Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie : Experience

Monday, October 26, 2015

Monday Quickie : Experience

The Nats are narrowing down the field of potential managers and it appears that Bud Black and Dusty Baker are leading the pack. This is fine. I do wonder if the Nats are doubling down on experience (no DeMarlo Hale interview?) but if you are going to double down on something "experience" is better than "tough Marine-itude!"

But given that these are also ex-managers it is of interest to know why they were fired and why the Nats would be interested in them.

Dusty Baker

Dusty has been a successful manager over his career. His first job was way back in 1993in San Francisco at the youthful age of 44. After a bumpy start (3 seasons below .500) he guided the Giants to 6 straight winning seasons 4 of them 90 wins or better. He would make the playoffs three times. The Giants would be swept in the DS his first time out in 1997 by the Marlins. They'd lose another DS 3 games to 1 to the Mets in 2000. Finally he'd break through in 2002 making it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Angels in 7 games.

That sounds pretty successful. What went wrong? Baker didn't get along with the ownership. He wanted more respect, meaning he didn't like the owner talking about replacing him (as he did early on), or about how the team failed (as he did after Mets series), or setting him up with the highest expectations (as he did before 2002).  The owner, Magowan, didn't like how Baker himself used the media to note that he was interested in other jobs and unhappy with the ownership and also how the media fawned over and sided with Dusty.

So Dusty and the Giants basically agreed he would not come back and off to Chicago he went. He would take a young but talented squad and immediately make them winners, getting them to their first NLCS since 1984 and steps away from their first World Series since 1954. But it was not to be. Baker presided over a fantastic game 6 meltdown from which the Cubs would never recover. Over the rest of his short time in the Windy City, the Sosa era would end badly, the Cubs players would revolt against a broadcaster who they felt were too critical of the team and more importantly the Cubs went back to being terrible. They stumbled late in 2004 and missed the playoffs and wouldn't be good again. Certainly injuries to a questionable roster were the main reason the Cubs quickly became irrelevant again, but at the very least it was clear Dusty was not working in Chicago.

He would also at this time become a favorite target of the sabrmetrically minded. Dusty seemingly overused his young pitchers and broke them down and didn't appreciate the necessity of getting on base. The latter is almost certainly true. His teams don't take a lot of walks mirroring his own aggressive approach as a player. The former though is what sticks in most people's minds and is more of a half truth. He did use young arms for a lot of 100+ pitch games, but how much of their future was ruined because of that? Wood was driven hard before Dusty ever got there and already missed a season due to injury. Zambrano was ridden hardest and didn't break down until turning 30. Prior broke down nearly immediately and never recovered suggesting rather than overuse it was something inherent to his mechanics.  Dusty probably didn't help the situation but wasn't likely the cause, and has since shown less proclivity for pushing the pitch count envelope. The league has changed, in some part thanks to the Wood/Prior issues, and Dusty adapted.

Dusty would go on to one more stop, managing Cincinnati from 2008 through 2013. The team would be generally successful during his tenure going from 74 wins in year one to a high of 97 wins in 2012.  He would lose 2 division series and a Wild Card game during his time in Cincinnati. But again Baker didn't mesh with someone or something. This time it was new GM Walt Jocketty. They didn't quite see eye to eye. Jocketty looking for someone more in the LaRussa role of the tactician, and Baker looking for roster help that didn't come. When Baker basically said there was no reason to fire the hitting coach and put himself on the line out he went.

Bud Black

Bud Black is a much easier cover. He was hired to manage the Padres in 2007 and in 8+ seasons had two winning years and no playoff appearances. For the most part though, the Padres have been a competitive team under Black only twice winning under 76 games. Most analysts believe that he's done the best he could with a organization that produced few decent players under his watch.

