Nationals Baseball: Williams is A problem, not THE problem

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Williams is A problem, not THE problem

I come to bury Williams, not praise him.

Last night, Williams made one big questionable decision which helped send the game spiraling out of control. The worst part may not even be the decision itself, but other things around it. Such as the fact that there was a group of fans that didn't think that decision was bad but thought his follow-up was the problem. And the fact that the game blowing up helped hide another mistake that was going to rear its head as the game went on. Williams really can't win. But first the mistake.

In the bottom of the 5th Gio Gonzalez was the second batter due up. He had already hit 93 pitches and was getting out of self-made jams all night. It seemed only a matter of time until things blew up on him. The easy call was to pinch hit for Gio now and move on with another pitcher in the 6th. Instead Matt Williams let Gio hit for himself.

There are reasons why you could let this happen. Several in fact. The problem was almost none applied at the time. Gio could bat if :
  1. The Nats had a big lead : Nope. Nats were up only 1. 
  2. The opponent had a lefty or lefties coming up early the next inning : Nope. The Dbacks had three straight righties. 
  3. You thought Gio might be likely to come up in the bottom of the 6th : Nope. By being 2nd up in the bottom of the 5th with one-out it was unlikely that the line-up would work it's way back to Gio. 
  4. Bullpen was gassed : Nope. There were two pitchers who Williams would likely avoid using last night but the rest of the pen would be fine to use. 
  5. Gio had been cruising coming into this inning : Nope. He'd allowed 2 or more baserunners in 3 of the last 4 innings. 
This leaves only one usable reason. You had no faith in the middle relief to hold the lead. This is actually understandable given the Nats issues. However Matt made it clear that this wasn't part of his decision making when he pulled Gio after one batter in the 6th*. He put in Barrett (instead of Roark who would have made more sense**) Barrett blew it.*** Then he put in Roark who slowed the bleeding before Thornton and Rivero ripped off the bandages and dug their knives into the wound.

So there's the mistake(s). What other mistake did it cover up? The "Davey"ing of Storen and Papelbon over the past two nights. I call it "Davey"ing because it is kind of like what Davey did to Drew back in 2012. He failed to keep him loose, then felt forced to use him in a game that didn't matter, only to find himself forced to use him on three straight nights. Matt made the same mistake using neither Drew or Pap in the Mets series, feeling forced to use them so putting them in Game 1 vs the Diamondbacks when it didn't matter, then looking at having to use them yesterday and today. Either he could stretch them or sit them. Either would be sub-optimal.****

Not a good night for Matt. But what about the title of my post? Well here's the thing. You should be able to turn to your pen and they should be able to get you a few outs. This pen, outside of Drew and Papelbon, is often unreliable. So let's say Matt made the "right move" and went to Roark and he did ok for two innings (He seems to finally be settling back into the pen. This year he's had issues transitioning back to relief after spot starting, so let's just stop that). Now it's the 8th and the game is close. You probably want Janssen to pitch the 9th where it is likely the heart of the order will come up again. So who's in the 8th? Barrett? He's terrible under pressure. Thornton? Might be tiring at 38 and into the dog days. Rivero? Rookie arm?

And here's the other thing. The Nats couldn't score against Rubby De La Rosa. Just like they couldn't score against Patrick Corbin. Just like they couldn't score against Zach Godley. Can we finally say it's the line-up and not the pitchers they face? Please?

And here's the other other thing. Scherzer only went 6. Fister only went 6. Gio didn't even get there. Ross was the last one to pitch into the 7th and he gave up a homer and double before being pulled. Six innings is ok, but you want these guys pitching into the 7th if possible. That negates the unpredictable part of the pen and dammit it's what the "best rotation in baseball" is supposed to do.

Matt Williams is bad at managing the pen. That's true. He doesn't plan out usage well. He doesn't pick the right guys as logic would dictate. And if there's any art to it, if there's a sense that you can feel who's got it tonight, well if that's a real thing Matt don't got it. But this in itself shouldn't be a big problem especially with Storen and Papelbon at the back end. It only becomes a big problem because the Nats rotation isn't living up to it's end of the bargain***** and the offense can't score any runs. In that case every inning is important and the soft underbelly of the Nats and Matt Williams is exposed.

Understand this. The Nats aren't winning anything, not with Matt Williams at the head or goddamn Joe McCarthy, unless the hitters hit and the starters pitch. 

*Note : This is where that other group of fans get angry. They think Gio should have been allowed to pitch the 6th, maybe more and pulling him, not letting him hit and pitch, was the big mistake. They are wrong, I don't know how you could have watched that game and wanted to see what Gio would do as he got tired, but let's put those differing opinions out there and discuss and/or ridicule.

**Whoever came in was likely to have to throw 2 innings of baseball because he wouldn't come up until the 7th. Barrett had just done that true, but Roark is probably the arm you trust most both in general and to put up multiple innings, especially with the middle of the D-backs order coming up.

***Bad throw or not Zimm really has to block that. He tried to short hop it and just whiffed completely. That's why Rendon couldn't get to it either. He was in position for if the throw missed Zimm, not if Zimm missed the throw.

