Opinion: On Matt Williams And Bullpens

Let us put aside yesterday’s debacle. I believe that was just “one of those games” that happens to every team at least once a year. 

Matt Williams has rendered my “Get to Know Some Nats: Bullpen” preview moot. Why bother knowing the pros and cons of any of these players? Their genetic make-up, the pitches they use, their past failures and successes- all meaningless in the face of the only featureMatt Williams cares about: Which inning he thinks they ought to pitch in.

The follies and foibles in Managin’ Matt Williams bullpen “plan” have been written about far and wide, and fully rehashing them here isn’t going to be hugely helpful. Here is my new favorite Nats writer, Jim Meyerriecks detailing the time Matt Williams went far afield and got lucky. Here he is just a few days later, when the luck didn’t hold up. If you want to know what each of these pitchers can do, you should read his post because it is an excellent summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the bullpen. I’m not saying Jim would be a better bullpen manager than Matt Williams…but I don’t have a particularly good reason to think he wouldn’t be, either.

And that’s just it: As Half-Street Heart’s blog post points out, there isn’t anything confusing or crazy about the Williams bullpen: if anything it is too straight forward. There is no hope that Williams is trying something new or different, and only the slimmest of hope that he thinks maybe, just maybe, a guy like Blake Treinen might ultimately, suddenly, for no good reason, eventually be good against left handed batters.

No, Williams bullpen management is the Billy Goat Tavern Restaurant of bullpen management. The customer might call for a steak with a beer, or an omlette with orange juice, but they’ll get a cheeseburger, pepsi no coke until Dan Akroyd runs out of cheeseburgers.

Matt Williams world doesn’t have match-ups, lefties, righties. He has starters and Nth Inning Guys, where Nth is a particular inning and a particular pitcher is in charge of that inning. At most, the formula has a slightly different track if the team is winning. No thought is given to winning by how much, if the game is tied, if they are losing but close – let alone who is due up in the half inning, who is on the opposing team’s bench, or where the Nationals pitcher is due to hit the following half inning.

It’s not even managing. It’s just… it seems lazy.

Williams exhibits one of the worst qualities a manager can have with regards to the bullpen: He appears disinterested in how it works, only that it should work. When it doesn’t work he can only point at it and say “well it should be working.” He is the most unhelpful mechanic ever. He is the Best Buy Geek Squad or Apple Genius Help Desk Guy that could just give a flying squirrel that your gadget doesn’t work. He’s done all the things he’s been told he should do.

He assigns roles that do not play to the strengths of the pitchers he has, and when they fail it is not on him. Aaron Barrett is a 7th inning guy gosh darn it, and his job is to get guys out in the 7th inning.

This is a bit like hiring a trademark lawyer to be your criminal defense attorney. This is expecting a high school Spanish teacher to just step in and teach Japanese.

For a manager who has made getting to know the guys a priority (indeed, the single hardest thing about his first year of managing) he’s dismissed the most salient details about the bullpen players: How they pitch. Maybe he knows who Xavier Cedeno’s favorite band is, but he has no clue when to use him in a game.

Who knows: Maybe that’s the by product of being a consistently good player. Maybe he simply believes by pushing people and running them out there you find out if they got it or they don’t. Maybe he supposes that’s how people develop.

And maybe they will. But this isn’t Matt Williams Vocational School for Wayward and Orphaned Pitchers. It’s the Major Leagues. Some pitchers are good with lefties, others righties, a few can handle both. I don’t think Mike Rizzo did Williams any favors by trading away Tyler Clippard (a rare pitcher who did very well against all kinds of batters in all kinds of situations) or Jerry Blevins (a very good guy to get lefties out), but to be fair Matt Williams didn’t exactly use them very well either. Why should he have the nice toys if he can’t play with them properly?

Well, because its a super important year. The Nats, like last year, are going to win a ton of games. As the year goes on the score is going to cover up Williams decision making because the margin for error won’t be so close. But the margin is going to be pretty close for the next few weeks, which is a pretty good mirror for how games in October are. Weekend Nats vs. Phillies is probably a similarly tight match to Full Strength Nats and Dodgers/Cardinals. Right now you’re getting a look at what the Matt Williams Nats look like when they are not head and shoulders better than their competition: Something that is bound to come up again in the NLSomethingOrOther Series.

Maybe you think this is all overblown, not such a big deal, and I’m a big-typing blogger with no baseball experience that doesn’t know ships from shinola. And that may be. I’m willing to admit that I, perhaps, am too entrenched in my position to see the full scope of evidence clearly. I might be giving Matt Williams too hard a time.

But no one is picking up the sword on behalf of Matt Williams bullpen use. No one is arguing that he’s making good choices with the bullpen. Time after time there is no reasonable reason to justify a decision he made, and generally there are several good reasons not to have done what he did. I’m trying to make that argument to myself now and I have no idea where to start.

This early in the season sample size is too small to quibble with results, but it is plenty big enough to quibble with process. Make no mistake, this first week has been a test for the Nats on their road to a championship. The biggest roadblock to the Nationals achieving their ultimate goal is probably injury. Second, and nearly as devastating, is the self-inflicted injuries visited upon the players by Matt Williams. In the spring I asked if he could grow as a manager, and the early returns do not look good.

Friday Wrap-Up: NATS COLUMNIST BINGO!!?!?!

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Let’s not bury the lead. There will be lots and lots of Hot Sprotz Taeks about the Nationals this week because they lost a few baseball games. In fact, there have already been a few, and James O’Hara did a great job of taking them down. Read that. It’s really, really well written.

