Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - keeping Matt Williams?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday Quickie - keeping Matt Williams?

Did the Nats play? I suppose they did but for two games at least it didn't seem like it. Zimmerman, who's bat was so key to the pre-Mets surge, still hasn't played since the last game of the ATL series and at this point why bother?  Bryce had to come out of the last game and unless he's 100% you don't trot him back out there. For some reason they trotted Joe Ross out for the 6th on Saturday. It was his first time on the mound since his last start. I'd shut him down at this point but I suppose if you want to wind him down by pitching an inning or two every few games that's ok, he's just under 150 IP this season.

Why isn't Taylor starting? Or Cole or Jordan getting a start? They should. Over the past weekend the Nats' "chances" went from merely historic to needing possibly the greatest comeback in the history of sport. The series loss to Miami while the Mets swept now tied for worst in the majors Atlanta (Oh so THAT'S why the Nats swept) have the Nats now 9 1/2 out with 20 to play. Even for teams who like to play seasons until the buzzer sounds so to speak, that's gotta be a breaking point, no? If that isn't enough in of itself, the Nats play PHI (twice), MIA, BAL, ATL and a one-gamer vs Cincinnati*. None of those teams are near playoff contention so it doubly doesn't matter who's playing right now. Everyone gets rest all the time from here on out. You can start everyone again in the last series of the season against the Mets where HFA for the Mets/Dodgers series may be decided (we'll have to see where that stands).

 This weekend Boz wrote a column about how Matt Williams would be more of a scapegoat that anything if he ends up getting fired. While the first half of his premise, "Look how good the team did last year!" is nonsense**, the second half "It really isn't his fault this team is around .500" isn't. Matt Williams is just one thing wrong with this season, and not even a big thing. He's easily replaceable though, so if you don't think he's a big time manager there really isn't a reason to keep him on. Unless...

Unless you rebuild. I mean you gut this team and start over. Rizzo is trying to bridge the gap between the current window and what I imagine he sees as the Bryce/Rendon/Max/Giolito window where the mass talent exodus (Ian, ZNN, Fister, Span, Thornton this year; Papelbon, Strasburg, Storen, Ramos, Stammen - and maybe Yuney and Gio, next) will be countered with savvy signings and potentially a trade or two to keep the Nats in the playoff hunt without interruption. If this is the case, you kind of have to fire Matt because he's been at his worst in pressure situations and you are forseeing more of them in the near future. But if you scrap the slow leak / slow fix plan and instead let all the air out at once, maybe you keep Williams. If you not only let those guys who could leave go, but you trade the talent leaving in 2016, you could reap in a very nice package of young players. Stras and Ramos? Gio and Papelbon and the renewed Escobar? Those are immediate big improvements for some teams. 

This may not exactly work. Bryce, Rendon and Giolito should all be ok age wise but Max may age out during these years. But let's face it, neither may trying to bridge the gap. The only thing you know is a vague sense of how good the team on the field should be next year if healthy. (I'd peg the Nats around 88-90 if everyone leaves and no one replaces them) So, trading everyone is not a terrible idea. If you do go down this path then there wouldn't be a big reason to get rid of Matt Williams. He could absorb the losses (think Acta) and you could evaluate if he got any better over the course of a year or two. If not, when things are lining up you toss him to the curb. Easy Peasy. I know I said he should be fired but in this instance, I wouldn't be mad at the Nats at keeping the lug around for a year or two.

*That's a  Monday 3:05 game that is SOOOOO tempting to drive up and go to because it is going to be ridiculously empty in the park.

**Basically he's saying if you hand Matt Williams a great team and have barely anything go wrong injury-wise or surprise drop in talent, that he'll win games. Yeah, ummm, I'm thinking that goes for pretty much everyone. You shouldn't get congratulations for not actively destroying greatness.


Anonymous said...

Harper's prediction back in April.

93 wins.
NL East Champions.

As always I don't predict playoffs because there's no point. Might as well predict who's getting the most hits today in the game. I can make an educated guess that's barely better than the other guesses.

I think the season will unfold slowly with the Nats going back and forth with someone through Memorial Day, but right when the story shifts to "This is a fight the Nats didn't expect to have" the Nats start pulling away and get some breathing room by the All-Star break. They end up finishing about 5 games ahead of 2nd place whoever (Marlins) but that's closer than it seems.

