Nationals Baseball: It's getting Dusty in here

Monday, October 23, 2017

It's getting Dusty in here

Dusty has left the building. Or more accurately, Dusty has been asked to leave the building as the Nats move to their 5th manager since Jim Riggleman officially took over prior to the 2010 season.  Being a few days out has let me absorb everything out there and the story appears to be as follows (Apologies in advance to anyone out there that wants to take Nationals press releases at gospel).

Rizzo was all in for extending Dusty before this season. The Lerners, not keen on having another Matt Williams situation, declined. Dusty spoke out over the season about his contract and that rubbed the Lerners the wrong way. They decided that if Dusty couldn't advance the team, then that would give them the out to let him go. They didn't advance. Dusty was let go.

Can it be justified as a baseball decision in general? I suppose it can. Dusty didn't manage a perfect NLDS either year and now is on a long losing streak of deciding playoff games. If I was managing a team desperate to make it past the first round and looking to hire a manager I would not hire Dusty.

At the same time that idea, that getting past the first round is a primary goal, has never been the way the Lerners and Rizzo have run the team. They have always taken the approach that you win enough games in the regular season to make the playoffs, then what happens, happens. You don't mortgage the future for trade deadline deals. You keep costs down with smart trades for good talent held for a couple years. You let Scott Boras talk you into signing... wait, digressing. For this plan of attack there is hardly anyone better suited than Dusty, who has won over 90 games in 5 of his last 6 managed seasons, and who probably has had 3 disappointing years in his last 15 managed. Dusty gets the talent he has to play to their level.

We must also consider the all important follow-up question. If you let Dusty go, aiming to hire a manager to win in the playoffs, who exactly are you looking at? There aren't a lot of available managers who have led teams to multiple Championship Series, let alone further. In the past dozen years you have :

The retired : Manuel, Leyland, LaRussa, Torre.
The youngest of these will be 73 next season (Dusty will turn 69 next year). They maybe would take a short term deal like the Lerners like to give but they wouldn't do it for cheap (and none of them seem desperate to manage).

The unavailable : Maddon, Francona, Roberts, Bochy, Gibbons, Yost
These guys are all well-regarded with their current teams and under contract. I suppose the Nats could wow these teams with a trade offer but come on, who thinks that will happen or wants that to happen? 

The probably unavailable : Girardi
Managing the Yankees can be tough, and Girardi wavers on whether he should hang it up. The team wavers on if they want him back. But the results can't be denied and if Girardi is telling the truth about having his family have a big input on the decision I don't see how "Walk away from a great team, take less money on a short deal in DC, away from us" would be what they want. Still because it's not impossible he gets his own spot.

The ones you might be able to get : Scioscia, Matheny, Washington
The Cardinals aren't exactly happy with Matheny and it certainly feels like he's got one more playoff missing season before he's gone. However, people really aren't high on Matheny as a manager so why would the Nats want him? Scoiscia dominated the 2000s and generally wins more games then you think he should but hasn't had very talented teams around his MVP. He'll probably manage out the string on his contract - which is just 2018 - and then who knows? He probably has enough pull to get out of his deal if he wanted but again you'd run into the issue with money (the Nats don't pay and these guys want $) and oh yeah, Nats fans kind of hate Scioscia. Washington is an interesting case of a very successful manager with an inability to stay out of trouble off the field.

So it's not like there are several slam dunks to choose from. There are one or two you might want and be able to get but you'd have to pay them. And let's be honest, the Nats already had a manager that won several post season series in Davey Johnson and they let him go.

So it seems most likely that the Nats are just going to go out and make a hire of someone new and hope it works out. Matt Williams was the last attempt and it failed miserably but the Nats also had a terrible clubhouse for him. Werth assumes he's the boss and has helped a couple of those managers to the door. Papelbon was a mess. This should be an easier crew for someone new to handle and an NL East that looks like a free ride to the division title.

What do I think?  I think the Nats are unlikely to find someone who is better than Dusty. I don't think whoever they will get next will win more regular season games than Dusty would have with the same talent. I don't think Dusty is a good playoff manager, but I don't think he's a bad one. I think if he was a bad one the Nats wouldn't have taken two teams of roughly equal talent to them to the last innings of the last games of five game series. In short, I don't think they should have "fired" Dusty.