****What Williams should have done, once the Mets series was over, was use Papelbon OR Storen in Game 1. If Game 2 was also a blowout he could use the other then. If Game 2 and Game 3 were both close he'd have both for Game 2 and at least one for Game 3.

***** A game score ~60 is generally a good, above 70 is usually a great game. Since Zimmermann pitched a 74 on July 5th (7IP, 5H, 8K, 1BB, 1ER). Here are the games above 60 - Scherzer,  Scherzer, Scherzer, Ross.  Meanwhile how many mediocre under 50 games have there been? Nine. The staff hasn't been terrible, but "not terrible" isn't acceptable from this staff.


Rob Evans said...

One positive from last night...maybe we found another bullpen arm in Tyler Moore.

I'm only laughing to keep me from crying at this point.

We may come back from this West Coast trip out of the race by 5-7 games.

cass said...

Call up Trea Turner. We can't lose the division while our best shortstop is playing in AAA.

After his start today, send Joe Ross to the pen and Barrett down to the minors.

Is there a better outfielder than Werth with a big contract that the Nats could pick up in August? I'm not sure how to fix the hole in LF (and CF if Span doesn't come back soon and keep hitting) but it's a problem.

Chris Needham said...

I think one of the other things a good manager does isn't just put the bullpen arms in the right spots, but identify -- in concern with the GM -- which ones are actually useful.

I think if you look at Bobby Cox and his patchwork bullpens, he always was able to sort through and ID the guys he could get something out of.

Does Matt lack that talent? Does he not have enough juice with Rizzo to get things the way he wants it? Etc.

Carl said...

I saw the Gio bat/get yanked situation coming in the top of the 5th. I'm a little more forgiving of letting him bat and then pitch the 6th--yes, he'd been rocky all night, but he'd mostly weaseled his way out of the jams, and he was facing the bottom of the Snakes' order in the 6th. I had more faith in him to get out of man on 1st, no outs than I did in Barrett at that point.

Point being, do one or the other. Either pinch-hit for Gio, and let a reliever start the 6th clean, OR let him bat and then let him pitch the 6th, within reason. Instead we got the worst of both worlds. This happens way too often.

NatsVA said...

On another subject, many self righteous Nats "fan police" on Twitter last night excoriating fellow fans at the game for booing an effort that certainly deserved to be booed. While I don't boo myself, can we all agree that the people who call others out for doing so are some of the worst types of fans? Most of these sanctimonious "true fans" weren't even around from 2005-2009.

cass said...

I didn't like the booing last night and I've been a fan of the team since opening day 2005.

Although it was somewhat understandable last night, the growing amount of booing is creating a negative atmosphere at Nats park and around the team. It creates antagonism with the team. It reflects, I feel, a sense of entitlement among the new bandwagon fans who only started rooting for the team after they got good and started making the playoffs. Those of us who have been around awhile understand the hard times better.

The most egregious booing has been against Desmond. It was bad the other night when he struck out in a key situation. I understand he didn't have the best approach, but this is Ian Desmond - he doesn't have much in the way of pitch recognition skills.

And you simply don't boo Ian Desmond. He is probably the most fan-friendly Nats player - he's always signing autographs and chatting with fans (especially kids) even when he has other places to be. He's constantly tossing stuff to fans and interacting. He's been with the team since before it was in DC. He does stuff in the community and mentors Nats minor leaguers. He was the best shortstop in the league for three years in a row and helped the Nats make two postseasons.

Is he having a bad year? Yes. Terrible. Should he be benched? Quite likely. But booed? No. No. No. Inexcusable. It's embarrassing to hear people boo Desmond.

I am much more forgiving of people booing Matt Williams. I don't like the negativity, but it's more understandable. Still don't like the negativity, though.

Bryceroni said...

This is probably my personal lens coloring things, but I interpreted the boos as at least partially directed at MW. I almost don't blame Barrett because my expectations are so low at this point...

Rob Evans said...

I boo my arse off when the results and effort warrant it. It's not personal. This is a results business and this is one of the only ways fans can express their displeasure.

BTW, I've been a fan since day one. I went to the first every Nats game in RFK and have watched/been to approx 90% of the games since then.

Anonymous said...

@Cass - "Those of us who have been around awhile understand the hard times better." I've been a redskins fan since the early 90's and I've booed plenty of times. To echo what Rob Evans said, I boo when the results and effort warrant it. Skins have deserved it for over two decades and the Nats - especially after the past several games - deserved it last night.

This team is too good to not mop the floor with the likes of Rubby De La Rosa. Give me a break. And we're making excuses when we can't hit Greinke, Harvey, De Grom, and Syndergaard? So what's are excuse when we face these guys in October? "Ahh, we just got screwed with facing a good team with a good staff." Last time I checked - that is supposed to be OUR team.

In a town where all we watch is a terrible disgrace of a football team, a Caps team full of "nice guys" that put us through agony in 7-game series, it is ridiculous to watch this type of bad baseball with this talent.

Sooooo - yes. I will boo. Figure out how to win or be sellers - get rid of everyone and set the bar so low that we will clap for silver linings and moral victories.

