Opinion: On Matt Williams And Bullpens

Let us put aside yesterday’s debacle. I believe that was just “one of those games” that happens to every team at least once a year. 

Matt Williams has rendered my “Get to Know Some Nats: Bullpen” preview moot. Why bother knowing the pros and cons of any of these players? Their genetic make-up, the pitches they use, their past failures and successes- all meaningless in the face of the only featureMatt Williams cares about: Which inning he thinks they ought to pitch in.

The follies and foibles in Managin’ Matt Williams bullpen “plan” have been written about far and wide, and fully rehashing them here isn’t going to be hugely helpful. Here is my new favorite Nats writer, Jim Meyerriecks detailing the time Matt Williams went far afield and got lucky. Here he is just a few days later, when the luck didn’t hold up. If you want to know what each of these pitchers can do, you should read his post because it is an excellent summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the bullpen. I’m not saying Jim would be a better bullpen manager than Matt Williams…but I don’t have a particularly good reason to think he wouldn’t be, either.

And that’s just it: As Half-Street Heart’s blog post points out, there isn’t anything confusing or crazy about the Williams bullpen: if anything it is too straight forward. There is no hope that Williams is trying something new or different, and only the slimmest of hope that he thinks maybe, just maybe, a guy like Blake Treinen might ultimately, suddenly, for no good reason, eventually be good against left handed batters.

No, Williams bullpen management is the Billy Goat Tavern Restaurant of bullpen management. The customer might call for a steak with a beer, or an omlette with orange juice, but they’ll get a cheeseburger, pepsi no coke until Dan Akroyd runs out of cheeseburgers.

Matt Williams world doesn’t have match-ups, lefties, righties. He has starters and Nth Inning Guys, where Nth is a particular inning and a particular pitcher is in charge of that inning. At most, the formula has a slightly different track if the team is winning. No thought is given to winning by how much, if the game is tied, if they are losing but close – let alone who is due up in the half inning, who is on the opposing team’s bench, or where the Nationals pitcher is due to hit the following half inning.

It’s not even managing. It’s just… it seems lazy.

Williams exhibits one of the worst qualities a manager can have with regards to the bullpen: He appears disinterested in how it works, only that it should work. When it doesn’t work he can only point at it and say “well it should be working.” He is the most unhelpful mechanic ever. He is the Best Buy Geek Squad or Apple Genius Help Desk Guy that could just give a flying squirrel that your gadget doesn’t work. He’s done all the things he’s been told he should do.

He assigns roles that do not play to the strengths of the pitchers he has, and when they fail it is not on him. Aaron Barrett is a 7th inning guy gosh darn it, and his job is to get guys out in the 7th inning.

This is a bit like hiring a trademark lawyer to be your criminal defense attorney. This is expecting a high school Spanish teacher to just step in and teach Japanese.

For a manager who has made getting to know the guys a priority (indeed, the single hardest thing about his first year of managing) he’s dismissed the most salient details about the bullpen players: How they pitch. Maybe he knows who Xavier Cedeno’s favorite band is, but he has no clue when to use him in a game.

Who knows: Maybe that’s the by product of being a consistently good player. Maybe he simply believes by pushing people and running them out there you find out if they got it or they don’t. Maybe he supposes that’s how people develop.

And maybe they will. But this isn’t Matt Williams Vocational School for Wayward and Orphaned Pitchers. It’s the Major Leagues. Some pitchers are good with lefties, others righties, a few can handle both. I don’t think Mike Rizzo did Williams any favors by trading away Tyler Clippard (a rare pitcher who did very well against all kinds of batters in all kinds of situations) or Jerry Blevins (a very good guy to get lefties out), but to be fair Matt Williams didn’t exactly use them very well either. Why should he have the nice toys if he can’t play with them properly?

Well, because its a super important year. The Nats, like last year, are going to win a ton of games. As the year goes on the score is going to cover up Williams decision making because the margin for error won’t be so close. But the margin is going to be pretty close for the next few weeks, which is a pretty good mirror for how games in October are. Weekend Nats vs. Phillies is probably a similarly tight match to Full Strength Nats and Dodgers/Cardinals. Right now you’re getting a look at what the Matt Williams Nats look like when they are not head and shoulders better than their competition: Something that is bound to come up again in the NLSomethingOrOther Series.

Maybe you think this is all overblown, not such a big deal, and I’m a big-typing blogger with no baseball experience that doesn’t know ships from shinola. And that may be. I’m willing to admit that I, perhaps, am too entrenched in my position to see the full scope of evidence clearly. I might be giving Matt Williams too hard a time.

But no one is picking up the sword on behalf of Matt Williams bullpen use. No one is arguing that he’s making good choices with the bullpen. Time after time there is no reasonable reason to justify a decision he made, and generally there are several good reasons not to have done what he did. I’m trying to make that argument to myself now and I have no idea where to start.