Harper said...

Anon - Yep. I think that was probably a few games under most projections too. We kind of had to believe at the time the team's message of "everyone will be back soon healthy" and that changes the dynamic. That's why I had them "back and forth" for the first two months. Injury time + a month. If we knew it was more like All-Star break... we probably still have the Nats out there winning but with like 89 and far less certainty (fun guess : more pundits in that scenario have the Marlins winning the division than the Mets)

A curious what if would have been if the Nats had been healthier but the Mets had not. Would the Mets have made the same moves at the end of July if they spent the past month bopping between 5-8 games out rather than 1-4? If so, this Mets squad clearly could have challenged for the NL East, but would they have put this squad together?

Anonymous said...

It just goes to show. That's why you play the games.

SM said...

I'm curious:

How--or why--exactly do you "peg the Nats around 88-90 if everyone leaves and no one replaces them?"

vjwhitmore said...

Harper - Mets " bopping between 5-8 games out rather than 1-4...", that tells the season in short. If the Mets are 5-8 out, their FO in no way shape or form makes the moves that they made. The flip side of that is that Rizzo & Co needed to better assess the situation (1-4 out), and be astute enough to realize this teams own short comings (as well as the plausibility that returning injured players might not be at 100% quickly if ever this season).
Rizzo & Co's own inaction and leaving the status quo insured the fate.

We can all pick out instances of MW's failure or this or that, but without a full ammo box it's hard to pull the right triggers.

blovy8 said...

A key element is whether Rizzo is willing to move some pitching for hitting in the minors. The hitting prospects like Victor Robles are down in short season ball with a long way to go.

I dunno if I would let 2016 go to hell with so much money coming off the books. That would send a pretty bad message to your fanbase after this flop of a season. You can already assume Storen, Zimmermann, Fister, Span and Desmond's salaries won't be offset by arbitration and contract raises. I think how they treat the rotation is where you'll know their intentions. If they don't sign or trade for 200 inning starter, it's a sign they're not going for it. Giolito isn't ready for a full season yet, even though you have to expect some of his innings to come at the major league level next season. You almost have to assume a big trade, and another long-term FA deal - but if that doesn't happen, the marginal LH outfielder, some relievers, and a retread starter would probably still sit them in a contending position without even spending as much as this year.

At this point, you have to allow for your future middle infield of Turner and Difo starting the year in the minors. Robles is about the only guy anyone is excited by and he's

blovy8 said...

Usual editing screw up, sorry. I wouldn't be sold on Espinosa as an acceptable starter without some competition, or Rendon playing 150 games. Escobar is a pretty good sell high guy, but they probably need him as much as anyone. They aren't acting like Turner is their SS for 2016 yet.

Rob Evans said...

I'd be willing to go with Max, Stras, Gio, Roark and Ross for the rotation next year. What the Nats have to have is a bat, probably two. Expecting the pitching to hold opponents to 2.5 runs/game is too much to ask.

Rob Evans said...

...and some bullpen help of course :-)

Sammy Kent said...

Imagine a restaurant (we'll call it The National Restaurant) with a reputation for having the most succulent and delicious breads of every much so that it masks the fact that the selections of meat and vegetables isn't what you'd normally expect. But THE BREAD!!! THE BREAD!!!! Twice a year the General Manager goes to the Great Marketplace to purchase and deal for provisions for the coming months......and comes back with more fabulous bread and some bargain basement lunch meat. Later, when the restaurant loses business because the bread alone, great as it is, isn't enough to keep the patrons happy when they see the paltry meat and vegetables---he fires the cook.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Mike Rizzo. Already sporting what many considered the best rotation in baseball, his one major acquisition of the off-season was more bread: Max Scherzer. No one denies that Scherzer has been solid, even fabulous at times this season. But the thin selection of meat and vegetables was made even more paltry by the loss of Adam LaRoche, and absolutely NOTHING was done to replace that lost production. (BUT THE BREAD!!!! OH MY GOSH, THE BREAD!!!!!)

