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The Washington Nationals did not need a new manager

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The Nationals pressed the panic button and screwed over their manager once again. This upheaval is a pattern. Why do we continue to be surprised?

MLB: NLDS-Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Nationals did not need a new manager. I am sure Dave Martinez will do fine, but the Nationals did not need a new manager. However, they go through managers so quickly it should hardly be considered a surprise. It takes time for managers to build relationships and to build a clubhouse dynamic, something Dusty Baker was able to do quickly and do well. That management of personalities is, arguably, just as important as in-game strategy. It is something David Martinez will have to learn and then rebuild this season. In firing Dusty Baker, the Washington Nationals took another step backward.

According to reports, the Nationals were working on a two-year extension for Dusty Baker during the middle of the season but reneged for an unknown reason. They said the deal would be finalized after the Nationals’ season. That delay didn’t make much sense, but Baker returned to business and guided the team to their second consecutive NL Division Series.

After that brutal game five loss, which MLB now admits featured a blown call that determined the game, Dusty remained in DC for nine days.

He expected the Nationals to announce that two-year extension for about six million dollars, but when it never materialized he headed back home.

Then they fired him over the phone.

Nationals Managers Since 2011

  • 2009-2011: Jim Riggleman was hired in the middle of the 2009 season after Manny Acta was fired. Riggleman was offered a one-year contract for 2010 and another for 2011. He resigned mid-season over a contract dispute, offended by the Nationals’ reluctance to have mid-season discussions about an extension. (A pattern emerges!) This article about his hiring was written in 2009:

“Acta's firing is only the latest example of the constant upheaval surrounding the Nationals since Kasten and local developer Ted Lerner took over the club during the 2006 season.”

  • 2011: John McLaren was the interim manager for three games.
  • 2011 – 2013: Davey Johnson was hired as the manager to replace Riggleman. He won the 2012 Manager of the Year award on a one-year deal. He signed another one-year deal for the 2013 season before retiring.
  • 2014 – 2015: Matt Williams was hired as manager to replace Davey Johnson. He won the 2014 Manager of the Year award in the first year of a two-year deal. The following year he presided over a team-wide implosion that resulted in his firing after the season.
  • 2016: The Nationals attempted to court Bud Black. (He is now the manager for the Colorado Rockies.) They reportedly offered him $1.6 million for one year, and when Black told them that offer was an insult they refused to go beyond two years. My favourite quote from this debacle is, “The Lerners made Jeffrey Loria appear decisive and considerate.
  • 2016-2017: Dusty Baker is hired to replace Matt Williams.
  • 2017/18: Dusty Baker, after being the first manager to guide the club to back-to-back division titles and 95+ win seasons, is let go. He is replaced by Dave Martinez.

It is important to note that since their return to the District, no Nationals manager has lasted three full seasons.

The Precedent

Obviously, this situation was bungled. Dusty said,

"I really thought this was my best year. We won at least 95 games each year and won the division back-to back years but they said they wanted to go a different direction. It's hard to understand."

That assessment is indicative of the damaging effects of the Nationals’ cyclical purges. Players are reportedly "unhappy at the continuing upheaval and uncertainty around the team, and the perception that creates." That word, upheaval, is the same one used in 2009 to describe the organization. The Nationals have had six managers since 2011. Six managers over a period of eight seasons is ridiculous, and that discounts their attempted courting of Bud Black which ended because he considered their lowball offer offensive.

Jim Riggleman resigned as manager halfway through the season. He said,

"I wanted a conversation about it … I didn't say, 'Pick up my option, or else.' I said, 'I think it's worthy of a conversation when we get to Chicago,' and Mike said, 'Well, we're not going to do that.’”

The organization simply does not see the value of managers and it continues to be their downfall. After Riggleman’s resignation, Mike Rizzo said, “We intend to build the Washington Nationals into a championship contender. Today's actions will not in any way deter us from those efforts." Except, the Washington Nationals offend their managers and deter others, like Bud Black, from accepting positions within the organization by extending ridiculous offers and feigning ignorance of their insults as they did to Riggleman. That they landed someone with Dusty Baker’s credibility shocked me. I am still floored that they let him go, and I am not the only one.

Championship Managers

The Nationals have a fear of commitment. It is why they famously back-load contracts and cannot seem to keep a manager. However, looking at the managers who have won the World Series since this merry-go-round began back in 2011, it is clear that commitment is exactly what they need to win.

World Series Managers by Year

Year (Team) Manager Years w/ Club
Year (Team) Manager Years w/ Club
2011 (Cardinals) Tony LaRussa 16
2012 (Giants) Bruce Bochy 6
2013 (Red Sox) John Farrell 1
2014 (Giants) Bruce Bochy 8
2015 (Royals) Ned Yost 6
2016 (Cubs) Joe Maddon 2

Most championship managers have been with the club for more than five years. They have established clubhouse credibility and built relationships with franchise players. Longer tenure allows them to create a positive environment while turnover necessitates a rebuild of that dynamic.

There are two exceptions on this list, and that is because the teams were jam-packed with talent. John Farrell inherited a team with David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Koji Uehara, Jon Lester, John Lackey, David Ross, and many more names you’d recognize. It is not surprising a team with that caliber of talent would win the World Series. The same can be said for the Cubs in 2016—they were just too talented not to win, regardless of their manager.

The Fallout

Next season is the season for the Nationals. It is make-or-break; this determines whether they will continue to be a destination team or revert back to the Island of Misfit Toys they were from 2005-2010. Two big-time players will depart after the 2018 season: Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper. Max Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman will enter their age-33 seasons. If a championship is gonna happen, it has got to happen now.

The continuous “upheaval” which has perpetually plagued this team causes people to question the legitimacy of the organization. In letting go of Dusty Baker, they also watched the best pitching coach in the game walk away. I cannot speak for Bryce Harper, but looking at the tumult within the front office ... can anyone reasonably expect a player to commit to this team for an extended period of time? Bryce will be looking for a ten-year, Giancarlo Stanton-sized deal. If tradition holds, the Nats will go through about four-and-a-half managers in that timeframe.

To put it in perspective, the Nationals fired the manager with the highest winning percentage since they moved back to DC (.593).

Mike Rizzo said, "Winning a lot of games in the regular season and division titles is not enough."

That’s true, it is not enough. The organization keeps putting the blame in the wrong place. The Washington Nationals don’t win in October and they do not understand how to fix that problem. Mike Rizzo is trying to make sabermetrics the story, saying they wanted “someone who embraces the analytical side of the game.” Is it analytics, though? Is it really?

In my year writing at Beyond the Box Score, I’ve yet to come across something that would have given the Nationals more of an upper-hand than they had these past two seasons. What will David Martinez do better than winning a division, winning 95+ games, and securing home field advantage? Please enlighten me as to how sabermetrics can do more!

Will sabermetrics help Trea Turner get on base in games 1 - 3? Will sabermetrics prevent umpires from blowing calls? Would sabermetrics have kept Lobaton’s foot on the base?

No.

How can ownership have such contempt for the position when it is clear that managers are key in creating a culture of winning? Something managers need time to accomplish. I leave you with the words of Howard Bryant at ESPN:

“If the Nationals are cursed of anything, it's ... the arrogance of thinking they can win with such organizational disdain for the managerial position. By the eternal, unforgivable arrogance of 2012 ... if there is a curse surrounding the Nationals, it is that the players are cursed by the family signing their paychecks.”


Audrey Stark is a Contributor at Federal Baseball. You can follow her on Twitter @HighStarkSunday.