Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Playoff managing

Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Quickie - Playoff managing

As much as we like to pick on or praise Matt Williams, the truth is there hasn't been much to distinguish him from your prototypical modern manager. He bats the speedy CF first. He tries to set up a 7-8-9 finish to the pen. He bunts with the pitcher or when it's close late in the game. He follows the managerial course that years and years of baseball seasons have carved out. There's nothing in particular that makes him stands out.

In the regular season this is fine. Rizzo has built a strong enough roster that when it's healthy the Nats should be able to win 90+ games under standard operating procedures. But in the playoffs things are different and require more creativity and forward thinking from your manager. For a lot of teams it's a playoff type atmosphere from August on and if you've paid attention you've seen managers unable to change their ways to accommodate the situation. I spent most of early to mid August mad at Joe Girardi for failing to pull Betances and Robertson out of their set roles in the 8th and 9th. Betances has actually faced fewer batters per appearance in the stretch run than he did earlier in the season, as he has moved into the 8th inning role. Robertson has come in before the 9th one time since the start of July. He's pitched more than an inning just 3 times in those 30 appearances. And understand, Girardi is considered a pretty good manager.

What does a bad manager do? Here you go. Ned Yost didn't use his Kelvin Herrera to get the last couple outs in a crucial situation in the 6th because Aaron Crow is the 6th inning guy, Herrera is for the 7th.

Yikes. I feel bad for the Royals but that's a guy who shouldn't be managing. Not "shouldn't be managing in the playoffs", or "shouldn't be managing in the majors", but "shouldn't be managing, should be running a car dealership". 

To be a completest there are actually two types of "playoff" managing. There's the regular playoff game, and then there's the elimination game. The regular playoff requires that forethought. This is the issue that Davey, an otherwise well thought of manager, ran into in 2012. You want your best players (primarily pitchers but it can be applied to injured offensive players as well) to be rested, but not rusty. To do so you have to properly take advantage of the days off given. Davey didn't. He gave Mattheus a 2nd day of work in Game 2, not Storen. Then afraid Storen might get rusty after the day off, used Drew in Game 3 when he didn't need to setting up the 3 days in a row situation that helped doom the Nats.  (Lessons to be learned :  If you are going to be afraid of rustiness, use all your key relievers the day before a day off if possible.  If the way the series is going sets up a possible 3 days in relief in a row err on giving the reliever an extra day of rest)

Elimination game managing requires no forethought. Everything is about the game in front of you. What's the best way to get out of the situation presented right now. Does it mean using 6 relievers in a single game? Fine. Does it mean at least trying to use your best reliever for more than 2 innings? Fine.  Typically managing is about managing assets to maximize wins over the course of a season. That goes out the window in an elimination game. You can't care about setting yourself up for the rest of the series because the rest of the series may not take place if you don't win the game. It's the ultimate extension of the philosophy that uses the best relievers in the most important spots, inning be damned. 

I'm really interested to see what Matt Williams does in the playoffs. It's easy to say he'll be like the standard manager, but truth is we don't know.  He's had little need to work outside the box this year with the talent he has and the Braves failing to put up serious competition. That kind of easy success will be harder to find in the playoffs. Who knows when faced with those stressful situations, how exactly the man will react? 


Anonymous said...


Donald said...

I'm not sure if it's any indication, but since the September call-ups where he has an expanded roster, he's definitely been more creative about his use of the pen. I'm going to assume that means he'd be willing to create the optimal situational match-ups in an elimination game regardless of set roles.

On the flip side, he hasn't seemed to have done much at all with the extra bats he's been given.

cass said...

Craig Stammen.

He's the reason the Nats have never gotten into the Ned Yost situation in recent years. We have a 7th inning guy, an 8th inning guy, and a closer, sure, and we almost never use them outside of those innings.

But instead of Aaron Crowe, we have Craig Stammen. And Stammen is the "important situation, possibly multiple innings, whenever you need a good reliever and it's not someone else's turn" guy. He's a nice piece to have around and you can work matchups when needed with him and the LOOGY of the moment.

JWLumley said...