Later, the restaurant season is in full swing, and even the bread, though still fabulous, isn't quite as fresh. But the meat is down to one steak and few cans of Spam. The vegetables are starting to rot. But the cook is making do pretty well with his makeshift provisions, and the National is still considered the best in town. The trade deadline is approaching, and once again General Manager Rizzo goes to the Great Marketplace, and returns with guess what? No vegetables....a loaf of Papelbon Rye that rarely gets asked for and tastes funny when it does come out of the box.

The customers are restless; they want some real food. Rizzo grabs up some corn and beans that had been on the shelf and tells the cook to serve them raw if he has to, just get them out there. It doesn't work. The customers leave in droves and decide to eat at the Metropolitan Restaurant, which strangely enough, has all sorts of new meat and vegetable dishes to satisfy the hungry palate.

The General Manager is upset and fires the cook. The owner inexplicably accepts the GM's explanation of the problem and not only doesn't fire him, gives him an extension and a raise. He'll soon be off to the Great Marketplace again, to get new provisions for the upcoming season, so fret not. All is well. Smell that bread!!!!

People can bitch and whine about Matty and the bullpen and the defense all they want... and they all share some of the blame. But for Rizzo to get a pass on this season when he's the one that built a roster of all bread and little else is almost criminal. Don't tell me how many total runs they score or how many they average per game. The Nationals are great at padding those stats with the occasional double-digit-run game wedged in the middle of a bunch of shutouts. How many do they actually SCORE in a game? So far this season the Nationals have scored two, one, or zero runs in 49 of 142 games...a whopping 35% of all games.

Rizzo and his pitching fetish have created a one-eyed monster. THIS TEAM NEEDS BATS!!!! Every manager under his reign has had a crapshoot for a bullpen, and a lineup that is barely average in everything and that excels at nothing...except leaving men on base. Firing the manager won't solve that problem. The next guy is going to have to deal with it just like Riggleman, Davey, and Matt.

Fries said...


I won't deny that Rizzo's midseason trades leave much to be desired (if he even makes them) but there's no denying that he is one of the better GM's in baseball. Seeing what he's done with this team after the mess Bowden left it in is nothing short of miraculous. I'm hoping Rizzo learns from this season that you can't have a Plan A without a Plan B, C, and D, because once he learns to make changes when needed, he's golden

SM said...

At the risk of violating the restaurant metaphor, one might wonder where the health inspectors have been all this time.

Rob Evans said...

Oh...and how bad does Werth have to be before he becomes a role player? I can't say I'm jazzed about watching his remaining year in a Nats uniform as he calcifies in the OF. Yikes.

Mythra said...

If there is a manager with experience that you can lock up in the offseason, MW goes. If not, a short leash and maybe transfer of BP management to the Cat or Knorr is an idea.

Werth should be learning whatever talent turns an aging starter into Harold Baines or Eddie Murray in a PH role. If he does that, he's got a role for 3-5 years more.

Stammen returns, but likely on a limit, so you need another 1-2 guys for the 6th, 7th inning roles. Storen is sold for a bag of balls, maybe to hurt them on another contender, but likely not. He's got problems between the ears, almost a case of the Yips.

Play out the rest of the month with cups of coffee and get those guys used to the Show. Turner, Taylor, Clint for certain. If you are letting Desi walk, might as well say goodbye now, since he's only been playing like a player in his walk year for about 3-4 weeks.

A shame about Span. I would -love- to see him brought back in a mentor and bench role for Taylor. If you have Werth and Span as PH possibilities off the bench, and maybe Clint s well, that's 3 solid good AB guys off the bench, usually in pressure situations. Likely won't happen if anyone is looking for CF starter for a stop-gap. But one can dream.

Rob Evans said...

@Mythra - it'll be interesting to see how they manage Werth's decline. I'd be willing to bet that they keep trotting him out there because of his contract no matter how bad he is. That's one of the downsides to these big, long-term contracts. It creates and incentive for the team to keep playing the guy when it's obvious that they can no longer do it.

I would like to see him and Span come off the bench though. Probably not gonna happen :-)

Mike C said...

I say trade Bryce and Stras

JQuest said...

I think many of us are bashing Rizzo for one thing, but not praising him for another. Sure, we'd like to have more bats, but he did go out and get a starting pitcher when many of us might have stood pat expecting a combination of our existing AAAA starting pitchers could withstand injuries. When injuries happened, I felt like we were extremely fortunate that Rizzo's starting pitching surplus was there. Plus, starting pitching surplus can fill the gap for bullpen problems in a pinch while the other way around is much more difficult.

