"We've come terms, we've agreed to terms, but there's certain formalities that have to be ironed out," D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said this afternoon when asked about the Nats' plans to name Davey Johnson the team's new manager. Rizzo was interviewed during FOX's national broadcast of the Washington Nationals game against the Chicago White Sox Saturday in US Cellular Field. According to reports during and after the game, Johnson, who's served as a special advisor to the GM for the last two years, will join the team on the road in Chicago tomorrow before taking over as the new manager on Monday in Anaheim.
"He's one of the guys with the best baseball acumen that I've ever been around," Rizzo said. Asked if he had any concerns about the 68-year-old manager relating to the young team Washington's assembled, Rizzo said firmly, "I have no worries, whatsoever. Davey's always been on the cutting edge. This is a guy who was employing sabermetrics before there were even sabermatricians, so this guy is, like I said, he's a thinking-man's manager, he's a players' manager, and he's a guy who loves the game, knows the game inside-out and has a track record that's second-to-none."
Washington Post writer Chico Harlan, in a January 2010 article entitled, "Front-office overhaul gives Washington Nationals new respect", wrote about the front office Rizzo had assembled that winter once he'd finally been given control over assembling his own staff with a mix of old-school scouts and the sabermetrically-inclined. Among those added to the front office by Rizzo was Davey Johnson who, as the WaPost's Mr. Harlan wrote, "calls himself a pioneer of sabermetrics,":
"Even in his playing days with the Orioles (1965-72), he experimented with a simulation program that revealed Baltimore's optimized lineup.
"'I've always used computers and numbers to give me another way to look at talent,' Johnson said."
Johnson's reputation as an early advocate of a sabermetric approach to the game has followed him since his playing days. A mathematics major in college, Johnson was described by Baltimore Sun writer Peter Schmuck as, "a believer in all things statistical," in a 1995 article entitled, "Johnson gets optimal job A year later, number comes up with Orioles", in which the Baltimore Sun writer too recounted stories of how Johnson would, "..borrow time on the computer system at Orioles owner Jerry Hoffberger's brewery," so that he could try to determine the optimum lineups for the Baltimore team Johnson played second base for at the time:
"'I used to work on this program I called 'Optimizing the Orioles Lineup,' Johnson said, 'and I would run it through the computer and bring the data to Earl Weaver. I found out that if I hit second instead of seventh, we'd score 50 or 60 more runs and that would translate into a few more wins. I gave it to him, and it went right into the garbage can.'"
Twenty-seven years ago, when a then-41-year-old Johnson's hiring by the New York Mets was being written about in the baseball press, the same stories about Johnson's mathematic proclivities were mentioned in an SI.com profile. "Johnson brings to the job a thorough knowledge of computers...He was dabbling in computers back when he was the second baseman for the Orioles, and he used to give Earl Weaver printouts of the optimum Baltimore lineup. 'Earl put them in the waste-basket,' says Johnson."
In New York, as the SI.com story noted, Johnson would be assembling lineups from a roster that included young slugger Daryl Strawberry, first baseman Keith Hernandez and, "a plethora of good young pitchers like Ron Darling, Dwight Gooden, Tim Leary and Walt Terrell. Even without Tom Seaver, the pitching will be better than it was last year. The bullpen is solid with Jesse Orosco and Doug Sisk."
Even without Stephen Strasburg, Johnson will be working with a starting staff that includes Jordan Zimmermann, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, John Lannan and Tom Gorzelanny, a bullpen with Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen and an offense featuring Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, Michael Morse and one day in the "near"-future, Bryce Harper. Is Johnson the right manager at the right time like he was for New York the mid-80's?
When Rizzo was finally officialy named the Nats' general manager August 2009, he described a philosophy balanced between old-school scouting and a sabermetric approach by explaining, "I trust what I see more than what I read, but it's always nice when what I read corresponds to what I think I see." Rizzo assembled a front office that reflected this balance, and now (or starting Monday) he has a manager on the bench with a career-spanning reputation for pioneering a mix of the two schools of thought. Jim Riggleman's abrupt departure may have hastened the Nats' transition to Phase III of their development.
Are you confident the Nats are headed in the right direction? Or do you think the Nats have taken a step back in the last week?