camp” and believe that God intended that everything on the internet be for free … well I guess I’d just say sometimes you get what you pay for.   And to me, ESPN’s insider content is worth the 10 or 11 cents a day that I pay for it.  Rant off).

Basically, Law questions whether Matt Williams is in over his head as a major league manager right now.  Law questions his  lineup choices (as others have repeatedly, especially when the team’s best power hitter his batting 7th.  Which to be fair he only did once, but Harper’s been batting 6th for a good portion of the season too, only really moving up when Ryan Zimmerman went out with injury).   I too question his lineup choices; why the h*ll is Denard Span still batting leadoff?  If Williams felt the need to move Harper to 7th because he was struggling, why hasn’t Span been dropped either?  Isn’t Span “struggling” too?  Yeah; he’s got a .282 OBP right now and has fewer stolen bases than the 35-year old Jayson Werth; why exactly is he still batting leadoff??

Law also questions Williams’ public bashing of Harper’s hustle.  Which led, among other things, to Tom Boswell‘s outlandish claims in a chat two weeks ago that Harper was purposely asking out against tough hitters to maintain a meaningless 9-game hitting streak.  Did anyone actually watch the games surrounding the hustle incident?   To me Harper was clearly favoring his leg, and he had been frustrated at the plate, and by multiple reports was also struggling with the flu.  Maybe everyone would have been happier if Harper had just frigging sat out a couple of games instead?   So he didn’t run out a come-backer; that’s human nature.  Law correctly points out that only Harper has been bashed openly in the press by Williams; other team issues were handled internally.

Why is that?  Is Williams “old school” mentality coming through here?  Is he singling out the young Harper in a “youngster hazing” way?  Remember where Williams came from; the “grit is the way to win” Arizona Diamondbacks, who now have the worst record in the majors after a slew of trades and moves that were designed essentially to rid the team of players who couldn’t or didn’t get along with either the manager or the staff for some reason or another.  I’ve touched on the topic of the Arizona methodology before; you just don’t trade away top 3 draft picks for 50 cents on the dollar because of a personality conflict and expect there to be no consequences.  I believe the consequences are going to be a new manager and a new GM this coming off-season after Arizona loses 90+ games.

Law correctly points out that you can’t have the “hustle” narrative both ways either: Harper cannot be simaultaneously a “lazy” player (as Williams went out of his way to state to the media) but then also be the same player who people thought needed to “slow down” and “play within himself” (as was oft-repeated all last year after he bashed his head in running into outfield walls).   For me; I tend to believe that Harper is human; he was frustrated after an o-fer day, and didn’t run out a come-backer in a meaningless situation late in a game (like a thousand other major leaguers before him).

I’m not sure if I’d lay the play that ended up with Harper’s injury on the manager (Law seems to intimate that Harper’s “over hustle” on that play was in reaction to his press bashing over the lack of hustle the week before), but many, many other players in this game would have just slowed up at 2nd, knowing they had cleared the bases, and not gone for the triple.  Which player would you rather have?   For better or worse, the team will now have plenty of time to think about it; Harper’s out for 2 frigging months.  For those keeping score at home, we’re not even to May yet and we’ve seen the guys hitting 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th from our opening day lineup now hit the D/L for various lengths.

It bears repeating: Harper, despite being in his 3rd pro season, was STILL the youngest player in the majors on opening day.   If he was sitting on Potomac’s roster right now, he’d be one of the youngest players in the league.  I guess we all need to take a deep breath sometimes and be thankful for what Bryce Harper is, not what he isn’t.  And get well soon…. this team’s offense is going to miss him badly.

Written by Todd Boss

April 29th, 2014 at 10:31 am

32 Responses to 'Law trashes Williams and their handling of Harper'

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  1. And Shoenfield both led off with the incident and answered other questions about it in his chat today: http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/chat/_/id/50487

    “So Bryce Harper gets criticized and pulled from a game for not hustling and then gets hurt while hustling. Nice job, Matt Williams.”

