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Thoughts On The Nationals Hiring Dave Martinez As Their Manager

The Nationals now have their seventh full-time manager since the franchise moved to D.C. prior to the 2005 season.  What are they getting in Dave Martinez?

 

 

1. Dave Martinez has a chance to be a great manager.  I wanted and lobbied hard for the Nats to get Joe Girardi off the Yankees deciding not to bring him back after 10 seasons as manager.  But that doesn’t mean that Girardi is the only person capable of leading the Nats to success.  Martinez has a lot going for him and comes off in many ways like Houston’s A.J. Hinch and the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, who just faced off in the World Series.

2. What I like the most about Martinez is that he is, by all indications, analytically-inclined.  He is not just open to sabermetrics; he embraces it.  You never know for sure with someone until he actually starts managing, but every indication is that Martinez is progressive.  He openly touted the importance of analytics during his introductory press conference on Thursday (Nov. 2).  And he did so in a way that wasn’t heavy-handed or obnoxious.  The idea with sabermetrics isn’t to bombard.  The idea is to make use of.  The idea is be smarter with decisions.  The teams that best blend new-school numbers with old-school communication, relationship-building and scouting are the teams that do best.  The Nats had that latter part covered nicely under Dusty Baker.  But they too often butchered the former, especially in the playoffs (see the NLDS Game 5 loss to the Dodgers in 2016 and the NLDS Games 3 and 5 losses to the Cubs in 2017).  Dusty is a good manager.  I was actually OK with him being brought back.  But I wasn’t willing to pay big or give him more than a one-year contract with an option.  That had everything to do with his strategy, which I believe is a big reason for why he has lost a major-league-record 10 consecutive postseason close-out games.  Three areas that I am particularly interested in with Martinez from an analytics standpoint:

  • Does Martinez optimize his lineups? – Dusty did not, batting Ben Revere and a then-struggling Michael A. Taylor in the top two spots in lineups way too often in 2016 and then batting Brian Goodwin in the no. 1 spot, Wilmer Difo in the no. 2 spot and Anthony Rendon in the no. 6 spot way too often in 2017.  Do you know who had the most plate appearances for the Cubs the last two seasons in the no. 2 spot?  Their best batter, Kris Bryant.
  • Does Martinez get the Nats to finally embrace defensive shifts? – Arguably the biggest trend in Major League Baseball this decade has been the increase in shifts.  Shifts save runs.  And yet one of the few teams that have not been in on this trend has been the Nats.  Here are their rankings in shifts over the last four seasons: 2014 – no. 29 (243); 2015 – no. 30 (416); 2016 – no. 22 (932); 2017 – no. 21 (908).  Martinez and Joe Maddon had Tampa Bay at the forefront of the shift movement a decade ago.
  • Does Martinez manage with the urgency and aggression necessary in the playoffs? – We obviously won’t find out about this until the postseason (assuming that the Nats are in it), but something like allowing Gio Gonzalez to remain in the NLDS Game 5 loss to the Cubs despite being a mess can not happen again.  Something like going to Sammy Solis in the losses to the Cubs in Games 3 and 5 can not happen again.  

3. Martinez also comes across like a great communicator, which is no surprise given that he has spent the last 10 seasons as Maddon’s bench coach.  Dusty was an excellent communicator.  We saw in 2015 with Matt Williams the chaos and damage that can ensue from a manager who doesn’t communicate well with his players.  I love that Martinez is planning to meet with most if not all Nats players in the coming weeks.  Again, we can’t say anything with certainty until Martinez actually starts managing.  But pretty much every sign you want is there.

 

New Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez gestures during a baseball press conference, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

 

4. And then there is the fact that Martinez is bilingual.  This can only help not only communication with Latino players but also relating to them.  The Nats have a lot of Latino players and prospects: Difo, Gio Gonzalez, Raudy Read, Victor Robles, Enny Romero, Adrian Sanchez, Pedro Severino.  Martinez’s background should be a very good thing in dealing with these and other players.

5. It was very interesting how clear Martinez was in his introductory press conference about how he will win a World Series title here.  That, in conjunction with his constant referencing of the Lerners, made pretty clear that he understands loud and clear the franchise edict: it’s World Series or bust.  The Nats have gone Steinbrenner-Yankees with their public declaring of championship-or-else.  This first became apparent in Mike Rizzo’s conference call with reporters on the day the team announced that Dusty would not be back as manager: “Our expectations have grown to the fact that winning a lot of regular season games and winning divisions are not enough.  Our goal is to win a World Championship and to that end, we made the decision late last night and alerted Dusty this morning.”

6. As for Girardi, it is disappointing but not surprising that the Nats reportedly never even talked to him.  Maybe he has no interest in managing in 2018 and wants a break.  Maybe he has no desire to manage the Nats.  But we all know the likely reason.  Girardi was making $4 million per season with the Yankees; that was double what the Lerners were paying Dusty.  Girardi did one of the hardest things in sports, succeeding as the guy after the “guy” in Joe Torre in arguably the highest-pressure job in sports (Yankees manager).  He never had a losing record in 10 seasons, made six playoff appearances, made the ALCS four times and won the 2009 World Series.  Girardi managed in accordance with analytics.  He would have been very good for the Nats.  But Martinez can be as well.

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