Thursday, August 25, 2011

Earth To Davey

The Nats have regressed, as everyone knew they would. When Davey took over for Riggleman (and to some extent McLaren) the team had won 13 of 15 games and was the talk of baseball for everything other than baseball. Surely there was no way for the team to continue their torrid pace, and no one was expecting them to. Enter Davey Johnson - the veteran presence that Mike Rizzo has craved since he took over the GM job and inherited Jim Riggleman as manager. His role was to command respect from the clubhouse and to mentor the younger players, but things haven't worked out as Rizzo or Johnson have planned.

I have been brainstorming this post in my head for quite some time now. Thinking of ways to write what I wanted to say, what tone to take, and what exactly I thought. Eventually I just decided to state my case in the simplest way I could. Bullets - and yes, some are fact based and some are opinion based.

Thesis: In no way should Davey Johnson be the Nationals Manager in 2012.

1 - Brought in to provide leadership for the younger players, he immediately pledged his faith in the veterans (Stairs and Ankiel) and promised them playing time.

2 - A "Players Manger" - like Johnson - is simply a coach that doesn't enforce rules/discipline because he wants to be liked. Not a good idea for a younger team.

3 - Immediately anointed Bernadina as the teams leadoff hitter and CF for the rest of the year - a month later he was back in Syracuse.

4 - One of the most talked about aspects of his coaching style was that he "showed faith in players" - unless it was Ross Detwiler and then its one hit and out.

5 - Doesn't fit the organizational philosophy of protecting pitchers - openly criticizing Strasburg's rehab and Zimmermann's innings limit.

6 - Seems to me that during his MASN post-game interview he takes credit for every win while openly blaming specific players for their struggles during losses. Once again, Davey Johnson is supposedly a players manager.

7 - Doesn't seem like he was familiar with the team when he took over. Not having managed in the big leagues since the Steroid Era, if he had been following the club he would've seen that it was built around pitching and defense, not his usual "offensively minded" ball club.

8 - If you follow me on twitter (@CraigMac) I tweeted this last night. Two nights ago, during the 2-0 loss, Davey said he "zoned" on not pinch hitting for JZimm in the 6th; once again this is a pitcher who is 3 innings away from his innings limit sent out there to throw his 100th+ pitches. Last night Davey said that he "balked" on sending Livan out for the 7th inning. Part of me is happy to finally see him own up to mistakes but I don't think a big league manager should be "zoned" while trying to win a ballgame.

9 - He has no idea how to use the pen. CSN's Mark Zuckerman wrote Saturday, after Tom Gorzelanny's stellar Friday night, that Gorzelanny went to Davey asking to be used. That's great the he is asking to be used, but the truth of the matter is that Gorzelanny asked on Sunday and still didn't get into the game until Friday, despite several games in between. All told it was 13 days between appearances for Gorzelanny. Now, how many times has Davey complained to the media about having an "overworked" bullpen?

10 - I don't want to hear Ray Knight talk about Davey Johnson as The Greatest Manager Ever for another 162 games...

11 - What is with his man-crush on Henry Rodriguez?? Not only does he have a 4.34 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP, he is 2nd in all of baseball with 12 Wild Pitches; the leader (17) has pitched 108.1 more innings than Rodriguez has... I'm not saying that HRod shouldn't be used, but Davey is throwing him out there in some serious 7th and 8th inning, high-pressure situations. Let's give the guy a chance to succeed.

12 - Collin Balester was recalled from Syracuse on August 2nd. Since then he has only pitched in 4 games. Overworked bullpen?

13 - Rick Ankiel, the lifetime .310 OBP hitter, hitting leadoff.

14 - One of his main talking-points upon his hiring was the need for a consistent lineup. I don't have the time to go through each of Davey's 50 games and figure out just how many lineups he has used, but venturing a guess that its closer to 50 than 1.

15 - Most importantly, he isn't winning. He inherited a team that had a 40-38 record, and now the Nats have a 62-66 record - Davey Johnson is 22-28 as manager.

These are some of the many reasons why I don't think the Nats should pick up Davey Johnson's option. I'm not sure that Rizzo or Johnson knew what they were getting into with this partnership, and I think that both would be happier if Davey returned to his position as special advisor and Rizzo brought in someone who thinks the way he does (pitching and defense).

There you have it, CapBallers. What are your thoughts on Davey Johnson? Do you think his 2012 option should be picked up? Do you trust him with our younger players? You know what to do!


  1. Apparently there are many people who are justifying his pitching decisions as trying to use tough love with the pitchers to make them stronger. Is that really neccesary with a 25-yr old pitcher in his first full season and after tj surgery? I know there is a lot of man-love out there for crazy old uncle Davey, but I think his massive ego and impulsiveness do not bode well for next year. I think his style will not do well with SS next year, either. I seriously hope they do a thorough search and at least consider someone else.