Furthermore, I think several of the bats we acquired should have been fine, but were complete busts. We seemed to have a glut of relievers at one point, but several of them just didn't pan out.

As usual, I think Rizzo did a fine job of assembling a team at the start of the season, but made some mistakes when reacting to the various changes throughout the season. I'm not sure if this is arrogance, short-sightedness or bad luck. Perhaps a little bit of all three. I'm hoping he learns, because I don't see him losing his job.

Matt Williams does not have a talent for managing a major league baseball team. He would probably make a good bench coach, but his executive instincts seem wrong and his decision making in critical situations is often wrong. If we want to win consistently, he needs to be replaced.

I was also really disappointed in Steve McCatty at points during the season. He seemed to take a much more passive approach this year and I think it was the wrong way to go. He has a talent for motivating pitchers in critical situations on the mound. Stop trusting your guys to figure it out on their own. Make the game simpler for them and then let them pitch.

John C. said...

It's interesting to have comments lamenting Werth literally the day after he makes a fine running catch in the alley in right center. He's always looked more comfortable in RF than in LF, although Harper's arm plays much better in RF and has saved the Nats a fair number of extra bases this year. And who has been one of the Nats' most effective bats for the last month (.294/.385/.520/.904).

We gave up on Werth after 2011 ... and were wrong. We gave up on LaRoche after 2011 ... and were wrong. We gave up on LaRoche again after 2013 ... and were wrong again [Rizzo gave up on LaRoche after 2014, and he was right]. We gave up on Span after 2013 ... and were pretty spectacularly wrong. So, yeah, let's write of Werth as a contributor. With our track record, if anything that's a good luck charm.

More seriously, Werth should be fine in 2016. Not only was he the best hitter on the team over the previous two seasons, but even this season when he has a chance to get his timing down he has hit. He missed all of Spring Training, but once he had enough at bats he started to hit. By the time he got his wrist fractured he was raking again. Fractured, wrist, misses a couple of months, but after a couple of weeks to get his timing back he starts raking again. He's always on base, and even though he doesn't steal many bases he's an excellent baserunner. He's not a good defender anymore, but he's far from Clint Robinson/Mike Morse/Adam Dunn territory. He should be fine as a starter in 2016 so long as the Nats have a very good 4th outfielder. I make no warranties, either express or implied, about 2017.

Nats2016 said...

Looks like the Mets trolls are finally gone!

W. Patterson said...

I kinda like bread. ...oh, you mean pitchers (smh!)

And Harper has a good idea about the 28th. Might buy a cheap seat and, um, go home sick that day. Thanks for the idea.

Harper said...

SM - just a guess from right now but if you assume healthy Zimm, Werth, Rendon the offense should be fine. It's good this year when they are all there. And assuming healthy Stras the starters should be ok. They've been fine. Also assumes someone brought in in pen, just not a big name that's what I mean by no replacements. Papelbon is a fine closer. True, all the potential is there for a crash again to closer to .500. (I'd range their wins from like 93-82 but give 89 most likely)

But this is off the top of my head right now. Don't hold me to it.

vj - probably not though Mets might think about fighting for a WC/Division in any case? Maybe.

Rizzo did make a big mistake - I wonder sometimes if the felt the Mets would never make that last big move. The Gomez no-deal should have been a warning to him though. Once the Mets make the Cespedes deal, you have to see that it's possible they hang with the Nats rest of year.

blovy8 - you'd have to get back a pretty serious haul. If they think about it I think they'd have to start with Strasburg+ on the line and see if that brings back something great. Like if Cubs said "Sure we'd deal Shwarber for Strasburg and Rivero +" well then pull the trigger then sell the rest (don't think that'll happen but you get point)

Sammy - There is an issue with the distribution of runs but for 0-2 runs scored they are about at the mlb average, surprisingly. It's more of a 0 or 1 run thing but that only explains a little.

I think the key is that when it was clear the offense may have issues for a while until the injury guys got their timing back, he sat on his hands and assumed it would all work out. it didn't so for a good chunk of the season the offense didn't come through. Of course it could be a money thing.

Rob - pretty bad. as long as he's around average I'd expect him to play. remember the Nats OF depth in the minors is non-existant.