    Todd Boss

    29 Apr 14 at 5:02 pm

  2. I read that article. Unlike many commenters in Nats-dom, I like Law and don’t get hung up on his sarcastic style. I thought most of his comments were right. I do think Williams is in over his head right now (more on that in a bit), but where he totally lost me was linking it to the triple/head first slide. That was vintage Harper. He would have done that regardless of the previous situation. I think even Law knew that link was tenuous, since he kind of hedged how he said it (‘might in any way have led Harper to take more risk’). But there is a flip side that defends Williams a bit: he said that he actually removed Harper for veering off to the dugout well before the base, rather than how fast he was running, which I can kind of see as a different point. And Werth, in a article with Ladson, seemed like he took Williams’ side when he said that Harper did it again, on that Pujols’ error, and could have been benched again. Throw in Knorr’s comments from Sep, and my gut tells me that the Nats staff does feel like there is something of a discipline thing going on with Harper. I am not saying that I buy in (I don’t know what to make of it), but I don’t know how to just dismiss it either.

    But Williams has made many puzzling moves. Batting order construction has been brought up a lot (correctly). His bullpen usage has been just poor, imo. And I’m even a little puzzled by lineup decisions (for example, I wish he would play Souza in left today instead of Frandsen, for instance. even Tyler Moore. frandsen is an infielder who has put up the worst WAR of anyone this year, why does that give him a LF spot?). The roster moves also seem disjointed, although I think that has to be on Rizzo, not Williams.

    I do think that Williams is learning on the job, which was to be expected, but I am surprised by how much he has to learn. I think that it is certainly possible that he grows into a top flight manager someday, but it is a little odd, in retrospect, that the Nats picked such a neophyte in a ‘win now’ year.

    Wally

    29 Apr 14 at 5:20 pm

  3. I’m on board with most of the concerns about Williams and his decision making, but I just don’t get the Harper uproar. There’s a difference between being a great player and having the potential to be a great player. “The team’s best power hitter”? When? In two years? In three? Right now, Harper is a pretty good player whose fame and endorsement deals are way out of proportion with his present abilities, and especially his present accomplishments. He’s a sports celebrity. Washington is unfortunate enough to have three of them: Ovetchkin, Griffin III, and Harper… sorry, I mean Ovi, RG3, and Bam-Bam. Of the three, at least Ovi has won MVPs, even if he’s a crappy, selfish teammate. Benching Harper for a lack of hustle is a non story. If any other player who was hitting.289 with 1 HR over 22 games got benched for lack of hustle, would anyone waste any print on this? But the same story played out when Ovi and RG3 got benched. Celebrities have different rules.

    clark17

    29 Apr 14 at 9:12 pm

  4. Harper is the team’s best power hitter. Go look up Isolated Power on Fangraphs, run it for the last couple of years in total (basically since Harper came up). Harper’s easily the best power hitter in that time period still on the team (he trailed Morse for regular players). Nevermind; here’s the link:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=8&season=2014&month=0&season1=2011&ind=0&team=24&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=10,d

    So, lets stop the narrative that he’s somehow not what he is; every scouting report on the kid ever written had him with 80 power, a number not often given out (maybe a handful of guys in the majors with that same level of power right now: Stanton, Gattis, Trumbo).

    So therefore, I will continue to question why the team’s BEST POWER HITTER would *ever* be batting 6th or 7th, even if the world’s greatest left hander was on the mound. I guess we’d rather see what Kevin Frandsen can do. You know, Kevin Frandsen, the guy who was CUT by a team this spring that projects to lose nearly 90 games.

    And I absolutely *refuse* to accept that Harper is somehow overrated. He’s still either the youngest or second youngest player in the entire majors … and he’s entering his third major league season!! Its like when people somehow got down on Michelle Wie when she was on tour because she wasn’t immediately winning; she was frigging 15 years old! Think about where you were when you were 15; likely you were a shivering freshman roaming around your high school trying not to get stomped on by football players.

    Todd Boss

    30 Apr 14 at 7:19 am

  5. Bryce Harper is very talented, though not a finished, polished product. The Nationals are well within their rights, even their responsibility, to do what they can to help him maximize his potential. Which is why I view the benching as a non-story. It’s not that Williams wanted Bryce to go 110% at a hamstring-injuring pace on a routine comebacker. Just go to the bag and see what happens is all he asked for – especially when they were still calling that stupid transfer rule, it could make a difference. Which is likely why Williams did not call Bryce out for dogging it out of the box on his later double. Williams has gone out of his way to praise Bryce a lot. And I’ve never, ever heard Williams call Bryce “lazy” – Harper, if you’re going to put that in quotes, I’d like to see the source. And I can come back and pull a large number of countervailing quotes where Williams went out of his way to praise Bryce.

