The Nats are 14-22. They have a .389 winning percentage, better than only Miami in the NL. I’m not going to spend any time talking about camels or cabbage or whatever, because that’s got nothing to do with how the Nats play. And spare me your lamentations on the firing of Dusty Baker, not because it was a bad decision (it was), but because what’s done is done, and he can’t magically appear in the dugout to take the reins.
Instead, let’s talk about Dave Martinez. Davey’s been dealt a tough hand this year – he’s has to spend a week with half his lineup on the IL, and they’re only starting to trickle back. And the bullpen is still bad. The incompetence of Rosenthal was a significant blow, and the bullpen has only two, maybe three reliable arms, one of them being the closer.
All of this is to say that Davey has plenty of valid excuses, which the team can no doubt use to justify allowing him to keep his job. Heck, when I pulsed twitter to see what Davey’s biggest issues were, the answer that I got back the most was “roster construction.” I’m sorry, the roster? Did you see what this roster was projected to do, like, 6 weeks ago?
Most analysts thought this team would be in the thick of a tough division race, many picked them to win it, and then go on and win more. They were projected by Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus to win about 90 games. There weren’t glaring weaknesses in the roster in March. No, I don’t buy it. Outside of a weak but not completely hopeless bullpen, the issue isn’t the roster.
Last year, Martinez took a team that was projected to win close to 90 games, was picked by many to go far in the playoffs, and muddled them to an 82-80 record. Their Pythagorean estimate, based on runs scored and allowed, put them at 90-72, tied for the division title.
When a team’s record is significantly worse than the run differential would suggest, it’s usually a mix of a few things. And bad luck is almost certainly one of them. Another is a bad bullpen, blowing close games late. But in 2018 they had a strong bullpen, so it’s hard to blame that. Besides bad luck, and a bullpen putting you on the wrong side of close games too often, that differential can point to a bad manager.
But the bullpen, too, seems to be playing worse than it should. Last year, Davey had a strong bullpen roster, and he still had issues with them. There was poor communication with the bullpen, but there was also just a lack of feel for how to work a bullpen. This year, without the three closers he had last year, it looks much worse. But the problem is the same, and an underachieving bullpen can be a sign that points to a bad manager.
The Nats have also looked bad in the field, before and after injuries. While this isn’t a roster filled with gold glovers, it’s not filled with terrible defensive players, although it’s got a few. The lack of ability to handle the fundamentals of defense can point to a bad manager.
Heck, let’s go back to that roster. Almost everyone on it is underperforming, which ought to tell you something. The players’ numbers should be better, but even with that, they are a better team on paper than the are on the field. They have been since the beginning of 2018, and they continue to be that 14 months later. Being better on paper than when they’re actually playing is something that could, just maybe, point to a bad manager.
The best two things you can say about Davey as a manager is that it’s not his fault people got hurt, and at least the players seem to still be trying. But Davey seems to be a likable guy, so I doubt most players are gonna give up on a guy like that in May.
What is the upside of the Nats under Davey? Does anyone envision them going on a run, once healthy, and making noise in the division? Is Davey really going to be able to get them much better than .500 once everyone’s back? If not, then it’s time to try someone else. Davey is a nice guy, who belongs in baseball. Players like him, he works well in the clubhouse. But maybe he just belongs as a coach, not as a manager
It’s time for the Nats to make a move now, rather than waiting until it’s too late. Because it’s not too late, not yet. It’s early May, the team can turn it around. And while I’d love for them to go hire Joe Girardi, or someone else proven (and expensive)… I don’t expect it.
Instead, they have two solid in-house candidates. Both Randy Knorr in AAA Fresno and Matt LeCroy in AA Harrisburg are succeeding right now as… get this… ACTUAL managers. Now, I don’t know if that will translate to winning in the majors. But, if the Nats wait til September to make a move like this, it’ll be too late to find out this year. If they do it now, we might learn something about them.
I don’t think changing managers will fix all of their issues. But they have to do it now, to see if either is any good. Because while I don’t know what caliber of manager Knorr or LeCroy would be, but I have a pretty good feeling I know what caliber manager Davey is.