1 2 2 2 2
Those are the margins of victory in the games the Nats have played this year. Would it kill this team to blow someone out? Or at least score some runs and hold the other team down at the same time? A nice easy victory?
What do a lot of close games and a 4-1 record in them mean? Probably nothing. You'd might want to believe it means the pen is better and maybe it is, but it's far too early to tell. I mean, they've given up runs in more games (3) than they haven't (2). It's just a matter of the when and how much not mattering. As much as "pitching to the score" sounds good I doubt a reliever in the 7th was pitching with the idea that giving up a run is ok because the Nats are up 2.
You might want to believe it has something to do with the manager being better, and maybe (let's face it - almost certainly*) he is but that's going to be lost to the ether. In his Q&A Boz notes how he finds sabrmetric dismissing of manager intuition funny but you have to be careful here. There are two types of dismissal.
The first type of dismissal, the type that is ok, is the dismissal from analysis. You can't measure these things, manager intuition, leadership, clutchness, momentum, etc., accurately. If you can't measure them accurately then they can't be used in analysis. That's not only ok, it's the only reasonable thing to do. If you try to add it an adjustment for these things you are introducing a crazy amount of bias into your analysis, basically rendering it unusable. You feel Dusty might add a game or two to the Nats. There is someone out there, I guarantee, that feels, not sabrmetrically mind you just with his gut, that Dusty is terrible and should cost you a game or two. Who is right? Who knows. So you have to leave it out. You can put it in your opinion. You can say analysis leads the Nats to have 88 wins but I like Dusty so I'm making it 91. But you can't say your attempt at unbiased analysis lead you to that point.
The second type or dismissal, the type that isn't ok, is dismissing things from mattering just because you can't measure them. They can't be in analysis but that doesn't mean they don't matter. These things all exist. That's not an opinion. That's a fact. We know they do. We know from our own experiences. We know from psychological studies. Since they exist, you have to assume they matter at some level. How much? With who? Oh god, good luck trying to figure that out.
This is where things usually break down because people usually DO think they can figure it out. That they can see how much something matters because of the results. Here is where you get they are winning "because the chemistry is better" or "because they have some strong personalitites" or "because their manager's gut knows best" or "because their manager knows his analysis" or "because they are playing looser" or "because they are playing more focused". You see the problem don't you? There is no link being proven here. You are just taking a snapshot of the team when they are winning, pulling out what you think you see, and making those things winning attributes. It's likely some of that does matter, but the certainty in which it is usually presented is laughable. This, to me, is why you often get the "it doesn't matter" push back. It does matter, but it should be presented as a big question mark. Because it is presented with authority, then there is a natural tendency to push back in kind.
But that's also wrong and if you are going to claim to be taking a smarter view of the game, you really have to fight that urge. When you talk about it you have to note it matters, accept you don't know how and no one probably does, and that the reader can add his own impression of it to what you are saying. You don't have to mention the "intangibles" every time, but you can't just dismiss them as not mattering at all. They don't matter to analysis that is working with only what can be measured, but they do matter in reality.
*Last year Matt Williams had an uncanny ability to pull the wrong guy at the wrong time. Bad luck? Perhaps. He didn't seem to have much of this issue in 2014. But maybe he just couldn't read the pen. Even though if that is true it takes some bad luck to have it matter. So does Dusty have a good idea of who to use and when? I don't know. I do know he probably won't have the same issue as Matt did, because even if Dusty can't read the pen either, we probably won't see it as bad as we did with Matt last year. Also the pen itself is just better. Not very good with certainty, but better talent. Veteran talent that you can get a better read on.