    Which Werth did call Bryce out for, in that Leadsen interview. That to me is significant, because Werth has been reported as a mentor to Bryce and they are often standing together talking in the dugout. Werth is also one of the recognized leaders of the team. If the players are backing the move that doesn’t automatically mean that they hate Bryce, are jealous of him, etc. – they could well be simply helping him mature because he’s the youngest player in the league. If the players are behind Williams, then he’s not over his head even if his individual tactical moves can be questioned. Because most of what a manager does is lead, not the strategic decisions that he makes.

    As for those decisions, it’s always easy to second guess a baseball manager. Lineups in particular are a tempest in a teapot. We obsess over them wildly out of proportion to their actual benefit to the team. The same studies that profess to show the optimum lineup also show how small the impact over the course of a season even between the “best” and “worst” lineups. It’s like Desmond said when reporters tried to get him riled up about batting seventh: “someone has to hit 7th.” Joe Maddon in Tampa moves his lineup around all the time, and yet still is widely regarded as one of the best managers in the game. Obsessing about the lineup is missing the forest for the trees.

    Oh, if Williams asked me, I’d be for batting Span 8th (in the “second leadoff” spot); I want him on the field for his defense, especially with Harper out. I might make some different bullpen calls, but not a lot. Has he made mistakes? Sure. He’s been a major league manager for 27 games. It would be astonishing if he hadn’t made mistakes. Despite a rash of injuries that decimated the lineup, and some pitching misadventures, the Nationals are 15-12, on a 90 win place and holding their own. For me I’d give Williams a C+/B-, with the potential to learn and grow as the season moves into it’s fifth week.

    John C.

    30 Apr 14 at 10:12 am

  6. Sigh. Got my blogs crossed. For “Harper, if you’re going to put that in quotes” read “Todd … ” in the previous entry.

    John C.

    30 Apr 14 at 10:16 am

  7. I think lineup construction is important. I don’t think you can discount it. You may be able to quibble with the whole “your best batter needs to bat second” but the thought process behind it is solid.

    Here’s why I think the lineup position is really important: the guy who bats 7th bats 90-100 times less over the course of a season than the guy who bats 2nd. 90 to 100 at-bats! You just cannot tell me that having Bryce Harper bat 90-100 times less than whatever lesser hitter is batting 2nd is the right way to go.

    Todd Boss

    30 Apr 14 at 1:28 pm

  8. This is the only way that I think batting order matters, too. I don’t care much if Harper, or another good hitter, is 1st, 2d or 3rd, but when you drop them to 6th or 7th and if that were to play out over a 75 or 100 game stretch – which obviously hasn’t happened – you are trading fairly sizable PAs to another, presumably weaker, hitter.

    I agree that a manager needs to be first and foremost a leader. But on-field stuff isn’t zero. For a manager’s tactics, all that I’d ask is the following: (i) play the best players, (ii) give your better hitters more ABs than your weaker ones, and (iii) use your best relief pitchers in the most important (highest leverage) spots. Nothing else, just let them play otherwise. Sometimes you’re the louisville slugger, sometimes you’re the ball. That’s ok, that’s life.

    Sounds simple. I know that it can get more complicated when personalities and perception get involved, but a really excellent manager would be able to sell his players on this kind of usage. I think that this is where maddon excels.

    Wally

    30 Apr 14 at 4:31 pm

  9. Harper hit 7th once this season. Against a LHP, and Harper was pretty dreadful against LHP last year. Yeah, that’s terrible. He’s hit #2 ten times, #4 once, #5 twice, and #6 seven times. If you average out his batting position it’s 3.952; the median is #4. Geez Louise, give it a rest.

    It all reminds me of the Rocky Bridges (former Washington Senator!) quote: “Well, there are three things that the average man thinks he can do better than anybody else. Build a fire, run a hotel and manage a baseball team.”

    I don’t disagree with any of Wally’s criteria generally, but I will note that if one strictly applied those three criteria as you basis for accepting a manager, one would have to fire all 30 major league managers. And I’d guess you’d have to go a long way into the minors, too. For all people savage Williams for his use of Tyler Clippard this season, I will note that (a) Clippard has thrived over several seasons in precisely that role, therefore it’s not irrational to keep going to him after a few wobbles along the way; and (b) Williams is actually moving pretty quickly for a manager in this regard, since he hooked Clippard last week against the Cardinals and brought in Storen in a situation where a lot of managers would not have done the same thing. He’s also adjusted in other ways; the TOOTBLANS have seriously subsided after the first week.

    Again, I’m not saying Williams is a MoY candidate, or even a particularly bad one. All I’m saying is that, after 27 games (1/6 of the season), he’s been … OK. And given where he is on the learning curve, there’s no reason to think he’s not going to get better.