Mike C - trade Bryce? Is there a losers trophy I don't know about?

jQuest - Rizzo's lack of fixes midseason is getting a bit crazy but the general opinion is starting to swing toward "must be the Lerner's budget". Even if it isn't that, I think (hope) we all realize Rizzo's pretty good at his job in general. There's been real hope to start every year for a while now and they'll be same next year.

JohnC - I've never been a Werth fan but he starts and plays until he can't hit. It's been a bad year but it's also been like a month of assumed health so we'll see. I'd like him to finish strong though.

Jay said...

I agree with John C. Werth has been pretty good the last few weeks. He is much better in right than left. I think the Nats are sort of stuck like they have been the last few years. They need a bat or two (especially left handed) but where do they go. OF? Then Werth sits. Is Taylor legit? He's right handed. What about the infield? 3b should go to Rendon. Please not another year of Escobar over there. If Escobar can't play 2b next year then I trade him, but that's a risk too. What if Espinosa goes back to being Danny the K? Catcher? Are there any left handed power hitting catchers available? I don't know. Maybe you package Ramos and Espinosa with Escobar to try and get something, but I think Espinosa is the only one under team control past next year. No easy answer.

One thing I do vote for and Sammy Kent is going to be angry, but I vote sign Zach Greinke. Part of the reason our pitching pick up of Sherzer wasn't so great was bc the rest of our starting pitching took a big step back. Sherzer was off his game in the second half. Zimmermann was inconsistent this year (compared to last year). Strasburg was on and off the DL. Fister went to the bullpen. Gio has become an inconsistent 5 inning starter. If they pitch like last year and Sherzer pitches like he did in the first half then things are much different.

They have to rebuild the bullpen by spending real money. No more trading Blevins for a 6th OF and Clippard for a IF rental stuff.

Final point, MW has to go. The guy not only is clueless but he seems to have lost the team to me. Those first two games in Miami along with that entire West coast trip were hang overs from MW getting killed by Terry "freaking" Collins. Collins is one of the worst managers in the league and has been for years. What does that make MW?

Harper said...

"I've never been a Werth fan"

Ok now that I think about that it's not true. I actually really liked the player he was and thought he was a good sign in general. But that contract... I've never been a far of the Werth DEAL.

Bryceroni said...

I appreciate the effort here, but this team has struggled with pitching consistently and would be easily sub .500 without scherzer.

Pitching, defense, bullpen has meant the nats have lost a boatload of games they scored 5+ runs in.

Harper said...

Brycearoni- also not really true - It's odd but they've lost a lot of games where they've scored 5 runs but 6+ is as expected if not better. Really their problems can be summed as - neither offense or SP was good enough to carry team, offense was very good when healthy but rarely was, SP was good but not the very good to great expected. Add in questionable RP failing at wrong moments and you have Nats. You fix RP but what else? Do you get a bat thinking the offense won't be healthy? Do you get an arm thinking the SP won't rebound?

blovy8 said...

I wonder if it was an either/or thing on convincing the Lerners to add payroll down the stretch, and Rizzo opted for the bullpen. If he believed that Harper/Werth/Span/Taylor would be the OF, it's defensible to imagine that Papelbon was going to help more, especially since we can infer that he has no confidence in Storen as a closer come crunch time. Storen did manage to get his head right to be able to set up for Soriano. Also, Cespedes is RH and the lineup already skewed heavily that way. My feeling is the offensive target would have hit left-handed, so the Carloses - Gomez or Gonzalez would have been the guys to shoot for, especially if you are worried about playing Taylor a lot. Maybe the other CarGo cost too much or wasn't really available? Hard to say what Carlos Gomez would have done here that was better than Michael A, though his numbers are picking up now. I don't think he'd have been taking Werth's crummy at bats from early August. Easy to say it should have been done in retrospect, but Span was having a year pretty much like vintage Gomez until the back spasms, with more power coming from someplace his back didn't agree with too much.

Not that the sample means much but the last 30 days look like:
Escobar 411/488/493
Zim 347/407/722
Harper 337/406/651
Rendon 307/386/436
Desmond 293/358/444
Werth 290/387/505

Maybe it's not a good idea to plan on a lot of health, but those are pretty good numbers from Werth, and ought to give one the impression he can still help with some magic bracelets for his wrists.