There is some thought that that Black didn't help with that, as notable players such as Anthony Rizzo and Edison Volquez have developed stronger in other places after trials in San Diego. However, he did seem to have a knack for finding and using his bullpen arms and it's not like there are a flood of former Padres hitting stars out there. They did try to compensate for Black's apparent weakness in developing young hitters at the major league level, by furnishing him with a truck load of free agent bats this past winter. However they immediately failed and seeing the writing on the wall, which included either getting this current roster to immediately perform or failing that another rebuild, the Padres decided to go in a different direction. They failed to get any better with Pat Murphy helming the team.

The other knock on Black would be those 0 playoff appearances. He not only failed to get the Padres to the post-season, in two seasons he captained collapses. in 2007 they went 4-7 to end the season (0-3 in last three) to miss the playoffs outright and would lose a one-gamer to the Rockies to make the wild card. In 2010 they finished 14-23, losing 10 in a row at one point, and would lose the division by 2 games. But 2007 was marred by Hoffman blowing two of the last games of the year something no one hangs on Black. 

My thoughts today

Reading through this, Dusty Baker seems like a solid motivator who might be overly sensitive to negativity. It can be the owner, the media, or the GM, but he clearly does not handle it well, in part because he does succeed. If he wins, why are people on his back? He has some notions about strategy that don't work all that well, but he's unlikely to abuse these arms (especially with Rizzo looking over his shoulder) and this franchise has never been one to care about OBP. He kind of fits in, in a way. He is as strictly regimental as Williams was (during his Reds days a complaint was underusing Chapman) but given his general success he probably has better intuition on who to use, and when to use them, although this has bit him in the playoffs. He does favor "his guys" a bit too much but he's going to work with what's given and let's face it, in 4 years of Nats have you ever seen a bench player that's been good enough to be wasted sitting there?

Bud Black seems like a prefectly vanilla choice. On the plus side he's very likely to be able to sort through the mess of relief arms to find a workable bullpen. Given the Nats overall strategy of "we don't spend on middle relief arms" that would work well here. He'd also almost certainly get along with everyone, having few player, management or media tiffs in his time in San Diego. That may be important following a manager that lost the clubhouse. On the flip side he doesn't seem to light a fire under any team. If he's relying on that to happen internally he may have to look elsewhere as the Nats don't really have boisterous clubhouse motivators. And while you can point to playoff collapses with Dusty, at least he got his teams there. Over the long haul of a season, Black may lack that necessary next level switch that many teams find necessary to turn on in September.


SM said...

Your comments seem to converge on Dusty Baker.

Does that mean you prefer Baker over Bud Black if the choice boils down to those two?

Or do you really prefer Demarlo Hale (or someone else)?

(By the way, evaluating Baker--or anyone else--as a manager based on the type of player he was can reveal much about how he handles his roster. A 30-part series of posts!)

Donald said...

I'd be okay with either, though neither really excites me. That's fine though. That's what comes with opting for experience. There are probably a handful of managers at most that are really game-changers, like Bochy or Maddon. And there are a few that are just bad. Everyone else pretty much falls in the blah middle. I think that's why GMs are tempted by the guys that have never managed before. With Black or Baker you know what you are going to get and it's going to be meh.

Harper -- are there any candidates that would excite you? Or repulse you?

Sammy Kent said...

My choice is Bud Black and has been from the gitgo, but it's not like Dusty is a bad choice because I don't think he is. I hope and believe the players and fans would give their wholehearted support to either one.

I just think Black is better to manage the pitching mess; and like both Matt and Davey, Dusty's never been one to try and manufacture runs against good pitching. Either one needs to bring in a cracker jack batting coach. I'm really tired of managers trying to be Earl Weaver without the necessary lumber. There is something to be said for taking an aggressive approach to hitting, but there's even more to be said for taking a disciplined approach.

Anonymous said...

Harper, whom do you prefer between Black and Baker?

Anonymous said...

I just want a manager that can work the bullpen and isn't a dictator. Matt Williams gave the impression that he didn't really rely on his hitting or pitching coaches at all when it came to in-game decisions. I feel like Dusty would be a bit the same way (though I haven't followed him all that much)

I like Bud Black because it's pretty apparent he knows what to do with a bullpen (having pitched in the majors himself afterall) and gives off the impression that he really is a manager and not a "leader". Yeah he won't light a fire under this team but he will be level-headed and analytical in his decisions, which is something this team needs.