I also think the Nats are going to make the playoffs next year with almost anyone managing this team. I think that once you get into the playoffs anything can happen for the most part. I think someone else could very well lead the Nats to the CS so letting Dusty go does not doom the Nats in any way. I think managerial jobs are so scarce and the Nats are so good that someone will take this job even though the organization is now known for showing managers little respect.

There is a lesson here though about firing a good manager when you are tired of him, when you probably think the end of a window may be near, and you want to try to win what's eluded you.  The Giants did this when they fired Dusty. The Cubs did this when they fired Dusty. The Reds did this when they fired Dusty.  What happened to each one of them is that they did not take that next step.  The Giants would win 100 games with Felipe Alou but lose the division series and two years later be rebuilding. The Cubs would get to two more playoffs* but get swept out of two straight DSs and two years later be rebuilding. The Reds would immediately crash and start to rebuild. You are making a single move of questionable import. Chances that it will be the final magical piece are slim.

There is also an inherent statement being made here from the Nats by this move. It's no longer about winning games, it's about winning in the playoffs. If that's the case then the "no reason to maximize playoff odds, because whatever you do is likely to have a minimal effect, if that" logic has to be thrown out. You have to make those deadline deals you shied away from. You have to empty the farm for a Stanton or Machado or whatever. If you don't then this talk about firing Dusty because you wanted to break through in the playoffs is just talk.

On a final note - I do hope Dusty gets a job because as I note above he wins games. He gets the most out of the talent he has. I think Seattle would be perfect.

*There was something about the end of the Cubs tenure that - yes - Dusty needed to be let go here. They were so ready to turn on him and he was so sick of it the situation got bad and did effect the team's play.


Carl said...

John Farrell?

Josh Higham said...

After game 5 I told myself I was done scouring the internet for Nats articles to read and I'd done a really good job not reading the dozens/hundreds of articles out there that would make me mad and sad all over again. Then they pulled the Dusty stunt and I was mad enough to go out and read about a half dozen articles about it. The best takes I've seen have all had some combination of these points:

1. The Nats clearly don't think managers are important.
2. This is about Bryce. Either the Nats got rid of Dusty because they don't care about keeping Bryce or they got rid of him specifically to make Bryce happy (Boras effect!). It's bizarre both these takes are out there, but I'm inclined to believe Janes who says Bryce wasn't a big fan.
3. Dusty is a good manager and you're not going to get much better than him, especially because of point 1.
4. The Nats are a crap organization, Rizzo's gonna leave, and very soon they collapse, hands tied by deferred money and no one good willing to work as GM or field manager.
5. In conclusion, the Dusty firing has actually got me a lot more despondent about the future of the Nats than game 5 did, and I don't think Dusty is great.

Harper said...

Carl - Farrell doesn't fit into my list because he hasn't won multiple DSs. After taking the Red Sox to the series he's lost in the first round twice. I think he'd probably be an ok hire (have to delve into more why he was fired) but you can't hire him and say - "OK this is the guy that's going to lead us past the DS) when he's just lost two in a row.

Josh -
1. Yes
2. I don't think Bryce really cares about his managers one way or other.
3. Agreed
4. Well, it's hard to say "crap" when they've won. They have issues that keep them from maximizing single season results, but the same issues keep them on target for maximizing results accross many seasons. I do think Rizzo will leave soon.
5. Stick around for 2018 at least. Should be another good shot at everything. admit it now so you don't feel pulled in

Josh Higham said...

Unfortunately I will stick around for always. I have approximately 2 hobbies, unless you're normal and don't think walking is a hobby, then only 1. I need the Nats more than they need me.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the take that the probability the Nats get a better manager than Dusty is low.