Agree to disagree. Standard managing protocol does not say bat one of your best 3 or 4 hitters 6th, even when resting other players. Williams management of Harper, especially down the stretch as he's heated up has been terrible. Case in point, most managers would say that if I guy is hitting .252 and threatening to lead the major leagues in strikeouts you wouldn't bat that guy in front of someone hitting .270 and hitting .280 since the start of August. Why not you ask, because you might find yourself in a situation where the .250 hitter comes up in the 9th inning down by a run with men on base instead of the .270 hitter who has better power. Point being, even managers in the Ned Yost/Dusty Baker land wouldn't bat Harper 6th just to maintain the L-R-L-R dynamic and they certainly wouldn't bat Kevin Frandsen and Asdrubal Cabrera in front of him when he rolled a makeshift lineup out there. I realize this has a limited impact, but given how complete nonsensical it is, it drives my disproportionally crazy.

Other than that, my main point of argument would be his handling of the bullpen. Yes, he has people in their 7th-8th-9th roles, but he falls in and out of love with relievers. Look at Detwiler, he's only had 44 appearances and 60 IP's this year, despite being healthy. Jerry Blevins has by far the worst ERA on the staff, Jerry Blevins has the second most appearances. Standard managers and the more forward thinking managers both agree that this is bad, as do 9 out of 10 dentists.

Still, I'm interested to see what Williams will do in the playoffs and by interested I mean terrified.

Nattydread said...

How do you measure the off-the-field tactical side of managing? Ensuring players are mentally prepared, prepping pitchers and catchers for match-ups, setting field positions, gathering intelligence on opposing teams (who's hot, sick, injured, etc)? All of that in addition to writing the line-ups and insuring that the players get their BP and fielding in. Assigning tasks to the assistant managers.

Watching the game and being able to sift important details (when pitchers are flagging on either side).

MW seems to be better organized than our last 3 managers.

A Fly Moses said...

Matty's certainly been better in September, but its unclear if this is a result of "getting into playoff mode" or just willingness to use the extra arms he has, and once his bullpen drops back to 6-7 guys, he'll stop playing match-ups and revert to his April-August strategy of only making pitching changes at the beginning of innings.

The other question is how bunt-crazy he'll go in playoff games. He hasn't been as bad about over-bunting during the regular season as it felt like at times, but I'm certainly worried about it.

Zimmerman11 said...

@JW... there should be a rule that says your lineup HAS to be in reverse order of OPS :)

Harper said...


Donald - I'm thinking the extra use we've seen is a product of getting relief arms some rest. That's how I read it.

cass - You say that but what was stopping MW or DJ from making him a 6th inning guy? There's no reason that Clippard couldn't have fit that same description coming into the Nats - he had the starter background. All it takes is one manager to put a guy in a box.

JW - I think other managers could have done that especially if they started Bryce lower in the order and the guys above just worked out. Given how they hit early Rendon/Werth/LaRoche set that RRL in 234 right away. I'd say most managers given that would have Bryce 6th especially with a speedy CF available for leadoff.

NattyDread - It's very very hard to do that. You have to take the word of a lot of people close to the day to day operations and the natural tendency is to think "we're winning so they must be doing it right"

AFM - I'm most worried about the bunt craziness, too. Just a feeling.

JWLumley said...

@Harper But given how he hit last year, why would anyone have started Harper out hitting 6th or lower? They wouldn't have.

Still, my main point of contention with MW is bullpen use. Mainly Blevins. Blevins is not good, and has not been good, yet somehow he has the second most appearances on the team. It defies logic.

Zimmerman11 said...

The difference between leading off Werth and leading off the pitcher is only good for .4 or .5 runs per game so any ACTUAL lineup optimization would account for much much less than that. One tool online says that the difference between Span in leadoff and Span down in the order is less than .1 runs per game. Doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, but there ARE unquantifiable pscychological implications to overcome with doing this, and being the first would be tough. Baseball players are superstitious and have beliefs about the right way to do things that have been engrained over their entire careers.

Unrelated note... does anyone else wish we had a submarine style pitcher on the team? I watched the Binghamton Mets win the Eastern League AA championship this past weekend. Opposition had a serious knuckle-dragger on the mound in the late innings. So much fun to watch!

Anonymous said...

JW: Baseball is a long season. You do need Blevins and Detwilers to finish the meaningless games. You could use better pitchers and get to 100 plus wins, but you could then be out in first round of NLDS.

JWLumley said...

@Anon That's great now that things are sewn up, but they weren't sewn up earlier in the year. Still, I like Detwiler, if MW had given Detwiler 60 appearances instead of Blevins it would be a different story. Detwiler's presence make Blevins use that much more baffling.

Zimmerman11 said...

