Dusty? But he's history's greatest monster! He tore off Mark Prior's arm and used it to bludgeon Kerry Wood's arm!
Dusty's status as the Destroyer of Arms is overblown. Yes, he did ride the Cubs young starters hard but 2003's role in their demise has been overblown, he showed no strong tendency for abuse in his last managerial role, and it's not like the Nats would sit back and let him make Strasburg throw 160 pitches. I'm not worried about this.
Ok then. There are 3 things that Matt Williams did not seem good at. He wasn't good in the clubhouse, he didn't handle relief pitching well, and he didn't seem to win in crunch time. Is Dusty proven to be better at those things?
Clubhouse, yes. The vast majority of his former players loved him. He's a players coach.
What does that mean?
It means that he generally lets the players have a strong voice in how they handle their time outside of game time. For example, if a player doesn't want to take BP that day and can explain why, Dusty would be more inclined to let him skip it. This is in opposition to certain Big Marines. But Dusty is an "old-school" players coach, and before you ask that means his leniancy scales with veteran status and somewhat with skill. A rookie will be expected to toe the line in a very standard professional ballplayer manner. A veteran who is still performing will be allowed to do whatever the hell he wants.
Sounds like a decent way to manage. What's the downside?
In the clubhouse? It can rankle some rookies who expect a talent meritocracy to exist, and it can rankle some vets if other vets abuse the system : see Bonds/Kent in San Fran. In theory teams can get undisciplined but that really hasn't been a Dusty problem. He communicates well the need for professionalism on the field. So to answer your question - I doubt he loses the clubhouse.
Ok what about handling relief pitching?
If you liked Matt Williams PBN approach you'll love Dusty. Your closer will not pitch before the 9th (in Dusty's last year with the Reds, Chapman pitched 1.2 innings before the 9th). Your closer is so wedded to save situations, Dusty can fall into the trap of not working the closer in enough. He likes the idea of set-up men and 7th inning guys as well, but he's not so committed to these guys that they won't see work. On one hand this does kind of suck, but on the other hand, this is the world that was created and baseball bought into it. Almost all managers will act in a similar manner. Dusty is an less an extreme example then just a little bit more rigid than the norm, which is already very rigid. So to answer this question - no he doesn't handle relief pitching with any skill, but if we're talking about using your best pitchers in high leverage situations hardly any manager does.
And winning in close situations?
Middling - some may point to 2003 and note that the Cubs were this play or that play away from a World Series. That's nice, but the guy has managed for long enough that there is a body of work to look at and his isn't great. 1997 and 2000, two DS losses, with one game won in total. 2003 infamous team meltdown. 2010 swept in DS. 2012 lost DS. 2013 lost WC. In short, he's 0-1 in WC games, 2-4 in DS series, 1-1 in CS series and 0-1 in WS. His teams don't show any skill at coming from behind (3-3 when down in series) and have trouble putting teams away (3-10 in series clinching games, including two 3 games to 1 lead collapses in 2003 and 2012)
I didn't see any particular pattern late in seasons with collapses or rising to the occasion. I think the eternal optimist can look at these occurances and say he's probably average with some bad luck in short series where anything can happen. The pessimist points to 2 DS sweeps, those pretty bad records in the biggest of big games, and the overall record in general and sees a guy who maybe lacks the ability to give teams that final push they need.
Hmm and why should I be ok with him again?
Well the Nats were going to hire Bud Black whose record in the playoffs is a sterling 0-0. Dusty's teams win. Since 1997 he has had 5 losing seasons in 16 years, and two of those were his first two in Cincinnati when the team was turning around. Even better, in 10 of those 11 winning seasons the team won 88 games or more. He's not squeaking over .500. He's producing playoff caliber team after playoff caliber team. Sure if your goal is to win the World Series he might have trouble with that, but as the 2013 and 2015 Nationals can tell you - it's real hard to win the World Series if you don't get to the playoffs.
I'll take playoffs. So Dusty may not be the most forward thinking manager and can have issues in the playoffs, but he gets his teams to win. Any other things I should know?
When you say Dusty isn't forward thinking, the second most commonly cited issue is his problems with "clogging the bases". Basically Dusty was a successful aggressive player wants his teams to swing, not walk, just like he did. His teams generally rank low in walks. (easier to see on the non-Bonds teams). This hurts the offense a little bit as it takes a weapon away. However, the Nats aren't really a walking team themselves so it's already been established that if they hit they'll score, if they don't they won't. Dusty won't really make a dent in the Nats here unless he tries to change Bryce, but he didn't try to change Bonds so I assume he won't.
Because of his old-school "veterans have earned it" mentality, Dusty will give veteran players a 2nd and 3rd chance before going to young players. For the start of 2016 this isn't too much of an issue. Trea Turner is probably in AAA, leaving Michael Taylor as the only young guy out there. This may present a problem if Rizzo brings in a decent 5th OF like say Marlon Byrd. Then again if MAT isn't producing, it's doubtful after 2015 that legions will be clamoring to see more of him instead of a vet. It's more a worry for later in 2015 when we'll probably want Turner up and in the line-up and Dusty might be sticking with a failing Escobar or Espinosa.
Dusty is a player favorite but his style promotes a bunker mentality. We are a family, the rest of the world are outsiders who don't get it. Because he's media savvy this doesn't break down the relationship between the players and the media covering them daily. However, GMs, owners, and broadcasters related to the team have been fair game in the past, and he's not against using the fans as a villain either. If things are going well no one but the aggrieved will care about the petty squabbles. That does matter (it helped push Dusty out in San Fran and Cincinnati) but fans will take it. However, if things don't go well, it feels like things could go south pretty fast. One thing I've noticed in looking at Dusty articles over the past couple weeks is that he doesn't seem to be one to take blame. Expect it to be shifted somewhere.
Ugh. That's a lot of negatives! This isn't good!
Eh I don't know. You manage for a long time and you are going to pick up a lot of negatives. His strong point - that players seemingly love playing for him - is really strong. Just look at the reaction to his hiring or go back and read about his handling of Joey Votto when he was dealing with anxiety issues. There's good reason for why they feel the way they do and it translates to very good regular season performances. The other things are sub-optimal but we don't know how many games "lost" to strict bullpen management, veteran dependence, or walk avoidance are made up by the intangibles which he does appear to have. We also can't assume that the other guy, whoever it would be, would handle those things much differently. And the whole potential for it being a big messy end? Well if things are going badly that the Nats are missing the playoffs again by a bunch do you really care if the end was a calm, stoic, "everyone agrees this isn't working" end? It's better but it's not the point.
The playoff thing is a bit concerning and the Nats will have to deal with that if the time comes. Let's hope it does.
Focusing on the fact he might not be the best strategic manager misses the larger picture. Managing is more than just strategic decisions. It's motivating players, dealing with the press, getting guys out of slumps and keeping guys hot. It's dealing with people; extremely talented, likely egotistical, special people. Since we can't measure that*, we have to use other things we can measure as a proxy. The best proxy, in my opinion, is wins. Dusty gets wins.
*OK we could probably do a survey of players from every team and measure manager satisfaction but that's not going to happen