    John C.

    30 Apr 14 at 5:14 pm

  10. A cynic might speculate that Law, Shoenfield and other media types that have jumped on the “fire Williams” bandwagon (after four weeks? when the team is 15-12???) is not because of Williams or his abilities at all. It’s because it enables them another way to prominently mention Bryce Harper and toss in an air of controversy – two things that move the needle. It’s like the news adage “if it bleeds, it leads.” Mentioning where Williams has praised Harper or done well isn’t interesting, doesn’t move the needle, and so there’s no incentive for the media to be balanced at all about it.

    John C.

    30 Apr 14 at 5:19 pm

  11. I don’t know if that Clippard comment was for me or others, but I have no problem with his use of Clippard. I think he is one of the best relievers in the pen, and nothing I see makes me think his poor start is anything but one of those periods that relievers go through. I’d stick with him.

    I just wouldn’t say he is the ’8th inning’ guy, but I have made that point already, so no need to repeat it.

    Wally

    30 Apr 14 at 7:34 pm

  12. Oh no, Wally, that wasn’t at you. Clippard has been getting roasted by the “small sample sizes are important” crowd. Sorry for the confusion.

    John C.

    30 Apr 14 at 11:25 pm

  13. Remember the interview that Williams gave after sitting Harper? He said (paraphrasing), “His position in the order came up and Harper wasn’t there to hit, and that was a disappointment to his team.”

    Oh, so it DOES matter if your best power hitter comes up late in the game with a chance to have an impact?? Oh, well I guess then you’d rather have your better hitters batting towards the top of the lineup instead of buried at 6th or 7th? Makes sense.

    JohnC: If you want to play the whole Lefty match up game, then lets talk about Adam LaRoche. He’s just as awful against lefties (2013 splits: .198/.254/.313). Has LaRoche been dumped to 6th in the Lineup? Nope; he’s batted 4th and only 4th in every game but one this season. So if you’re trying to explain away Harper’s moving around the lineup as a reaction to his in ability to hit lefties … then why has LaRoche not been similarly moved around?

    To me that smacks of giving vets preferential treatment over younger players …. basically exactly what Law accused Williams of as well when Harper got benched and blasted in the media while other (older) Nats players were given passes in similar situations.

    Look, the whole reason I keep harping on William’s lineup selections is because its indefensible in the greater baseball world. If Mike Trout got dumped to 6th in the Angels order, you’d see similar reactions.

    Criticism of Law/Schoenfield being opportunistic; no way. I’ve read everything those guys have written and every chat they’ve conducted for the past several years and I’ve never, ever gotten the opinion that either one was anything but a straight shooter, tell it like it is/non sugar coated baseball analyst. No whiffs of deadspin/opportunistic media coverage there at all. If Deadspin or Hardballtalk or The Big Lead or some other “driving for clicks” website leads with some stupid Harper-related content (as they *constantly* do) then that’s different. Law is Espn insider; people have to pay to see his stuff, so there’s almost no incentive for him to have a flashy headline.

    Todd Boss

    1 May 14 at 7:58 am

  14. @John C. The whole narrative that KLaw wrote the article to up his readership is ridiculous to anyone who’s ever read his writing. KLaw is a minor league and prospect expert and true insider who worked in the Blue Jays front office, that’s why people read his stuff. He has an extremely loyal following who pay to read his articles and I’ve never seen anything from him that smacked of sensationalism. That being said, he does get up on his high horse–usually with merit–about teams mishandling young talented players like Brandon Belt or Bryce Harper.

    While some people will say, “Give him time.” Matt Williams has been a dumpster fire as a manager and good businesses don’t wait to admit they made a mistake. Sure the Nats have a winning record, but they also have the most talented team in baseball and got their lunch handed to them by the Barves. Williams LOLineups and use of the bullpen (the two things managers control) has been terrible. Of course, this is what you get when you hire a disciple of Kirt Gibson and Dusty Baker, two of the worst managers in baseball over the last 20 years.

    PIg.Pen

    1 May 14 at 8:00 am

  15. Clippard: my opinion? he’s struggling this year, and he needs to be switched with Storen for the 7th/8th inning roles right now. In his 14 appearances so far in 2014, he’s had exactly four “clean” outings. He’s got nine walks in 12 2/3 innings right now! That’s friggin awful for a high leverage, late innings reliever. He’s walked a guy in 5 straight outings. It isn’t small sample sizes at this point; its a sign that his command is off and he needs less leveraged situations to work things out.

