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April 25, 2016 / Nat Anacostia

Early thoughts on the new skipper

It takes me a while to observe a manager, see how he handles various situations, and get a sense of how he deals with stress. So it’s way too early for me to evaluate Dusty Baker. But I do see some patterns emerging, some of which i like, others not so much.

We’re only three weeks into the season, but he’s already given almost all of the regulars a day off. I’ve frequently argued in favor of giving regulars—especially the older ones—periodic days off. This not only helps the player regroup during a long season, but also helps keep the bench fresh by giving them some at bats and time in the field. In contrast, Matt Williams tended to run out the same lineup week after week, giving bench players little opportunity to play.

Another contrast is that both Williams and Davey Johnson tended to set their bullpens an inning at a time, whereas Baker tends to be more willing to use a reliever for four or five outs, not necessarily starting or stopping at the beginning and end of an inning. I like Baker’s approach—again, it’s less rigid and gives more opportunities for getting the right match-ups. Baker also seems sensitive to giving his relievers rest when they’ve been used repeatedly.

My biggest complaint about Baker so far was for sticking with Stephen Strasburg too long yesterday. I’ve repeatedly complained that I don’t like letting the starter hit (rather than using a pinch hitter) late in a close game when it’s clear that the pitcher has at most one inning left. Yesterday, at the end of 7 innings Strasburg had thrown 90 pitches, but the game was tied and he had faced 25 batters, which meant he was approaching the ominous fourth time through the lineup. Almost all pitchers have worse results the fourth time facing a batter; for example, Strasburg’s career OPS allowed the fourth time through (albeit in only 57 plate appearances) is .868 (compared with .630 the third time through).

My other complaint is Baker sticking with Michael A. Taylor as the leadoff batter, a role that he’s clearly not suited for. It’s true that the Nats don’t have a classic leadoff man, but I’d probably ask Anthony Rendon or Jayson Werth to lead off.

The Nats have had some early luck, but it’s hard not to feel good about this season.

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