@JW... agree on Blevins and Detwiler... of course, there's the "Rizzo went out and got us this guy to use, and I want to make the GM look smart" excuse. USing Detwiler and succeeding would be making Rizzo look less like a genius. THAT's MW's real job, not winning ball games.

The team went and picked up Thornton, who theoretically is getting a lot of Blevins' time...

Donald said...

I don't think his use of Blevins is about resting other guys. If that were the point, then he could have used Detwiler much more frequently.

I agree with Lumley in regard to the use of Blevins and Detwiler, though I'm not sure what the driver of that is and if Rizzo doesn't have some about of blame. But I do think that Williams has been learning. He used Detwiler in a higher leverage situation recently. And while his use of Blevins outside of a loogy role in any scenario seems odd, he seems to be using him in lower leverage situations.

On the plus side, I think he's done some things well recently:

-- Handling of Soriano. That was a difficult set of circumstances and it seems like Williams handled it in a way to keep everyone happy. Even Soriano had positive things to say about Williams and that he trusts him.

-- Handling Gio/Clippard. He didn't try to show them up after pulling them from games recently, and defused the situation later. I don't think either player has any hurt feelings.

-- Taken advantage of the extra arms in the pen to have more one batter appearances.

-- Showed willingness to pull Clippard mid-inning to get a batter match-up despite the book saying the entire 8th belongs to Clippard.

-- Getting players rest.

JWLumley said...

@Z11 I know you're right about this, and it doesn't make that much difference, but in a small sample size it can cost you the game (of course doing it the wrong way could also win you the game). Of course, going down the psychological road, who's to say that Harper wasn't seriously derailed by being moved down in the lineup? Davey said something interesting when Harper was called up, to the extent of, 'Now he can relax, because he doesn't have to put up HUGE numbers to get to the next level. Perhaps moving him down caused him to press to get moved back up in the lineup?

That's the unimportant stuff though. YES, I absolutely wish the Nats had a submariner. A real knuckle dragger like Dan Quisenberry or someone like that. How can we make this happen?

JE34 said...

Hey, car dealerships have closers too... so I'm not sure Ned Yost should be managing those either. He would have a setup guy who would ONLY push the rustproofing and undercoating.

John C. said...

JWL: if you're going down the psychological road pointing to Davey's comment on Harper not having pressure (at the big league level) any longer because he's just one of the guys, know that the argument can just as easily be turned around. As in, Harper has done as well as he has because he's hitting #6 - the pressure is less, he can just develop as a hitter without feeling like he has to be the "best hitter on the team" (#3 spot) or the "cleanup guy" (#4 spot), etc.

I'm not endorsing either narrative, btw. Just pointing out that Davey's quote/point doesn't really help the argument of moving Harper up or down the lineup. Which is a silly discussion, but everyone keeps having it anyway.

Harper, your response to Nattydread also posts both ways. Sure, some assume that MW is good at all those things (and more) because the Nats are winning, ergo he is. However, it seems that a lot of others assume that MW is terrible at all those things, either because they can't see it (and therefore it can't be) or because they disagree with how MW is doing [x], and therefore he must be doing [y] wrong, too.

It seems to me that MW is not now and has never been a perfect manager, but that he has gotten better at a lot of things, on field (handling the pitching) and off the field (handling the media). The team has gotten better defensively (after a terrible start, they've been pretty good), at baserunning, and holding down the other team's running game - all things that MW said he was going to emphasize when he got here.

So, despite the infinite variations of "the manager is an idiot" (see, e.g., Zim11's snide comment that the manager's real job isn't winning, it's puffing up his boss - horse nostrils), MW hasn't really hurt this team. There's good to offset the bad. And looking around at the other likely playoff managers, with the possible exception of Buck Showalter I don't see another manager matchup that's likely to hurt the Nats. And if they get Showalter I'd take it - because that would mean the Nats are in the WS!

Jay said...

It saddens me to admit to this bc I'm a big Davey Johnson fan, but Davey froze in that game 5 loss. The mistake wasn't pitching Storen in 3 straight games - not ideal, but he did it just the other night. Edwin Jackson was pretty bad, but our bullpen had been fairly shaky that whole series. I'm guessing Davey was hoping Jackson would come in and do like Zimmermann had the game before and strike out the side. The biggest mistake was not walking Kozma to get to Motte. In a tie game with a base open (especially with first base open after Descalso stole 2nd) you walk a guy to get to the pitcher. Best case scenario you get their closer out of the game in a tie game in the 9th. Worst case is the pitcher hits for himself and you go to the 9th tied. I guess a pinch hitter could have gotten a hit, but the closer still would have been out of the game.

