Pulling Jordan Zimmermann with one out to go in Game 2 of the NLDS. Not managing like the season was on the line -- in some people's eyes -- and throwing everyone he could at the San Francisco Giants in Game 4 of the Division Series. Benching Bryce Harper for not running out a grounder to the mound early last summer. No conversation about Matt Williams' first year on the bench in the nation's capital can avoid these touchstones and others, but the major league slugger-turned-manager's first run as a skipper ended with the Washington Nationals winning 96 games and the NL East for the second time in three seasons before their disappointing NLDS loss. Williams was named the NL Manager of the Year this winter. He admitted, however, that it all ended rather abruptly.
"It always ends so abruptly when you don't win, so it's disappointing," Williams told reporters.
"We had a chance to get to the playoffs and wanted to go further and it didn't happen. At that point you understand the playoff series and understand the season as a whole, I would rate it as a success for us. It was a good learning experience for our guys moving forward and hopefully we get a chance to get back and take the next step and hopefully beyond that. For 29 teams it all ends way too fast, we want to be the last ones standing at some point."
The man who hired Williams was happy with the growth he saw over the course of the 2014 campaign.
"'His first year in the dugout was excellent," Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said in a press release on Williams' NL MOY win. "And it was a pleasure to watch him grow throughout. He is a respected leader, and the steady hand that navigated our team through many challenges this season.
"'What we accomplished this season would not have been possible without the right man at the helm. That was Matt this season, and we’re all looking forward to 2015.'"
Heading into Year Two of the Williams' regime, how confident are you in his ability to get the Nationals back to the postseason for another run? Do you see a 2013-ish letdown coming? Have the Nats given Williams all he'll need to take the next step?
Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo ranked major league managers in his Sunday Baseball Notes column this morning, and the 2014 NL Manager of the Year ended up in the bottom third.
Cafardo's rankings are based on his own, "... opinions and the opinions of the many people around baseball I speak with during the course of the week," taking into account, "recent performance and track record," while noting that he considers what the managers have to work with in terms of the, "... talent on his roster and his ability to push that talent to positive results."
He also notes that "...[a]s always, we put first-time managers at the bottom of the list."
Bruce Bochy (1) and Buck Showalter (2) top the list as the top managers in the NL and AL, respectively. Williams lands at no.23 on Cafardo's list:
23. Matt Williams, Nationals — We remember the yanking of Jordan Zimmermann in that playoff game with the Giants as a brain cramp that probably cost the Nationals a chance to go far. But there’s a more extensive body of work than that one move. The rookie manager made some rookie mistakes.