  2. This evidence is pretty thin, in my opinion.

    At the beginning, you say that no one was expecting the Nats to continue their torrid pace. At the end, you point to the bottom line as the Nats being 4 under .500 when they were 2 over .500 when Riggleman resigned. That's hardly a catastrophic collapse.

    Leadoff: The Nats don't have an ideal leadoff man right now. Desmond didn't work, Ankiel didn't work, Denard Span wasn't worth the price. Bernadina was as good a choice as any.

    Bullpen: Yeah, H-Rod is inconsistent, but when he's good, he's awfully good. Can't use Clip 'n Store every night.

    Faith in Veterans: Stairs was released, Hairston was traded, Ankiel and Nix are the best we have right now. None of this seems unreasonable.

    Other stuff: Where's the evidence that Davey doesn't enforce discipline because he wants to be liked? Where's the evidence he didn't know the team that well? Signs point to the contrary on that. These speculations seem unsupported.

    I think the Nats will get better in 2012 regardless of the skipper. That said, the thesis here is that Davey has done a bad job and shouldn't be brought back. Based on these points, I find this argument unpersuasive.

  3. Nick, Good points, all. And your right, 4 games under .500 is not a huge digression from the "Riggleman era" - but what about the complete 180 on the style of play. The team wasn't built like an offiensive ball-club, it was built for pitching a defense.

    Leadoff - You said yourself Bernadina was the best leadoff option, but after being given the job he was sent away.

    Pen - Gorzelanny and Bally are waiting to be used, why go to the HRod well every time. Yes he is good when he is good, but when he is bad he is dreadful. He has 8 meldowns to just 5 shutdowns.

    Other Stuff - The way I see it, historically, players managers get that reputation because they don't enforce discipline - which is why the players like them. That one falls in the opinion category.

    I agree that manager doesn't necessary equal success, but at least having one that fits the organizational philosophy would be better.

    Thanks for reading! I look forward to your rebuttal.

  4. Consider me indifferent regarding Johnson. I think he hasn't really met my expectations, mostly for his handling of the bullpen. However, that's not justifiable cause to not keep him for next year. I think the biggest cause of that was his unfamiliarity with the club (and bullpen), which makes perfect sense given the suddenness of Riggleman's departure.

    Either way, it's a good discussion, and I'm interested to hear your points, Mac.

    With that said, I think you're confusing Johnson's duties with Rizzo's. Johnson has little say when it comes to roster management. If Rizzo wants Bernadina demoted, he can do that. While I hope there's good communication between the two to ensure a coordinated approach to the club, it wasn't Johnson who demoted Bernadina, it was Rizzo.

    Also, regarding Gorzelanny, this is
    another Rizzo-related decision. Clearly, Johnson doesn't like Gorzo, but because he has no options remaining, the Nats must keep him on their 25 man roster, or lose him. Rizzo thinks he's too valuable to dump (and he is- he just traded two decent prospects for Gorzo).

    Furthermore, points 1 and 11 seem incompatible. Either you put these guys in pressure situations and force them to succeed when things aren't easy (as he's done with HRod) or you ease them in, putting them in in favorable situations (good LHP/RHP situations), but this necessitates veterans like Stairs, Ankiel, Gorzo to play frequently. Gorzelanny's playing time has been sacrificed for young pitchers like Detwiler (the other long reliever) and HRod, Clipp, Storen and Mattheus. I'd also add, Gorzo has done nothing to inspire Johnson's confidence since he took over (6.59 ERA since the AS break, albeit limited innings).

  5. I am not impressed with your analysis, but don't really feel like dissecting it point by point because there are so many errors. Rather, I just want to point out that Davy has been with the team for two years prior to becoming the manager. How you can claim that he was not 'familiar with the team' is simply beyond me.

    Anyway, take home point: Tracey Hamilton of WaPo is a better writer and has a much deeper understanding of baseball than you do.

  6. An interesting post! I disagree, but it's certainly well thought-out and entertaining to read. I actually didn't like Johnson right away, but he's starting to grow on me. I'd like to comment briefly on each point, which also covers the new points brought up by your discussion with Nick. Sorry if it's a bit long - if you care to respond, feel free to only cover certain points.