Anyway, Storen unfairly takes the blame for that game. The Nats failed to add on - only 1 more run after being up 6-0. Gio was sort of horrible. Walked in a run and left after 5 with a 6-3 lead. Clippard gave up a homerun in the 8th. If I'm being completely honest with myself - Washington didn't deserve to win that series. They were outscored. Bullpen was a bit of a mess. Detwiler was the only starter who had a decent game.

I'm very curious to see a)how MW does in the playoffs. He went for it against the Braves and it was a sight to behold. b)how the Nats players respond. Storen is better, Clippard is better, the starting pitching is better, so much about the Nats is actually better than 2012. It should be fun to see.

Anonymous said...

Hey Harp, just wanted to thank you for all your interesting posts. Always a pleasure to read your blog. Thanks!

Max David said...

6 years ago, I thought Yost got hosed. Sure, he managed the bullpen horribly, but they had Sabathia, Braun, and were in the process of getting to the playoffs for the first time in what was it 24 or 26 years or something? I said, "You can't fire the guy with 20 games left when he's the manager of the team in the Wildcard lead!"

Now the more I watch him blow games for the Royals, the more I think how stupid I was 6 years ago. Honestly, I would've fired him in May after they got off to that horrible start, but yesterday's quote is a fireable offense. Same with Girardi using Robertson for the 3rd day in a row last night. Betances throws 15 pitches, gets 2 strikeouts didn't pitch on Saturday, but you take him out after 15 pitches and 1 inning?

cass said...


Oh, I agree about the team developing Stammen correctly, but if Stammen had been the 6th inning guy, that would've been fine cause he's a better pitcher than Crowe. The thing is, we have the luxury of a flexible, shut-down reliever not tied down to the 7th, 8th, or 9th. Other teams don't have a 4th reliever of that talent, I don't think. Certainly not on a multi-year basis.

I'm not that familiar with KC's bullpen, but people keep talking about not using the 7th inning guy which is a legitimate complaint, but do they have a 4th guy as good as Stammen that they didn't use? Or is their bullpen not that deep?

Dan said...

Braves fan here. Congratulations on a great season, Washington. You guys held it together through injuries and have put together an impressive run over the last half of the season. Well done!

Donald said...

Thanks, Dan. Next year should be better for you guys with your starting pitchers coming back. Now you just need to unload BJ Upton and fire Fredi.

Froggy said... anyone but me watching Sorryano melt down in the bottom of the 9th?

How many times do I have to say it...he is not the guy you want to close out a game.


Max David said...

Let's close this out with Roark tomorrow! Stras bounced back from his Atlanta demons, but I really don't trust Gio doing the same thing. Hopefully he proves me wrong!

Bjd1207 said...

@JW - It's been pretty clear all season that your sticking point with MW is his treatment of Harper, but you're cherry-picking like crazy. And I don't know if it's just because you want to support your argument or you really aren't seeing it. But let's start with your beef that he hits behind Desmond. Over July/August when Harper came back Desmond has a better OBP, with similar if not better power numbers. Even if you still believe that Harper should bat above him, you must admit that it's not absolutely bat-shit crazy to stick with your guy who's played nearly every game, getting on base better and with the same power and fits better into the rest of the lineup construction (see Harper's part about the established 2, 3, 4). I would bat Des/Harp exactly where they are, it's not ludicrous. If anything, it's arguable.

And if Des had dropped off slightly in September then how come you're willing to bat Harper in the 3 hole while he's struggling as he works through it but if Des slumps for 2 weeks he deserves to be demoted. Haper might one day be the type of guy you build a lineup around, but NOW, THIS SEASON, he's not. You fit HIM into the rest of the lineup, and that's exactly what MW has been doing. Treating him as a tool in the toolbox because on the whole he's having a good, not great year, while he's been healthy. That's not a cornerstone for a season, and you keep treating him as such. He shouldn't be playing CF, he shouldn't be batting leadoff, he shouldn't be batting 3rd, he shouldn't be batting ahead of Des, he's doing great for us right where he is and that's where I'd leave him.

All of that ranting over, I agree with you on the use of Blevins. I can point to games where he managed us out of the win by stubbornly sticking with Blevins, and that can't happen in the playoffs. I'm hoping Z11 is right about the reasons for it.