I also tend to agree conceptually with the idea that managers don't matter all that much, assuming you get a manager of minimum competence. If you're below that floor (Matt Williams), it matters a lot more than being above that floor. Moreover, other things - Harper's health, Scherzer not being able to start 2x, Weiters' sucking ass - likely had more to do with the outcome of the series than Dusty's bad decisions (playing Werth against rightys, use of Solis). The same is probably true of last year too (the series is probably different if Strasburg pitches and Harper is healthy).

I also agree with Harper's point that this move contradicts the organizational ethos about making it into the playoffs as many times as possible as opposed to going all in. At this point, I believe the organization still has that ethos that has been repeated by Rizzo many times, and is not actually changing its approach. In other words, the reason given for moving on from Dusty is pretextual, and not the sign of a shift.

On the other hand, the single most important issue the Dusty debacle raises is the strength of the relationship between Rizzo and the Lerners. How badly did this episode damage it? Are the Lerners willing to pay Rizzo enough money to forget about being used as a human shield? THESE are the important questions...

Nattydread said...

Thanks for this Harper. I'm not sure I needed it. There has been a lot of hand wringing on this and most people have aligned into two camps.

The "Player's Manager Camp" loves him and the way he "puts players in a position to succeed". He is a straight up interesting civil rights era baseball guy who motivates players and gives great post game interviews. In general, I fall into this camp. Hell, it would have been nice to see Werth step up to the pressure and break out during the division series and be the hero. This is entertainment. We pay for it like we pay for the popcorn, beer and hot dogs. If Werth (or Harper or or Turner) had come through, we wouldn't be having this conversation. We might have done well against the Dodgers, maybe not.

The "Clinical Manager Camp" hates Dusty because he is old school. He throws out the same old lineup, he doesn't use a computer to check the match-ups, he isn't an advanced stats guy, he wears down pitchers and, to them, he treats play-off games "like they're June games against the Padres". He doesn't manufacture runs. Its kind of true. Case and point Werth vs Kendrick. I get where they're coming from but I still like Dusty.

This is entertainment and I buy the whole package. It would've been nice to see him get another chance at it. I don't want to see another managerial experiment and I agree that there's a hell of a lot more you can do to tweak an October team than leave everything up to the manager. If the Lerners felt that strongly about it, they could've sat him down and paired him with a Moneyball stats guru.

I'm guessing that he sees a hell of a lot more in each game even at his age than most mortal fans do. Everybody blames the final game on the stupid mistakes Weiters made --- very little credit for his perfect bunt single and his pitch calling. Yes, a few managerial brain farts... But we were in there.

At the end of the day, it came down to the last inning. Again. One-run games. Let's see who we get. But Rizzo will go in after 2018. That we know.

Anonymous said...

I think the best take I have seen went something like this:

1. It would take two years and many millions to re-sign Dusty.
2. If Nats did not make playoffs or lost in DS AGAIN next year, while employing somewhat questionable Dustyisms, the Lerners would not want him back (at all).
3. If No. 2 happens, then they have to pay for 2nd year (maybe 3rd too?) and pay someone else.
4. Above almost all else, the Lerners do not want No. 3 to happen because they do not value managers, are (random) penny pinchers, didn't like Dusty talking about contract issues, probably didn't like him talking about needing trades/players during bullpen debacle, probably do not like his Dustyisms, and probably were downright embarrassed by the Game 4 SP spectacle - (that was either an organizational failure or a Dusty failure and I think you have to bet on the latter given Rizzo's competence).

When viewed in that context, I think the Lerners made a rationale move based on their priorities. Above all else, they do not want to be stuck with a manager they do not really want for two more years and they are not willing to pay him to go away. We may disagree with their priorities, but they are not irrational.

-Person OK with Letting Dusty Go

Fries said...

I agree with Josh in that my biggest worry is the impact this has on Rizzo. There's absolutely no way he stays after his contract is up. That's a done deal.

My second biggest worry is, as you said Harper, that the Nats have no better options. They have to hope they sign a manager out of left field that can conjure up some magic. I'd love to see the Nats go out and get Aaron Boone, but the fact that the Nats have been so disrespectful to managers means that there's no way they pull Boone from his cushy studio job. So you have to sign the bench coach of some mediocre team. Yay...

Anonymous said...