Harper said...

I do prefer Baker over Black. I think over the course of 162, motivation matters more than strategy (unless you are god awful at it) and Baker is apparently better at that. Would I trust him to get through a few playoff series? Probably not (see: strategy thing). But that can turn on luck as much as a bad decision, so it could happen. I'd rather have the opportunity to fail than not make it at all. (Also I'm not too keen on Black. I don't think he can do much for a very good team and might lose a middling one. I like Roenicke more as a former manager out there looking for job #2)

I'd like them to interview Hale at least. If they don't want him fine - but he's so well respected and liked - I'd like them to seriously consider him.

Anonymous said...

But if they hire Baker, will he use Harper less since white people don't do well in the sun?

Harper said...

Anons - see last comment. I think the Nats will play to their level with Black and that's about it. It's not bad - it's better than what they just had for sure, but I like a little more potential. Maybe take a good team and take them to the next level. But maybe he's learned from SD or will work differently in the DC market. I don't dislike Black, I just prefer Dusty who I think in certain situations might get a team to play with more.. spirit. But again - who knows. Black would be fine.

Anonymous said...

I'm a casual fan so forgive me if this is an ignorant question, but why not Mattingly?

Harper said...

Anon @ 9:49 - Bryce is not people. He's BRYCE

Anon @ 10:13 - no particular reason. I'd like Mattingly, but it's generally hard to get a fanbase looking for a playoff series win around a guy who just was let walk bc he didn't win enough in the playoffs.(Even though the team did perfectly well imo outside of 2014 where Kershaw let them down big time). Basically I don't include him not because I don't think he'd work, but because I don't think they'll interview him. And as much as I do like him, I don't think he's awesome enough that that is a huge mistake.

SM said...

I find it odd that reports have the Nats reducing their managerial choices to Baker or Black even before the World Series has begun. (You'd hope they considered candidates whose names began with a "C" or "D" at least.)

It's as if they have decided that managerial inexperience alone is what made Matt Williams an ineffective manager--though it was hardly an impediment when hiring him.

There's a sense that the new manager can only be someone who's managed before. As if that alone is sufficient to make him an effective manager.

It makes one wonder just how extensive or wide-ranging the search has been, and whether some of the interviews with bench coaches haven't been merely . . . um . . . um . . . Potemkin interviews. (I couldn't spell Dostoevsky.)

Blinkered vision is blinkered vision. I'd hate to think what criteria the Nats will use when they hire their next GM.

Matt said...

Nice analysis. I think an extra point towards Baker is that the Nats might have a lot of big or tough personalities to manage next year. Especially, if say, they keep Storen and/or Papelbon. But even Harper, Scherzer and Werth (never thought he fit in this box before I read some of the anecdotes about his fights with Williams this season) would qualify. Seems to play to what Baker (supposedly, at least) does best.

Total aside, but needing a manager who's skilled at keeping everyone happy is kind of funny in light of Rizzo's whole "high character" focus for 3 or 4 years.

ProphetNAT said...

My concern is Dusty's personality to potentially class with either management or his players. When I think of Dusty, I think of Bobby Valentine in Boston, Ozzie Guillen in Miami. Those guys aren't terrible managers - but they weren't the right guy for those clubs. I think Black is the better option here. His personality seems low-key and seems more of a communicator, one who talks to/with you instead of at you. That's just my feel for these guys. Besides, we talk about "lighting a fire" under these Nats, but wasn't that what Williams was known for as a player? Putting a guy in a locker if someone stepped out of line? I think in-game strategy plays huge in us hiring a good manager and that seems to be Black's strength. The only thing I hear Dusty is good at is "inspiring" his players. And that got old at three clubs. These Nats don't need more inspirational speeches, they need to execute. Black can help with that, especially in the bullpen. Hire a good hitting coach and I'll be excited for this season.