    Todd Boss

    1 May 14 at 8:01 am

  16. @Todd Almost forgot to mention, just found the blog and love it. This is good stuff here.

    PIg.Pen

    1 May 14 at 8:02 am

  17. Thanks Josh, glad you like it. Feel free to join in on the arguments :-)

    Todd Boss

    1 May 14 at 8:31 am

  18. My big complaint with this whole kerfluffle about MW and Bryce is that it (obviously) is based only on what has been said in public. My assumption (based somewhat on Boswell (risky), but also on my remote observations (also risky)) is that at the team meeting 2 days earlier MW made a specific point of requiring a reasonable level of hustle, including running through first on every play. Now, on every team I’ve ever been on, if a coach made a specific request and 2 days later a star player just blows him off without getting called on it, that coach has just lost respect completely. I think MW had no choice but to bench him … and then he got a little lucky in that there was a play just days later where it was obvious to everyone (including Bryce) the potential consequences of lack of hustle to reinforce his point. MW certainly hasn’t been perfect, but it’s waaayyyy too early to declare that he’s over his head.

    Anonymous

    1 May 14 at 8:57 am

  19. @Anon I wouldn’t say it’s all about what’s been said in the media. Keith Law is an insider who talks with lots of people inside of baseball and he claims to have sources who verified much of his information. His article wasn’t based solely on press conference quotes. Heck, even the fairly vanilla Ken Rosenthal said that MW speaking about it in the media was ill-advised. Also, it’s not too early, many businesses have realized the failed logic in saying, “give it time” because most people are what they are and expecting them to change is a far less likely scenario than expecting them to stay relatively constant. Sure you might say MW learned his lesson about airing this stuff in the media, but he’s still batting Span first, still running Clippard out there in the 8th regardless. This is what we should expect moving forward, a manager who makes poor lineups and uses the bullpen poorly as well.

    PIg.Pen

    1 May 14 at 9:05 am

  20. I’ll freely admit that I thought Matt Williams was a good choice for manager when it was made. My reasoning was that Davey Johnson’s time had passed, that he was too stuck in his out-dated ways and too much of a player’s manager. I figured Williams was going to be a good contrast to Johnson; more of an authoritative manager who could end some of the sloppiness of the team.

    But, more and more I’m seeing an old-school guy who pays lip service to saying that he “embraces stats” and keeps running out old-school lineups; as Plg.Pen notes: Span continues to bat leadoff, LaRoche has never strayed from clean-up irrespective of who’s pitching. Werth has batted in the #3 spot EVERY game. Zimmerman has hit in the #5 hole every game but two. No, instead its the young guys who are getting yanked around the batting order. Rendon has hit in every lineup spot except 3rd at least once this season already, and we’re just 28 games in. Harper has hit 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th. Desmond has ranged between 4th and 7th in varying numbers of at-bats.

    You know what happens when you favor veterans and service time over ability? The Philadelphia Phillies.

    And i havn’t even talked about the bullpen. Why the F was Aaron Barrett ever sent down? Who sends down a guy with a 0 era and several dominant outings in a row? Why have the team racked up so many frequent flier miles already with its shuttling of guys back and forth to Syracuse? I don’t get it. Clippard’s usage has already been talked about; I think he needs to step back a bit.

    Todd Boss

    1 May 14 at 9:51 am

  21. I used to pay for the ESPN access, but found it wasn’t worth the money for me. YMMV, and I’m OK with that. I do think it’s right to say that (for all his quirks) KLaw is not a media whore, and so that implication was unjust. I do think that a lot of the media churn around Harper is exactly that.

    I find the whole thread ironic because I don’t even think Williams is a particularly good manager; I just don’t think he’s a particular bad manager. Certainly not one that should be fired on May 1. Some points:

    (1) The Nats are winning. Sure, they were talented on paper coming into the season, but you can’t ignore the fact that the heart of the lineup has been decimated by injuries and Williams has kept the ship afloat. And even putting those injuries aside, I’ll note that the Nationals were regularly regarded as one of three top teams in the NL along with the Dodgers (with their uber budget) and the Cardinals (with their great organization). The Nationals, with more injuries to more significant players, have the best record of those three teams.

