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September 20, 2014 / Nat Anacostia

Matt Williams almost cost the Nats the game

One of Matt Williams’ strengths as a manager is that he doesn’t interject himself too much into the ballgame. As Jayson Werth said during the divisional victory celebration Tuesday night, he lets the players play. In fact, according to one published index, he may be the least meddlesome manager in baseball.

However, with post-season play fast approaching, I am concluding that sometimes he’s too passive and doesn’t make the decisions that he’s paid to make. In tonight’s 3–2 victory over the Marlins, his failure to lift Ryan Zimmerman for a pinch runner in the 7th inning nearly cost the Nationals the game.

The Nats entered the top of the 7th trailing the Marlins 2–0. Ian Desmond led off the inning with a single. Zimmerman, in his first game back from his hamstring injury and his third at bat of the game, hit a line drive in front of Marlins right fielder Reed Johnson, who seems to be defensively challenged. Johnson dove for the ball, which sailed past him into the right field corner, and Zimmerman sauntered to third with a triple. The Nats were trailing by one with Zimmerman on third and no outs. Bob and FP started asking whether Williams was going to pinch run for Zim, since the lineup is well stocked with potential pinch runners and the tying run could depend on a sacrifice fly or an infield ground ball. Ramos hit the ground ball, a chopper to third, and Zimmerman broke for home and was thrown out on a close play. In the bottom of the inning, Williams sent Nate Schierholtz out to replace Zim in left field.

The Nats caught some breaks and went on to score two more runs that inning and Drew Storen managed to get a double play to get out of a first-and-third-one-out jam in the bottom ninth, so it didn’t cost them the game. But I can’t see any reason for not pinch running for Zim in that situation. It helps the team win, it protects Zim’s leg, and it gives one of the bench players a chance to contribute. The only thing I can think of is that Williams didn’t think about it until Ramos was already at bat. A couple of times this season I’ve seen him fail to send in a pinch runner with no outs, then send one in after the next batter has made an out. If you think about it, that’s not an effective way to use a pinch runner, who is potentially most effective with no outs, and becomes less effective with one or, especially, two outs. It seems that Williams isn’t thinking ahead, not saying to himself when Zim goes to bat in the seventh inning, “I need to be ready to send in a pinch runner if he gets on base.”

Although I prefer Williams’ passive style to the meddlesome style that seems to be the norm for most managers, I don’t think it’s good to be at the extreme area, where he doesn’t make the moves that would clearly help the team win. (I discussed another example a few weeks ago here.) I really get the sense that Williams, as a rookie manager who has never managed at any level is still doing a lot of learning on the job.

 

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