This early in the season sample size is too small to quibble with results, but it is plenty big enough to quibble with process. Make no mistake, this first week has been a test for the Nats on their road to a championship. The biggest roadblock to the Nationals achieving their ultimate goal is probably injury. Second, and nearly as devastating, is the self-inflicted injuries visited upon the players by Matt Williams. In the spring I asked if he could grow as a manager, and the early returns do not look good.

Friday Roundup: Late Sunday #Nats Edition

Thank you for accepting my delayed round up. In appreciation of that, here is a Bryce Harper Home Run.

#NatsClubHouseSocial: Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals social media team invited a handful of highly visible, highly social, highly interactive Nationals fans for a presentation regarding the new bells, whistles, and giveaways at the park this year. It was preceded by a free happy hour with appetizers, and personalized jerseys custom made for the invited fans featuring their surname, the #15 (for 2015) and the exclusive 10 year DC patch.

If you don’t know already, I was one of those lucky, unworthy, happy people. I instantly felt nervous about my Matt Williams post from that morning, but too late to go back! (Also, no one asked me to write anything about this event or anything else, just so you know.)

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Podcast! 2015 Nats Season Preview with @NoahFrankWTOP

EDIT: I fixed the audio so it is properly mixed.

Noah Frank joins our show to talk about where the Nats are right now and how they look for 2015. On the show: the 25 man roster, the rash of injuries suffered by the team, how good is the Nationals rotation, is this bullpen sustainable, Strasburg, Harper, a little Matt Williams, an NL East preview, a rest of the MLB preview, and plenty more. Enjoy!

Spring Training Question #2: Can Matt Williams Grow As A Manager?

Matt Williams managing the NLDS.

Look, I get it. Managing is tough. When the team wins, most folks usually congratulate the players and when they lose, most folks usually blame the manager- and that’s usually the fair thing to do. Players can streak or slump, but managers always have the ability to move those players around accordingly. Imagine if for every decision you made at work there were 40,000 people in your office silently (and not so silently) deciding how they would have done your job better. Worse are the hundreds of thousands more at home doing the same thing, and by tomorrow every hack with a Macbook is going to write up how they you screwed up even if the team did win and why you should be fired.*

(*I am one of those hacks).

I say this so that you know that when I do pick at Matt Williams managing in this post, I am fully aware that this is the easy thing to do. That I would not be a good manager myself, that I know I don’t know better than he does, and that I am fully aware that my opinion here does not reflect the opinion of the majority, or maybe even plurality, of other Nats fans. But these are things I am compelled to write because I believe them to be true. So, here we go…

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Friday Round Up: #DCisReady

The 1895 Washington Senators 43-85 in the National League. via Cool Old Photos (Click for link) but H/T to @GhostsofDC

The 1895 Washington Senators 43-85 in the National League. via Cool Old Photos (Click for link) but H/T to @GhostsofDC

The Walking Dread: With any luck, this tweet from Chelsea Janes bodes well for the Nationals walking wounded:

-or, lightly running, as the case may be. But too bad, I wrote all of this out before I saw this tweet, so I’m going to continue with my “how ugly could this get?” post.
The worst news first: Anthony Rendon went from sitting out for a few days to having no timetable. That’s really scary.  CL strains (of any kind) can get ugly quick, even if they are mild. As HarperGordeck from Natsbaseball blog points out, the prospect of Kevin Frandsen at third for a month, or longer, is laughably scary.

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New Podcast: S3E2: Tanner Roark: MacGyver of Pitching

Frank is joined by Stuart Wallace (@TClippardsSpecs) of District Sports Page to discuss the current state of the Nationals, including Denard Span’s resurgance, Doug Fister’s dominance, the hills of Las Vegas, Why injuries happen to pitchers, Belgian vs. IPA beers and just how the hell does Tanner Roark do what he does!?!

Nationals (Almost) Quarterly Report

Quick Reminder: District Sports page has added their EndNF post, and you should go read it. You’ll also want to read our Get to Know NF post, The Nats Blog’s follow up post, a post from Patrick Reddington on Federal Baseball, and Matt’s Bats post as well.

With just over 20% of the games done, and the Nats on the road to the West Coast, I figured it was a good time to do a little spot checking as to how the Nats are doing so far this year. On the surface, they’re tied for first place with a record of 19-15, so that seems good. Still, there are bumps and problems and the team isn’t perfect, so any nervous fan can find something to nitpick about. Indeed. Let’s start with this little stunner. The Nats record through 34 games the last three years:

2012: 21-13 (When they won the NL East)
2013: 19-15 (When they missed the playoffs entirely)
2014: 19-15

Whoa, we need a sarcastic tweet to sum up how to feel about the fact the Nats are doing no better than last year’s “dog” of a team:

Yep. It’s true. Pack your bags kids, this show is over!

Of course it isn’t. Let’s just take a little deeper look here. How about Runs Scored vs. Runs Allowed?
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