ProphetNAT said...

sorry *clash with management* - not "class" ^^

Anonymous said...

The MW criticism was vastly overblown, and I just don't see any of this working out well.

Who was the Cubs announcer mentioned? Ron Santo?

blovy8 said...

Not to be morbid, but Dusty's also had some health issues, so they better have a good bench coach in place if they hire him. Is he the guy you would hire so you don't have to worry about the position for a while? If you get four or five years from him, that would be pretty impressive.

Zimmerman11 said...

Dusty Baker seems like the "celebrity" hire. Bud Black is like the opposite of that. No opinion, just an "odd couple" kind of duo to take to the next round of interviews.

JE34 said...

@SM - I'm with you on this one. This feels a bit like corporate CYA, the baseball decision making equivalent of "no one gets fired for hiring IBM." By going with Bud or Dusty, Rizzo has his built-in excuse in case of failure.

The Nats had major tactical problems and major bullpen problems under MW... Bud Black would seem the better of the two to address those major shortcomings, given their histories. Of the two, Dusty is way more prone to the "what is he thinking???" moves. And, older veterans should not need the cojones-buster type of manager.

To limit yourself to those guys though? I don't get it. Why not at least talk to Dave Martinez?

Robot said...

I want a manager who will kick Jonathan Papelbon in the nuts on his first day on the job. If that's not available, Black or Baker both strike me as perfectly adequate.

KW said...

Baker spent many seasons keeping Bonds, Jeff Kent, Will Clark, Sammy Sosa, and their ilk in line. Pap and Werth are mere pretenders compared to clowns like those.

At first, I was a bit horrified by the thought of Baker, but my thinking has come around pretty similarly to Harper's. The bottom line is that the guy has won, and often. Harper actually left off his best season, his first one, when the Giants won 103 but came up a game behind the Braves in the last pre-wildcard year.

Black hasn't won. Even in the couple of years he's had the horses, those teams faded. I looked at the rosters of some of his supposed "down" teams, and they weren't as bad as many have presented, either.

Actually, I'm more like Harper and would prefer someone like Hale or Wotus who have both bench and minor-league managing experience, but the Nats seem to be trending away from that. Given the choice between Baker and Black, I like Dusty better, provided he's pared with a strong-personality pitching coach who'll keep the pitch counts well south of the notorious Dusty level of 150.

blovy8 said...

Face it, nobody's going to give you everything you want. I saw a manager ratings list from a few years ago that had Terry Collins as 29th, and where is his team right now?

KW said...

Yost was thought of as a bum, too, particularly when he was with the Brewers. I still don't think that much of Collins, who is really pushing his young arms to the limit.

Froggy said...

My vote is for Bud Black. Last two seasons our pitchers were mis-utilized by ol'PBN and it appears as tho assessing and managing pitchers is right it the sweet spot of Black's wheelhouse.

I don't feel the Nat's clubhouse / bench is in such disarray or full of young developmental talent that requires a grandfather figure to set it straight. I believe Black would make everyone compete and put the best position players on the field and get the heck out of the way and focus on getting the most out of catchers and pitchers and calling a good game.

The whole 'Dusty will motivate his players' and get more out of them is whooey. Maddon? Yes. Dusty Thin Skin Baker, no.

What the organization needs to 'get more' out the players is to hire a top tier training, strength and conditioning staff like yesterday and put the players on notice that they need to show up to spring training already rugby fit. Especially guys like Werth and anyone else over the age of 29.

Anonymous said...

There is too much emphasis put on the selection of manager. If the talent is there, the manager will be viewed as successful (MW won manager of the year in '14 and was fired in '15, so what changed?) He's the sacrificial lamb when things don't go according to plan.

Granted, you want someone who isn't so inflexible that he can't adapt to a situation based on what he sees is happening out on the field rather than sticking to the "plan." But for Pete's sake, if his choices are limited because his bullpen stinks or his starters are hurt or slumping, he's going to fail and it doesn't matter who is managing.

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