    1 - I don't really see it - actually, I see the opposite. After coming on, Bernadina immediately got more playing time than Ankiel, which was not the case in the Riggleman era. Yes, he was sent down, but not before playing everyday for over a month. Detwiler is starting over Gorzelany, H-Rod is playing more. Detwiler got no time under Riggleman. Also, Johnson is the only manager I know who actually talks about minor leaguers - though whether he backs up that talk will be seen in a week.
    2 - I see no evidence.
    3 - Yea I have an issue with this, too.
    4 - This makes no sense for two reasons. First, Riggleman wanted nothing to do with Detwiler, and Johnson almost immediately put him in the regular 5-man rotation. Second, Detwiler has shown time and time again that he struggles with the third time through the lineup. Johnson seems to be easing him into that part of the ballgame - for instance, last time Detwiler pitched he made it to 7 innings.
    5,6 - I haven't seen it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
    7 - What moves, exactly, has Johnson made that shows he values offense over defense? Playing Nix less? Choosing Ankiel over Bernadina? These are both defensive moves.
    8 - err...remind me not to say the word "zoned" while in your company.
    9,12 - I agree Johnson should use Gorzelany more in the pen, and the back end of the pen more for that matter. But this seems like a small issue for me - especially if Johnson is on the team longer and can find back-end guys that he likes.
    10 - Fair. You ever see Zack Galifainakis play his "brother" Seth?
    11 - I love it. H-Rod has a lot of potential. His control is already better this year than years past. He's like the AJ Burnett of the bullpen, except he's young.
    13 - I hate it, too, but I don't think Ankiel has a future with the team, anyway. Better than Werth hitting leadoff!
    14 - It's still more consistent than Riggleman's, but moreso, it's inconsistent in ways that make sense. No more Werth batting leadoff with Ankiel cleaning up. True Desmond goes from 1 to 2 to 7 to 8, but at least he makes sense in those positions.
    15 - unfair for reasons given by others.

    Pretty much, the only problems I see so far are the demoting of Bernadina and underutilizing the back end of the pen. I would like him back next year.

  7. Will - Thanks for the comments, I think that Davey Johnson has a lot of pull and if he was really adamant about having Bernadina as the CF (as he was to the media), then he could've convinced Rizzo to keep him around.

    Thanks, Paul - I appreciate the comments. The reason why I said he was "unfamiliar with the team" is because he came in and changed the entire organizational philosophy from pitching/defense to offense when the team wasn't built with that in mind. Thanks for reading!

    michael K - Thanks for the insanely thorough comment, definitely fun for me! Anyway, i'll cover a few basics that you seemed most passionate about. In terms of Rossy D and HRod, it's completely different dealing with a former #1 pick and starter than with a flame throwing Rick Vaughn style reliever. What I was saying is that HRod is inconsistent, when the Nats have a lead in the late innings and HRod comes in if he doesn't have it, it is very clear to pull the plug and give the ball to someone eles. We know where HRod is as a pitcher, we don't yet know where Rossy D is and thats why I think that he needs more of a chance to sink or swim.

    Thanks all for reading. I love that you are all so passionate about this. Keep reading and keep up the great conversation.

  8. i feel like the gist of this post is that davey is aloof and that his vision for the direction of the team is inconsistent with rizzo's roster construction...
    couldnt agree more. his attitudes toward and expectations for the team are basically insane. the team is built to bunt, run, and play small ball. even two of the more powerful players (zim and werth) both run well and zimmerman especially bunts extremely well. desi, espi, gomes, ankiel are all good athletes and should be taking advantage on the base paths, and ankiel in particular should work on drag bunting, which could become an invaluable weapon.
    overall it just seems like davey has made his choice for the team and is expecting each player to conform to it rigidly, instead of working with them to maximize their individual talents and building a game plan around that.

  9. Mac - good post. Like some of the others, I come out the other way but I can see why you feel this way.

    I think it comes down to what Nick was getting at - the team was lucky under Riggs, which you acknowledge but don't really adjust your expectations for it. Davey is essentially saying that this isn't the personnel of a winning team, which I think explains why he wants to 'change the philosophy of the team'. I think that is pretty valuable and hard to do. As for the personnel decisions, most of these guys aren't upper level players. I mean, who is the great leadoff hitter being benched for Ankiel? And HRod, with a 100mph FB and a knee buckling curve, well he COULD be awesome so it is probably worth some experimenting to see if you can figure it out.

    Now, your #10 is very compelling, but would you rather listen to that,or spend 162 games watching Ray turn purple trying to complete a full sentence on some other topic?

  10. I am a big fan of Henry Rodriguez, all I am saying is that when he doesn't have the "good stuff" its pretty clear from his warm-up pitches that he doesn't have it. That's when he should have a short hook. I'm all for giving him the chance, but sometimes you gotta cut bait on a game-by-game basis.

  11. How do you feel now after last night? HenRod aka MPHrod isn't fooling many out there. He stinks with Inherited Runners and when he is off he isn't fooling anyone. He is another case of high 90's heat where Major Leaguers can still make decent contact. This isn't AAA.

    His ERA didn't get dinged last night since Espi had an error but still hard to grasp how bad he looks most of the time vs. the couple of times he was Oh Henry!

    I called him before HenRod=Willingham so I don't expect him to go anywhere so it is more Maalox and heartburn for the next outing.

  12. last night was exhibit...i dunno "y" at this point...he used gorzo, his long man, for 2/3 of an a game that went 14 innings and ended up costing the entire bullpen and we lost because he asked talent major league relievers to stretch themselves too far. gorzo has looked good going 2 or 3 innings here and blow him that early for that short a time was he got rung and didnt get his money worth, so not even entertaining...just pathetic in every sense of the word...i cant understand how anyone would defend you even watch the games, the difference in player attitude and style...its uncomfortable, forced and passionless, he is a doddering old man and should be sent to bocca raton asap