I think it's premature to say Rizzo is going to leave. There's an entire season to play, for one thing. For another, there are only 30 GM positions and very few of them come open each year. Even if there are unattractive aspects to the Nats job, they still run a top 10 payroll, have a lot of talent, and the owners have allowed Rizzo essentially to build the baseball-ops side of the organization from scratch. There are plenty of GM jobs that are far less desirable than Washington's, and of the more desirable ones, zero may have GM openings at the end of next season. Also, money can heal a lot of wounds. We know the Lerners don't value the field manager very highly. They may have different views about the GM position.

And, let's keep in mind that this whole kerfuffle is ABOUT the field manager. If there is a single area in which Mike Rizzo has NOT earned the benefit of the doubt as a GM, it's in who manages the players on the field. Matt Williams was Rizzo's guy. The team not only hired him, but extended him on Rizzo's advice. It was an expensive mistake for the owners, and one that Rizzo bears almost complete responsibility for. I think that fact limits somewhat how upset Rizzo gets to be about the owners undercutting him by letting Dusty go.

Anonymous said...

Please, for the love of Pete, no more old dinosaurs with toothpicks hanging out of their mouth who haven’t learned anything new in decades and think important decisions should always be made based on loyalty, gut feelings, and tradition. Being lovably dumb should not be seen as a virtue!

Please get someone young and smart who can demonstrate at least a basic understanding of the math and analysis. We need a Michael Corleone; we will never get any further than we already have with another Freddo.

billyhacker said...

1) The team is trying to be graceful by not pointing at Baker's actual issues. So they say he needed to win in the NLDS which literally everyone knows or should know is a red herring and uncontrollable by the manager. Whatever the issue, it was in the regular season.

2) The team performed roughly as projected from the assembled projections of the players before the first days of play. The data doesn't show Baker as anything other than a replacement level manager on the field.

3) There 30 bench coaches out there, and at least another 30 experienced managers from the minors. There's an astonishing supply of replacement level managers in baseball. That's not counting the very good catchers that are now serving as non-bench coaches. At worst, there will be an inexpensive, replacement-level manager in the dugout during spring training.

4) Positive off-the-field performance doesn't seem to motivate the Lerners. Baker is a Hall of Fame off-the-field manager, and his contract was not renewed.

5) Baker was not fired. They could have fired him, and they didn't. Not offering a new contract can go bad a lot of ways, but surely the Joe Torre situation, with the 1 year no raise offer and his entitlement was worse.

6) You've all read about how Baker put a lot of unnecessary stress on the most expensive assets the Nationals have, the starting pitchers. Huge inning loads when everything was already locked up. He made a lot of other strategically sub-optimal pitching decisions too. Is this Maddux's fault? I don't know, but Blake Treinen and other relief collapses followed by recovery elsewhere does not reflect well on the coaches.

Anonymous said...

My problem with Dusty is that he continued to manage the pitchers as if we were in a tight pennant race when it was clear for most of the season that we were going to win the division.

Froggy said...

Alex Cora

PotomacFan said...

Alex Cora has signed with Boston. Dave Martinez (who would be a terrific choice) is interviewing with the Nats. Ray Knight went to jail last night for assault and battery.

Mitch said...

I guess Ray Knight is out...

Anonymous said...

Martinez or Farrell both sound good to me. I think there were reasons to fire Dusty but the Nats' track record with managers means that they have sullied their reputation too much to get the top guys, so firing Dusty was a mistake in that regard. But they could get lucky and get Farrell and he could get them to the next level. Dusty, as Boz said last week, is a B. We wish he was a B plus, because that would probably mean advancing in the post-season about fifty percent of the time. Great in-season manager for the everyday players; mediocre on pitchers. I really did not like his big-game management. I saw it in SF (lived there when he was there) and we've seen it in Chicago. You don't go 0 for 10 in chance-to-advance games just from luck.

The problem really is that the owners had already made themselves look cheap and clueless before this happened, so they lack benefit of the doubt when it comes to managerial candidates. I'd go for Farrell, personally. Martinez may be great,'re really taking a chance on a rookie manager and you've got a team whose window is closing, so go with experience.