    (2) You can’t discount the Nats winning by saying it comes against crappy teams. Sure, the Nats are 8-1 against the Mets and Marlins. Anyone notice that the Braves are 5-6 against those teams (the Marlins just vaporized the Braves the last two nights)? Or that the Mets and Marlins are pretty much beating everyone not named the Nationals? The Mets are 15-8 against the rest of baseball, the Marlins are 12-9. In the early going those teams have been playing very well. Hell, the Nats hung a pair of losses on the Marlins in Miami, where the team has only lost four games all season, and one loss was in a game started by Jose Fernandez, whose record in Miami is nothing short of amazing.

    (3) Todd, it’s funny that you mention Aaron Barrett, because for me he’s an exhibit for Williams not deferring to veterans over rookies. Barrett made the team over several veteran options, and literally from Day One has been getting high leverage innings. And it’s helped the team tremendously. The roster shuffle was simply a short term measure caused by the need to get a long man in because the bullpen was depleted. There was never any suggestion that Barrett was going to be in AAA more than the minimum time. The rest of the Syracuse shuttle has been because of injuries.

    (4) Williams’s handling of Harper doesn’t seem to be costing him the support of his team. Not merely in public comments (what else are they going to say?) but in off-the-record comments the team has backed Williams. “Harper is out of control” as one veteran player recently was quoted (though expressing more concern than criticism). If the people in the dugout, in the clubhouse, and in the organization think that Williams is handling a tough situation well, that’s not insignificant.

    (5) And talking about handling the team, something that I find more significant than lineups. [aside: is it really that surprising that a rookie manager is experimenting with various lineups? And a LOT of the lineup shuffle that has occurred has been caused by the incredible run of injuries]. Much more significant than that has been Williams’s open, vocal support for LaRoche and (especially noticeable) Espinosa during the offseason and in Spring Training. A lot of fans, some on this page, wanted both players GONE. Suffice it to say that Williams’s support has been rewarded – and try to imagine where the Nationals’ season would be right now without ALR and Espinosa.

    Ignoring all those things and firing a manager 28 games into a season sends more of a message of panic than sanity. You also can’t ignore the “inmates [aka Bryce] are running the asylum” message that would send. Firing Williams now is a pure talk-radio, Dan Snyder or George Steinbrenner kind of move. Put the pitchforks and torches down and back slowly away. If you’re going to catalog Williams’s failures, you have to catalog his successes (Barrett, Espinosa, LaRoche, winning, etc) as well.

    I have my concerns about Williams. But there’s another side to his record. I don’t think the Nats are going to get anyone better at this point.

    John C.

    1 May 14 at 11:23 am

  22. I think MW has done a D+/C- job so far. His lineups are simply indefensible and the key to seeing that, as Todd points out, is the relative placement of Harper and LaRoche. There is no justification whatsoever for any lineup that bats LaRoche higher than Harper. Harper is a better hitter in every conceivable way. MW regularly trots out such a lineup.

    I don’t think his bullpen usage has been so bad. He’s shown far more willingness than Davey to bring guys in to face one or two hitters. Davey liked guys to throw a full inning; MW has a quicker hook with starters and will bring in the team’s best reliever – Storen so far this year – to finish out an inning with guys on base. He hasn’t figured out how to use Detwiler, but I don’t really ding him for that as that is legitimately a puzzle.

    The Harper “hustle” stuff is harder to evaluate. We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. I will say that there is an air of “veteran preference” about the team, which is concerning. But I imagine it’s a lot easier to lose the clubhouse if veterans are unhappy than if the young guys are unhappy.

    Even though I have little love for MW’s performance so far, I think it’s way too premature to fire him. He needs to be allowed some time to improve. The ridiculous baserunning aggression seems to have subsided a bit, suggesting that he can learn from mistakes. He seems to be a thoughtful guy who’s not super stubborn. I expect he’ll get better (who knows whether he’ll be “good”). I’ll be happy when Span starts hitting 9th, but I suspect Mike Rizzo may have something to say about that.

    Derek

    1 May 14 at 11:32 am

  23. Derek, did you mean batting Span 8th? Or do you favor hitting him behind the pitcher? Just curious.

    John C.

    1 May 14 at 12:11 pm

  24. And if we’re all going to bitch about where ALR has been hitting, can we at least in passing mention that he’s been great? As in .307/.402/.507 vs. RHP and .333/.455/.444 against LHP. I’m perfectly willing to concede that Harper should hit ahead of ALR (and in fact has done so quite often, but hey). But I can’t with a straight face advance the argument that it has hurt the team in 2014, because ALR has been neck-and-neck with Rendon (just ahead of Espinosa) for being the best hitter on the team. If you look at his “clutch” stats on B-R, ALR has been at his best when it has mattered most. It may well be dumb. But the team’s performance has been better for it so far. If the numbers changed Williams would have a reason to hit ALR somewhere else.