Miles Treacy said...

I just have a terrible feeling things aren't turning around. I actually can see the lineup getting into a groove and getting hot (assuming Span returns doing what he was before the DL). It seems Escobar is making good contact. Rendon has put some good ABs together as well.

I actually don't see the rotation getting any better. They just seem extremely out of it. Fister is a lost cause. Something physical has to be going on there. Ross is on an innings limit so we can't just ride him like crazy. Strasburg flashes brilliance but then puts up the dud. So which will we get when he returns? Scherzer seems to be working extremely extremely hard in his outings. Seems the first half is catching up to him (no idea how many innings he's at), but his starts just seem so taxing. Seems he really feels he needs to be completely perfect every pitch which is so difficult. ZNN just really seems to not be located much this year. Seems he's leaving the ball up and getting hit hard.

Here's to just praying Harper goes on a monster 2-3 weeks and just puts everyone on his back again....

Kenny B. said...

I waffle on the issue of booing. There are strong arguments for and against.

As a fan, it feels like a way to collectively register frustration at the slow slipping away of what was supposed to be our last best chance to actually get past the first round of the stupid playoffs. It feels like if it's not this year, then we've squandered some generational talents, we've harmed the good will the team has earned with the growing number of fans, and we've started down the road to waning interest and ultimately yet another baseball team leaving for greener pastures. Granted, most of that is not actually likely to happen, but it feels that way as the season slips away and the division goes to the METS of all teams.

It's even worse since this town experiences intense disappointment every hockey playoff season and a twirling sharknado of self-destruction that calls itself a football team. The Nats feel like they are supposed to be different, and here's the manager, running the baseball equivalent of the double swinging gate.

But then, I don't want to become Philadelphia fans, who spend years booing current and former players that won them championships as part of some long-term resentment-based philosophy of winning. Like if you just boo hard enough, everyone on the field will put forth some extra effort to get you to stop.

Maybe Nats fans have finally moved out of the homerism and "just happy to take in a ballgame" that defined the crowds in the early days of Nats park. Hopefully, the boos are just emblematic of the intensity of the fandom, and the fact that they know that what they're watching is not what they paid to watch. Nats fans are generally pretty good, so I hope this is an isolated instance of frustration, and not the beginning of the Philadephization of the DC baseball-scene.

Anonymous said...

@Kenny B - LOVE the swinging gate reference! Was there for that game and was left speechless. For those of you who don't know and could use a laugh...

Self-deprecating humor is still funny right? RIGHT??

JE34 said...

If only there were a way to boo with some specificity at a game.

"BOOOO, IAN. You swung to pull with two strikes at yet another slider down and away. We love you, buddy, but BOOO. Consider corrective lenses. I'm booing because I care."

"BOOOO, MATT WILLIAMS, BOOOO. Here is a wet paper bag. Please manage your way out of that, then try making a lineup, or using a bullpen."

Booing is heavily nuanced, as you can see.

SM said...

Reducing the Nats' season to a discussion about the propriety and etiquette of booing? Intimations of moving the franchise to greener pastures? Sounds like Washington Gotterdammerung.

Montreal is looking for a franchise to re-locate.

Anonymous said...

C'mon. Yes, the Nationals should have locked up the division weeks ago. If the Mets had been just a few games further back in the standings, they would have written off the season instead of making over the team with Cespedes et al at the trade dead-line.

Instead, it's an honest-to-goodness pennant race now. Scoreboard watching where every game counts. Rival fan bases going at it. The Nationals are only 1 back in the loss column. Plenty of season left. This is what the agony and the ecstasy of being a sports fan is all about. Enjoy it.

Zimmerman11 said...

Anonymous... all agony. No ecstacy.

Froggy said...

How bad does it have to get before Werth cuts his hair to change his luck.

Anonymous said...

Within 2 games, the Nationals can be back in 1st place. I predict the Nationals will be back in 1st place by Monday.

Froggy said...

Is it me or has there been a sudden surge in anonymous postings on the blog?

How about manning up and grabbing a handle before posting 700 word comments?

Bryceroni said...

Knock on wood, but there haven't really been cancer anons, so I have no issue.

John Schwab said...

... slow clap ...

Gotta say, Harper, there have been times I've seriously where your head was about this team. From the just-not-cool reveling in Werth's failures or your early-on confession to being, in your heart, a Yankees fan, to the unforgiving analysis. Now, to that all I say "Meh."

What you've written here today is some good fun rabble. I agree with everything you've said, but am probably willing to be a little softer on Williams, as I would very much imagine he's not rusty or inveterate in his ways like DJ was. He'll learn and I think we'd all hope, will come back kicking some serious a$$. Time will tell, but in the meantime:

Truth to power, brother. Truth to power.

Froggy said...

It's official (sorta): Fister to the pen, Barrett sent down, Joe Ross stays in the rotation.

hooray (software voice)

Anonymous said...

Met fan here. Come join us. You're blog is reflective of you team. Dead.

Blogger said...

If you want your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to come crawling back to you on their knees (no matter why you broke up) you must watch this video
right away...

(VIDEO) Text Your Ex Back?