Froggy said...

I guess I'm a little behind in the news...

BxJaycobb said...

Harper (and everyone):
I would like to make 3 points in defense of Lerners (ish) and in support of letting Dusty go.
1. First of all. Let’s be totally clear and fair to this front office. This is an unprecedented situation. There have been teams that did great in the regular season and went nowhere in playoffs. There have been teams that underachieved. I do not believe—�unless somebody can correct me—�that the expansion era has seen a team display the playoff futility that the Nats have. I.e. has there ever been another team that won 95+ games 4 different years and took home their division title (in let’s say a 7-8 year span to open it up) and won literally zero playoff series? Ever? I think the answer is no. So imagine how frustrating that can be for a FO. I think to some extent they just felt they had to make changes or somehow mix up the karma. And there are fewer ways to ditch some bad playoff karma than the dude who has lost 10 straight clinch games.
2. I honesty believe that 98% of people evaluate managers in an irrelevant way. Does it matter that Dusty or Matt williams or whoever won X games? Sure. It’s not irrelevant. But given how little managers influence the success of a baseball team over a 162 game sample, when talent tends to float to the surface, naming Win totals seems very silly to me compared to answering two questions: a. Is this skipper good for team morale/effort/off the field stuff like managing health, all that. And b. How is he strategically, both in game tactics and off field strategy? Dusty seems very good at a. (Not flawless mind you...he pitched gio like a TON over what he was used to in meaningless games and Gio ended up gassed by end of September and playoffs....and...does Dusty really get literally zero credit for the first half pen? It was the same group of guys as last year. Why is that garbage fire divorced from him?) And then from my personal vantage point he is below average at b—arguably worse than below average. And (a) is more important in regular season and marathon. (B) is more important in playoffs. In game decisions are everything. Dustys irrational trust in Sammy Solis (5 ERA) may well have swung a game maybe two. [Harper....I don’t follow your “how could Dusty have hurt them....the cubs and Nats were evenly matched thus an average manager has a close series.” The faulty assumption here is that the relieve quality of the two teams in a 5 game series will pan out in the result, which of course is nuts. The Yankees beat the Indians....they probably should have lost that series 3-1 or something if you went by how evenly matched they are...there’s a lot of randomness.]
3. So. This is why I don’t understand the theory that if we’re trying to advance we need a veteran manager who has advanced. Huh? How about if we’re trying to advance we want a manager who doesn’t live in 1975 baseball analysis and can take advantage of platoons, sensible pinch hitting and defensive replacements, and be familiar with sabermetrics, the importance of having a sensible lineup with OBP guys high up, and can distinguish between using garbage stats and real stats.
HERES THE POINT: if Dave Martinez, handed a note that says “Matt weiters is 2-3 with a double off this reliever,” says “that means nothing. Weiters sucks.” As opposed to Dusty who probably thinks “WOW! he sees this guy well!” then they advances the likelihood of the Nats winning a playoff series where they are facing a baseball team with a smart manager like Maddon or Roberts. I would rather have a guy who understands how to use stats and analytical decision making and common sense than some dude like Jim Leyland who has won in the playoffs but probably doesn’t know what OPS means, thinks reliever X can only appear in Inning Z, and calls his best player “Royce” for 6 months because he’s adorably dotty.

BxJaycobb said...

Holy god. I apologize for the length of this profusely. I did not realize how long it was!!!

BxJaycobb said...

Amen to this.

BxJaycobb said...