    Firing a guy for doing something I think is stupid, while ignoring the fact that it’s working, is an … interesting … organizational management tool

    John C.

    1 May 14 at 12:23 pm

  25. I meant Span hitting 8th (I blame watching DH games the last two nights for the error). I know there’s some research out there that suggests hitting the pitcher 8th is the best lineup construction. I don’t know enough about it to know whether it’s right.

    Derek

    1 May 14 at 1:08 pm

  26. @John C. No one is arguing he should be fired for where ALR is hitting. They’re arguing for him being fired for where Harper is hitting, and where Span is hitting and bullpen management and for potentially retarding the development of one of the most talented 21 year old baseball players of the last 150 years.

    PIg.Pen

    1 May 14 at 1:15 pm

  27. My counterargument (to the “MW must be fired for x, y, z”) is that, while I have questioned many of the things that he’s done, there is another side to the ledger that can’t be ignored (see points 1-5 in the TL;DR post above).

    Oh hell, this is the internet, of course they can be ignored. Carry on.

    And I mentioned ALR because of comments like this: “There is no justification whatsoever for any lineup that bats LaRoche higher than Harper.” I tend to agree with the general proposition, but I can’t say that sometimes batting ALR ahead of Harper has hurt the team. The team is scoring a pile of runs despite potentially crippling injuries. I know the tendency is to say everything good that happens (ALR, Espinosa, LaRoche, Barrett, etc) has nothing to do with the manager while everythign bad that happens (Harper being up and down, early struggles by the starters, bad weather, injuries, etc.) are completely because of the manager. I just don’t buy that.

    John C.

    1 May 14 at 1:33 pm

  28. I appreciate John being the voice of reason on this thread, because this discussion has veered off the rails. Is anyone here, in addition to Pig Pen, arguing that Williams should be fired one month into the season for mismanaging a winning team averaging over 4 runs per game with a solid team ERA? Is this a Redskins post? I disagree with MW sending Barrett down on a whim, I disagree with his obsession with hyper-aggressive base running. I’m willing to admit that his lineup has been unconventional, but it’s also clearly working from a team perspective since they’re scoring runs, and I’m willing to let it ride. I have no problem batting ALR ahead of Harper when the former has the hot bat and the latter is slumping. I don’t blame MW for continuing to bat Span in the leadoff spot, because I’m convinced that’s a Rizzo’s ego decision. Most of all, though, I absolutely support MW’s decision to sit Harper for ignoring a directive to run out ground balls. As far as I can tell. Harper wasn’t singled out; rather, he was the only one who ignored the directive. To let him off the hook would be to tell the rest of the team that the manager is toothless, or that team rules don’t apply to “the team’s best power hitter.” Whatever his potential, Harper’s accomplishments are near zero right now, even his All-Star appearance was a joke. He’s not late-70s Reggie Jackson yet. Team rules still apply to him. Personally, I don’t care if players don’t run out grounders to the pitcher. But if that’s the manager’s rule, it has to apply to everyone, or the manager loses the team. Fire Williams after a month? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    clark17

    1 May 14 at 2:16 pm

  29. Firing Williams: no way; not only is it far too early, but the team’s winning (hey 16-12 projects to 93 wins!). I certainly did not mean to imply that I wanted him fired. I’m just irritated that a couple of things that I was hoping for in a new manager havn’t come to pass, and in stead we’ll be listening to internet trolls from the Sabre-crowd poke fun at Matt “The Dinosaur” Williams for his lineup construction. Hey, at least he’s shifting more.

    And (nobody’s mentioned this yet); the team is bunting like crazy, which I suspect is coming from the Manager in some respects. I’m firmly in belief that the key to killing the over-shifting that goes on in the league is the bunt. I hope every frigging guy that gets shifted on lays down a bunt down the line. Its a line drive in the book.

    I will call out whoever keeps maintaining that Harper “hasn’t done sh*t yet” or is somehow overrated. He was 50th in batter WAR last season despite missing a third of the season. We’re talking about a serious player here, who just happens to keep getting hurt. Oh, and he’s still either the youngest or 2nd youngest player in the entire league.