Bryceroni said...

As long as Espinosa maintains league average batting he is respectable to above average at MI.

I think escobars babip goes down next year and he craters because his defense/base running are painfully bad. Not sure he has a trade market though.

Bryceroni said...

And I think the teamwide defense is something that needs to be addressed.

Escobar and werth have been painful in the field. Clint is more of a PH/DH than a 1B/LF. Bryce has given too many runs away airmailing throws and letting runners move up.

I would like to see 1 more defense first or two way starter added to the team.

Sammy Kent said...


I'll take your word that 35% of games scoring zero, one, or two runs is somewhere around MLB average. I'll take no solace from it, however. It's still what I'd call a whopping number. It is the stated goal of the Lerners and Rizzo to win championships. Average doesn't win championships. The average losing score in a baseball game is fewer than four runs. I'd darn sure rather actually SCORE four runs a game than average it by getting for example zero, one, two, and thirteen over a four day period.

Of course the most important stat vis a vis the Mets and Nationals is H2H. They own us this year. Everything else is secondary to that. Still, the Mets are somewhere around 21% of all their games scoring two or fewer runs. That's 18 games better than the Nats and the season isn't over! Their lead is 9 1/2 games.

Max David said...

Mets up 9.5 with 19 games left to play (we have 20). We have them right where we want them :)

In all seriousness I liked what I saw from Scherzer in the minimal time I watched/listened (I was going back and forth on Sirius XM from that game to the Jays/Yankees & Chiefs/Texans football game) and the MLB games on MLB.TV on the iPod. I would've liked to see that from Scherzer a couple starts earlier in the Cardinals & Mets games. We can play the whatif game all we want, but if Scherzer is able to pitch like an ace and hold the 5-3 lead, maybe that Mets series turns out differently and we still have a fighting chance?? I don't think the 07 Mets could've lost a 9.5 game lead with 19 to play, so I'm slowly resigning the fact that we only have 3 or 4 more starts of seeing ZNN in a Nats uniform, so we should enjoy those while we still can, and only about 20 games left of Desi in a Nats uniform. Sure, people rag on him for his defense, but from one of the few (only??) posters on here that followed the Nats down from Montreal, Desi's the last player remaining from those Expos days, so at least for me, that'll be sad to see end.

As I said over the weekend I just want to see 2 things:
1) for them to continue to fight for the rest of the season. Whether we finish 2 back of the Mets or 18 back, at least go down fighting!
2) Get the kids (The Taylors [Hill & Jordan], AJ Cole, Difo, Turner) along with Espi some starts and At Bat's the rest of the season. Sure, you don't have to start Espi & Turner the final 20 games, but there's no reason each can't start maybe 5 to 10 games the rest of the season. Maybe give Hill, Jordan & Cole 1 start each or so the rest of the season, give Wilmer Difo a couple starts here & there, just to see what we have for the future.

Anonymous said...

MW nor Rizzo is going to start any of the guys you are suggesting until we are "officially" eliminated. So root for the Nats to lose 11 in a row - then get these kids playing the final 10.

God this franchise is frustrating.

Anonymous said...

@Max David

Actually, the Phillies run began surprisingly close to where the Nats are now.

The Phillies run started on 9/12/07; today is 9/14. The Mets magic number was 11, same as now. The Phillies were down 7 (Phillies 76-69 - Mets 83-62); the Nats are down 9.5. But the Phillies had only 17 games left, while the Nats have 3 more games, or 20 games left, to make up the difference. Plus the Phillies actually gained 8 games over 17 games since they finished 1 game ahead.

If the Phillies run is our spirit guide, then the Nats need to move hard on the Mets this week and we need help from the Marlins and Yankees.

JE34 said...

I think Dave Kingman is Ian Desmond's spirit guide. Pitcher gives up a grand slam to Werth, then throws 4 straight balls to Robinson. So what does Desi do? He goes up thinking "I'm gonna get mine!" and waves at 3 straight curveballs out of the zone. I know the nats are up 4, but good gravy, Ian. Good gravy.

David said...

welp Marlins are no help.

Sammy Kent said...

Papelbon is lights out once again. Just not exactly the way Rizzo thought he was going to be.