Can we get a post on (non manager) offseason priorities? If we were going for something in between “ALL IN! SUPER DUPER ALL IN!” and a normal Lerners offseason (I.e. very productive and promising), what would it look like? Humble suggestions:
1. Extend Rendon. I think he has beaten (sorta) the durability issue.
2. Catcher. Weiters can be backup but I don’t think severino’s bat is good enough to start. I propose that we ransack Realmuto from the payroll-cutting Fish. Who to trade? I say strike while irons hot and Taylor Stevenson Severino (with somewhat risky notion that if Robles isn’t quite ready to take over CF, Goodwin can handle it while he is finishing seasoning for a couple months or whatever).
3. Starter. We could dip into the FA market. Darvish would be the ALL IN route, but let’s say that and Otani aren’t realistic. Ok. Then what about Alex Cobb? I like AL to NL moves and he strikes me as a good “pitching game 3/4” sub to avoid another Gio special. Or Lance Lynn on like a 3 year deal? Or we could trade for one. Maybe add Fedde to the Realmuto offer above and see if they’ll throw in Dan Straily?
4. Closer. I’m holding out hope the Lerners finally take out the checkbook for Wade Davis. In 2017 the single best weapon for winning a playoff game is a dominant reliever. It’s how Dodgers beat us (Jansen) and how Cubs did. Madson Doolittle Davis could cover 6-9 in a big playoff game.

Mr. T said...

Speaking of Davis: is anyone else still wondering what he snorted before the 9th inning in game 5? He was terrible for 2 long innings, then turned unhittable around his 40th pitch.

Jay said...

I agree Dusty is a great guy and I would have kept imo. I also think saying the Nats are crazy for letting him go is not accurate either. Bos spent hours in his chat yesterday losing his mind. Then at the end stated that Dusty has been fired 3 times before and 2 of those teams went on to a better record the next year. I mean the Giants did not renew his contract after he lost game 7 of the World Series.

I think people are confusing Baker is a great guy with he is a great manager. The knock on Dusty when the Nats signed him is that he is great in the regular season and below average in the playoffs. I'm not entirely convinced this was all the Lerners either. I think the Nats look at the Dodgers, who had Don Mattingly as manager. The debate was whether or not to bring him back. They decided on Dave Roberts with zero managerial experience. He is not old school in any way. Two years later the Dodgers look like geniuses bc they are in the WS.

I go back to this thought. If Dusty comes back. Odds are really good the Nats win the division and end up in the playoffs. Odds are they will have home field in the first series bc of their division. They have lost the past 2 game 5s at home. Would anything be different next year if Dusty is still here?

Flapjack said...

I think we making a (Boswellian) mistake in letting this discussion devolve into an imagined clash of personalities, as in the Learners v Dusty with Rizzo somewhere in the middle. Here's something to consider: The Nats have an up and coming star -- a BRYCE replacement -- in a kid who speaks (as far as I can tell) nada Ingl├ęs. In fact a lot of the up and comers in the Nats organization are Latins. The Nat's Dominican strategy looks like it's about to pay off. If I were Rizzo, I'd be focused on bringing along Robles and Soto. There is a lot to like about Dusty, but he isn't the guy to do it.

Josh Higham said...

I hadn't considered Flapjack's point. Alex Cora and Dave Martinez make even more sense as top candidates (Cora of course is not longer available) if the team is specifically planning on most or all of Robles/Difo/Soto/Severino being regulars in 2019 and beyond. Give the new guy an easy route to the playoffs and a chance to prove his tactical ability in 2018 with Bryce, 1-legged Murphy, and company, then groom a new bilingual core of, say, Turner, Rendon, Robles, Soto starting in year 2 of his contract.

Jay said...

Supposedly Dusty is fluent in Spanish as well. I really think it boiled down to old school vs new school. The same reporters that kept talking about how Dusty is 0-10 in clinching games are the same ones losing their minds now that Dusty is gone. They are the same ones that were losing their minds when Strasburg wasn't pitching game 4 and then losing their minds that he was the greatest pitcher ever after game 4. It gets tiresome.

KW said...

Farrell is anti-analytics, lost the clubhouse, and had an affair with a reporter. Um, no.

I'm liking the list thus far of Martinez and Long, both in their 50s, a decade older than the "hot young guys" like Cora and Calloway. I would love to see Mike Maddux also get a look. I could see Giant coaches Phil Nevin and Ron Wotus (interviewed with the Nats in 2015) also getting into the mix.

The Nats will be very good in 2018 regardless . . . but they won't be WS favorites, or even favorites to get to the WS, as the Dodgers aren't going to disappear. The Nats in 2019 and 2020 face a lot of transition. But then why should we have any expectations that a manager hired now will still be around for 2020?!