Still, even the might O’Hara cannot turn back the tide. He’s just one man cursing at an ocean that will eventually crash a wave of nonsense right on his head. All of our heads, actually. So rather than do that, here is a handful of Nats Columnist Bingo Cards I made on the Internet. Read a columnist, listen to a radio host, and play along. Mark your card and report back when you get a hit :)

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The Nationals didn’t fare as well as hoped against the New York Mets this week. The reason for losing is simple enough: The Nats in two of the three games gave up more runs than they scored. The Mets benefited from a surprisingly good performance from Bartolo Colon, and a much less surprisingly excellent performance from Matt Harvey. The Nationals had two great performances of their own from Scherzer and Zimmermann, but without their top three hitters in the lineup, the Nats offense sputtered. Much will be made of their 3 total hits with runners in scoring position (both came after being down 6 runs late on Thursday). I’m a thinking that the team’s meager 180/232/315 doesn’t exactly speak to an offense that stalled but barely got going.

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How To Watch @MASNCommenter #Nats Play Opening Day Today at 1:05p!

BROADCAST LINK: 

If you haven’t already, read our post from earlier today where we put together a Nationals team we imagine the @MASNCommenter crowd would like. That’ll get you caught up on what is going on here.

The PS4, in conjunction with TWITCH allows folks to broadcast their playing of video games. It sounds weird, I know, but in this instance it will be pretty helpful. Why just read about the MC Nats when you can actually watch them play.

The link at the top of the post is for the broadcast video feed, starting live around 12:30p, with a 1:05p first pitch. I’ll set the game to play itself, and we’ll all watch to see how the MC Nats play against the regular Mets.

A few notes:

  • There is an ad that usually plays before it will let you into the stream. Nothing I can do about that, sorry.
  • Just so you know, I’m not actually playing the game. I have work to do, just like most of you. All I did was take about 5 minutes to set it up, and then I let it go.
  • I’ll be using #MASNCommenterOD with live updates from the game. Join in on the fun!
  • Seriously: You’ve seen a million spring training games, the radio is going to be there tomorrow, and you were going to goof off anyway. Let’s have a practice run with this team.
  • Just so you know, the visual in The Show are ridic. You’ll be happy you watched at least a little bit of it.

Exactly How Good a @MASNCommenter #Nats Team Would Be #MLB15THESHOW

SOON.

MORSE!!!

UPDATE: I’ve determined I should be able to broadcast a computer simulated game featuring the MASNCommenter Nats vs. The Mets in an “Opening Day” Tilt. I will post the link here and on twitter. Should be a 1:05 start.

I am new to the world of Playstation, but I got one around Thanksgiving and I do enjoy it. As a baseball and video game fan, I’ve been anxiously waiting for MLB The Show to debut its 2015 edition, which did indeed “drop” on Tuesday. I’ve never played this game before and, frankly, I’m terrible at it.

Like with most baseball games you can play whole seasons at a time, or even set yourself up as the GM of a franchise and build your team from the ground up. I was iffy on whether I wanted to start that particular campaign last night, but a thought occurred to me:

There is a whole cottage industry of video game simulations being used to demonstrate theoretical concepts in sports. Breaking Madden being king amongst them. Routinely, as a blogger and a baseball fan, folks ask me “well, what about…” or “what if…”.

Some ideas are crazier than others, and there is perhaps no greater repository of don’t-know-it-all Nats thoughts than those archived by @MASNCommenter. We profiled MC last year, who faithfully copies the comments section of fans on the MASN Facebook page, generally the crazy/insane/overly emotional/poorly spelled ones. James O’Hara wrote a piece theorizing what a Nats team might be like if we made many of the trades proposed in tweets.

So here I am: Holding back the real bullpen and bench preview posts until the dust settles a bit more, a week away from baseball starting, I have this video game I am terrible at…why not turn to the experts for help?

So, yes. I created the 2015 season for the Washington Nationals in MLB the Show 15. I then proceeded to put together the most MASNCommenter 25-man roster I could. My plan is to then simulate the whole season (I won’t be playing the games, just telling the computer to play itself) and see how the Nats do.

Mike Taylor in CF. Nice, young, up and comer.

What Kind of Roster Does MASNCommenter Like? 

When I solicited help from twitter, I got one answer over and over. MASNCommenter would clone 25 Steve Lombardozzis and field them all. Sadly, the game won’t let me do that.

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Friday Roundup: Late Sunday #Nats Edition

Thank you for accepting my delayed round up. In appreciation of that, here is a Bryce Harper Home Run.

#NatsClubHouseSocial: Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals social media team invited a handful of highly visible, highly social, highly interactive Nationals fans for a presentation regarding the new bells, whistles, and giveaways at the park this year. It was preceded by a free happy hour with appetizers, and personalized jerseys custom made for the invited fans featuring their surname, the #15 (for 2015) and the exclusive 10 year DC patch.

If you don’t know already, I was one of those lucky, unworthy, happy people. I instantly felt nervous about my Matt Williams post from that morning, but too late to go back! (Also, no one asked me to write anything about this event or anything else, just so you know.)

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Podcast! 2015 Nats Season Preview with @NoahFrankWTOP

EDIT: I fixed the audio so it is properly mixed.

Noah Frank joins our show to talk about where the Nats are right now and how they look for 2015. On the show: the 25 man roster, the rash of injuries suffered by the team, how good is the Nationals rotation, is this bullpen sustainable, Strasburg, Harper, a little Matt Williams, an NL East preview, a rest of the MLB preview, and plenty more. Enjoy!