The general consensus around the internets is that Matt Williams won't be the one making lineup decisions for the Nats' next season, though I'm not 100% sure I agree -- more on that in a minute -- but Washington's second-year skipper was asked after yesterday's win over the Cincinnati Reds for his opinion on where two of the Nationals' young stars are best off in the batting order after he led off with Michael Taylor on Monday and gave Trea Turner a start in the two-hole.
"For Mike, I'm not so sure that that's the natural for him, because he drives the ball so well. For Trea, I think the fact that he hits the ball the other way and stays on the baseball so well, that's pretty natural for him."
Taylor, in 32 games and 144 plate appearances as the Nationals' leadoff hitter (and obviously not "leading off" in all of those PAs), has put up a .201/.229/.331 line.
As the actual leadoff hitter, in the first at bat of those games, he's put up a .233/.258/.467 line in 31 PAs. He's gotten most of his plate appearances (263), batting eighth, putting up a .244/.309/.340 line in that spot.
Where will he end up next season? And what about Trea Turner? Where is he going to hit next season?
In two minor league campaigns he's put up a .322/.384/.454 line in 821 PAs, and he's been talked about as a potential future leadoff man since he was acquired this winter (and then officially in June), and with Denard Span likely (maybe) leaving as a free agent this winter, the Nationals are going to need to fill a hole atop the order. (Put Jayson Werth there!).
For now, and again in today's lineup, Turner's batting second, behind OBP-y infielder Anthony Rendon in the leadoff spot:
#Nats @ #Braves: Rendon 3B, Turner 2B, Harper CF, Werth RF, Robinson 1B, Desmond SS, den Dekker LF, Ramos C, Roark P pic.twitter.com/oKXvzgKO6v— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 29, 2015
Going back to the Nats' skipper now... Williams is still in charge of putting together lineups now. Will he be next season?
GM Mike Rizzo was asked that question directly yesterday, and he gave the answer he's been giving for weeks now.
"We're going to make 2016 decisions after we finish 2015," Rizzo said. "He's under contract to be the manager next year."
If the Nationals were going to make an argument for keeping Williams, the best one I could make for that route would be that they hired a manager with minimal experience (AFL, short stint in the minors), so growing pains had to be expected and some learning on the job when it comes to in-game decision-making (read: bullpen management, decisions on starters in general) had to be expected.
Can he learn and adjust? Some players anonymously questioned whether he could in a column by Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga last week.
But more than anything else, the argument for keeping him, would have to be that with all the injuries that the Nats dealt with this season, and with Rizzo recently acknowledging that not having options to fill in for the injured players is somewhat on him, one could argue that it's hard to judge Williams' work this season.
Asked to assess the job Williams has done with a week left to play, here's what Rizzo said yesterday:
"I think Matt has persevered through a lot of different injuries, a lot of different ebbs and flows of the season. He's had to juggle maybe as many different lineups as any manager has in baseball and many injuries at different times and groups of players coming off the disabled list at the same time."
He was also asked what the manager could have done better?
"Possibly managed the health of the players better," Rizzo said, "or if we had a more stable lineup, he probably would have done a different job."
"He did not have a stable lineup, so how could he do a good job with hundreds of disabled list days?"
Is that the argument that they'll use to justify keeping Williams if the Nationals decide that they want to bring him back in 2016?