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 Grantland.com 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.
- 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).