Dusty Baker was out of baseball for two years before he was hired by the Washington Nationals this past November.
He was asked at the Winter Meetings in December if, during his time away, he'd seen anything in the games he did watch that changed his perspective on the game or that would affect what he did once he returned to the dugout?
"If I would do anything," Baker told reporters in Nashville, "I think I would encourage the hitters to be more aggressive because everybody's talking about get deep in the count. All that's doing is putting you in a better situation to strike out. And I see guys taking the first pitch like right there. I'm cringing sometimes. And I see them taking hangers."
"I believe in getting deep in the count," Baker continued, "but there's a way sometimes that pitcher shouldn't know if you're going to take or swing, and that's where the game comes in with hitting."
In adding Daniel Murphy to the mix, on what is reportedly a 3-year/$37.5M deal, the Nationals added a solid contact hitter who, as the press release on the signing yesterday noted, "... posted the lowest percentage of swinging strikes (6.9) in the National League in 2015," to go along with, "the highest contact percentage among all NL hitters (91.0)."
Murphy also ranked, "in the top 10 among qualified [left-handed hitting infielders] in batting average (3rd), on-base percentage (9th) and slugging percentage (9th)."
Murphy struck out just 38 times total in 2015, or once in every 14.2 plate appearances, over 538 PAs total (7% K%) which was the lowest K% in the majors amongst qualified hitters.
In his introductory press conference today, Murphy talked about the adjustments he made in Spring Training last year that allowed him to have continued success in 2015.
"I think one of the big things that was identified last year in Spring Training with [Mets' hitting coach] Kevin Long and myself was trying to use my legs more," Murphy explained.
"So that was one of the big keys. So I think the biggest ones were being able to use my legs and getting pitches that you can be dangerous on. Not just necessarily pitches that you can make contact with, but pitches where you can be dangerous. So I'd say the two biggest things were getting pitches that you can handle and hit hard and getting your 'A' swing off, those were the two biggest adjustments I made."
Murphy went on an impressive run in the postseason, with seven home runs total in 64 PAs, and homers in six straight games at one point, but as he said this afternoon, he's never been a big home run hitter. Can he keep hitting them like he did in October?
"I've never done it before and I did it in the postseason and so, with some adjustments and some foundations that were laid in New York last year working with the hitting instructors there and I've already been in discussions with [Nationals' hitting coach] Rick Schu, hopefully some of the adjustments we've made can not only continue, but I feel that Rick and I will be able to add to that hopefully going forward and he'll be able to tell me and see some things and give me a new dialogue that I never heard before and I'm looking forward to that relationship growing in Spring Training. So, I don't know if I can keep hitting home runs, but I sure hope so."
As Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo explained today, however, the Nats didn't sign Murphy just based on what they saw in the postseason.
"The playoffs meant little to me as far as his performance," Rizzo said. "I'd seen the performance so many times at so many different levels of play. I've seen him play his whole major league career and when you play somebody 19 times [a year], we know each other pretty well. You know all the pluses and the minuses, you try to exploit the weaknesses and every time we tried to exploit one of Daniel's offensive weaknesses, he made an adjustment and made us pay for it. So, you're talking about a gritty, gutty type of ballplayer, but a very high IQ player who last night at dinner was telling me about my prior draft choices, what the roster would look like, and having veterans back up veterans was a key phrase for us.
"So you're talking about a very sharp player that plays the game the right way and is a winner."
Murphy put up a .281/.322/.449 line, 38 doubles and 14 home runs in 130 games and 538 regular season PAs in 2015, finishing the year at 2.5 fWAR, but his defense has always been a concern.
His -40 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in the last four seasons, (which ESPN's Stats & Info noted was the second-worst in baseball among second baseman over that stretch behind only Rickie Weeks, -62 DRS), will make the addition, as ESPN's Stats & Info writers put it, " ... a defensive downgrade for the Nationals," but Rizzo and Murphy said today it was something they were aware of and something Murphy has continued to concentrate on and work to improve.
"We take the entire package when we sign the player," Rizzo explained. "We love the way Daniel gets after it. He works hard as a defender and as an offensive player. He's our second baseman, we're running him out there every day and you know, when you see a player play 19 times a season for as many years as I've had, I've seen him make unbelievable plays at second base.
"He's obviously going to work extremely hard to be more consistent at second base, but as far as ability to play it and able to and a big league second baseman, you're looking at him."
"Definitely some work to be more consistent," Murphy said of the need to improve on the defensive side.
"I think my goal each year is to be as consistent as possible on the routine play. I also feel like each year as I've been able to play the position more, second base, I've been able to grow defensively. I know that when I started there, there were some definite growing pains, but I feel like each year I get more comfortable and hopefully if we with our staff here and the infield staff and myself get some work done we can continue that curve headed in the right direction."