Washington Nationals hire Dusty Baker: Right move?

nationals_logoWhat did the Washington Nationals need more? A manager with good working knowledge of how to manage a pitching staff? (Check.) Or a manager who is versed in getting the most out of a talented, sometimes combustible, roster with high expectations? (Check.)

When word came down Tuesday that the Nats had finalized a deal with the man who would replace Matt Williams in the big chair in the dugout, it was assumed that it would be Bud Black, who was said last week to have been the choice after a lengthy process that had come down to two finalists, Black and Dusty Baker.

But after Black balked at being offered initially only a one-year deal, then a two-year deal with a team option, management went back to Baker, who came to terms on a multi-year deal.

Black would have been the guy looked at as the more adept at managing the pitching staff, with Baker being more the manager of personalities.

So with Baker being the final choice, is that the right move, the wrong move, what’s up?

It’s the right move. Myriad though the problems were with how Williams managed the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, the bigger issue with the 2015 Nats disaster was getting everybody on the same page.

Baker, with 1,671 career wins, and playoff appearances with San Francisco, the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati, knows how to run a dugout. Cutting to the chase, Jonathon Papelbon isn’t going to be choking out Bryce Harper in his dugout with Baker in charge.

Baker managed Barry Bonds, surly as he is, to a World Series. He had the Cubs one Bartman away from a World Series. He won with no budget with the Reds, who haven’t won since cutting ties with him in 2013.

The knock on Baker is that he is at best passable at managing his pitching staff, and he doesn’t follow the new conventional wisdom regarding sabermetrics, preferring the old-school approach.

The old-school approach is back in vogue, though, with Kansas City, under Ned Yost, bunting, taking extra bases on the basepaths and pitching and playing defense on its way to a World Series championship.

Assuming Baker addresses his deficiencies by putting the defense in charge of someone with knowledge of shifts and hires a good pitching coach and then listens to whatever he has to say about his staff and how it should be used, the Nats have what they need.

As much as Williams mismanaged the pitching staff in 2015, the bigger issue was that he lost the clubhouse even as the team was still in the thick of the pennant race. At a time when there was a need for an adult in the room, Williams famously shrank into the corner.

Baker won’t do that, to say the least. Baker carries himself like a Bill Parcells, for that matter, a General Patton. You might not like that he doesn’t know OBP from PBR, but he knows how to win baseball games, and his players respect that and fall into line accordingly.

Black would have managed the pitching staff better, no question about it. The Nats needed more than that in 2016, so things worked out the way they were supposed to.

– Column by Chris Graham

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