    Todd Boss

    1 May 14 at 2:31 pm

  30. Yes, Williams should be fired, not necessarily for the results, but for the process. Good processes will yield bad results some times, but over time they will ALWAYS yield better results, bad processes will yield good results some of the time, but over time they will diminish results. Matt Williams has bad processes and uses flawed thinking. It’s never too early to admit you made a bad hire. It’s certainly happened to me, but it’s much better in the long run to admit it and fix it as soon as it’s realized.

    For all the Nats run scoring, they haven’t scored much against the Barves and I would argue that the number of runs they’ve scored has far more to with overall talent level than with how that talent is being utilized. Also, they are scoring over a run a game less since Zimmerman went on the DL. That being said, the reason they should replace MW is because he is AWFUL at bullpen management which is the most important in-game part of a manager’s job. Forget about Harper, forget about Span, a manager that can’t handle a bullpen is always going to cost his team games.

    As for the Harper hasn’t done anything, I can’t even say anything to that because if you can’t see what his accomplishments already are, nothing I say no matter how convincing is going to change your mind. You might as well just launch into an argument advocating Jack Morris for the HOF because I’ve stopped listening.

    PIg.Pen

    1 May 14 at 2:41 pm

  31. Sorry I’ve been out of the discussion here, but it’s time to weigh in. At the end of April last year, the Nats, under a Hall of Fame manager, were 13-14. The everyday lineup was healthier than it is now, but the guys weren’t hitting (and wouldn’t for another three months). The bullpen was close to disaster and the bench already was, and the new fourth starter was getting shelled. So let’s practice a little Lamaze here and do some deep breathing. While we’re doing so, let’s remember that Bryce should be a junior in college this year, about to be drafted. Let’s also remember how stupid and pigheaded we all were at 21!

    Injuries are never a good thing, but in this case, the hand will allow Harper’s wheels time to heal and him a chance to do some deep breathing as well. We also hope Zimmerman’s shoulder is healing along with his hand. His bat was going so well that no one wanted to sit him and his sorry shoulder down, along with his afflicted defense. If his shoulder still isn’t right when he comes back, there’ll be some tough questions, but there are now other viable options.

    MW is like a kid with a new driver’s license. He’s always watched as others drove, but now he’s got the keys. He’s taking some curves pretty fast and some others a little too slow. He’s trying to reinvent some wheels, or at least the concept of the batting order. He’s overthinking everything while at times not really thinking enough. He’s sending one of his most effective relievers on the Syracuse shuttle just so he can have a fresh arm for a couple of days. He supposedly emphasized defense and base running in the spring, only to see those be his team’s weakest points thus far. And he busted the chops of his most zealous player for not hustling. (And please, let’s stop the insanity on the Harper triple question – any of us who have seen him play regularly know that a couple of guys would have had to tackle him to keep him from trying for third. I would have been more worried, about his leg, if he had NOT gone for it.)

    So where does all of this leave us? On a 93-win pace, despite three regulars and a starter missing. Also, the team is showing remarkable come-from-behind aptitude, much more than in memory. Do we credit MW for that? Schu? Bench construction? A bit of all of the above? Something is certainly giving the Nats late-inning confidence that they haven’t had before. A team feeds off those things, and once it finds the magic, it generally lingers.

    Really, it’s sort of amazing that the conversation isn’t “OMG, look at our decimated team.” Not only that, the starting pitching hasn’t yet hit the dominant stride that it should. Fister is on his way, and Roark looks like the real deal. Meanwhile, Rendon looks like an all-star, Espinoza has far and away the best approach at the plate that he’s ever had (a big credit to MW for the confidence he showed in him, and to Schu for making it happen), and LaRoche has discovered the Beard of Youth, or something. Yes, Clippard looks shaky, and Det has at times, but goodness, compare them to HRod and Duke at this time last season. On the flip side, Storen is better than ever and Barrett is found gold.

    Yes, this is definitely the half-full approach. If MW keeps tinkering too much, he’ll turn into Adam Oates, a very smart, well-respected guy who overthought everything and didn’t last long. Span is still, well, Span, and he needs to be down at #7 or #8. The bench, or what’s left of it, still scares me. McLouth has done nothing. T-Mo is still T-Mo. Hairston is lurking for activation. Yes, I’ve got my fingers crossed that my guy Souza will show his stuff before then!

    The wheels could still fall off. Or they could get balanced and start to roll a lot better. For now, a little deep breathing is in order.

    KW

    1 May 14 at 9:52 pm

  32. Braves lose, again. Nats 1.5 back. Breath, people.

    KW

    1 May 14 at 10:10 pm

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