Monday, July 13, 2009

Give Manny Credit for Lasting this Long

My position on Manny Acta's future with the Nationals has been clearly ambivalent and concretely muddy for a long time.

I think Manny's shown the ability to be an excellent motivator, which in my view is 80% or more of a manager's job. I think his in-game strategy has been a mixed bag--I don't like the bullpen management, but I do like his aversion to one-run strategies and aggressive bench usage.

I think the "temperament" issue is vastly overblown. As a big admirer of Phil Jackson, I agree that it's just totally unnecessary to throw temper-tantrums to gain players' respect.

Bottom line, I think Manny's the victim of a four years of horrendous player development and roster management under Jim Bowden. No manager could have avoided last place with the players he was given.

Still, after losing 163 games since Opening Day 2008, I just can't imagine that that Manny hadn't lost his players. And it showed. For the first time in three seasons, the team has seemed mentally checked out.

Just in the last week, even Adam Dunn, purported to be one of the veteran leaders on the team, has signed up for the Anderson Hernandez school of mental focus. He costing his team a run and maybe a win in their 1-0 defeat last week in Colorado by dogging it on a double that should have been a triple and then getting picked off. Then he trotted after a flyball that an average outfielder would have caught, allowing it to drop on the warning track and gifting Michael Bourn a triple. And then this weekend Dunn again cost his team a run by missing second base trying to score on a Josh Willingham double.

I don't mean to single out Dunn. My point is just that if even veterans with years of experience on losing teams are checking out, Manny doesn't have a chance. There's nothing left to do but install new leadership and start over.

It may not be all or even mostly Manny's fault. It's possible that he lasted longer than anyone else would have. But still, they needed to try to push the reset button. It probably won't be the last time they have to do so.

Good luck to Acta in the future. I suspect he'll be back in Nationals Park with an opposing team pretty soon and winning a lot more often.


flippin said...

I say bring Frank back for a half season. Do you think any of the current players would have the stones to challenge his authority? On the other hand, he could continue the "this is a joke" feeling that surrounds this team. The guy down in AAA, Foli, will be the new manager. Goodbye finger lakes, hello Anacostia...

John O'Connor said...

Most of Manny's problems stemmed from the completely messed up personnel he was given to manage.

That said, I thought Manny's in-game decision-making was not very good. Until recently, he hadn't gone long enough with his starters, preferring to baby them and get them out of there on a high note rather than make them work through difficult situations. Most of his double-switches were counter-productive. I did like his recent tendency to pull the statutes in left and right in favor of Harris and Kearns in the 9th inning of games they were winning.

I guess I just don't see the point in doing this now. It's not like they have some big shot manager lined up. Yeah, Manny probabkly had lost the clubhouse by this point (judging by the amazing number of sleepwalking mistakes lately). And if Riggleman is the answer, I don't want to know the question. I do hope the next manager is a little more confrontational with his players than we get the sense Manny has been. He can't control things like Dunn missing second, but he can control the reaction to them (which in a sense might control these things).

Rob B said...

Dunn is a shitty outfielder and baserunner. No manager can control that if the player simply doesn't care or want to improve.
The guy makes his money hitting 40 bombs a year and he knows it.

Ben said...

Well that's just it isn't it.

You can't keep a manager once he has lost the ability to motivate his club house but, you can't motivate guys who are this bad to keep fighting.

I think one of the major problems is that this team was constructed by a GM, who was then fired, and it became very obvious very quickly that only a handful of players we even being considered as potential keepers by the organisation. This means that guys like Kearns, Belliard, Willingham et al. have know since Bow-Bow the clown was fired was that all they were playing for was to see out their contract, get traded or released to sign elsewhere. Now how do you motivate that? If they had fired Bowden at the start of the off-season then maybe with a winter to put his stamp on things Rizzo could have built a team where guys felt they were being considered part of the The Plan, rather than part of a group of guys best described they the phrase "Oh, are you still here?"

But, once they stopped caring he had to go. So now we can bring someone else in to do the impossible and fire them when they fail to motivate this pile of scraps, scubs and re-treads.

Roberto said...

Ben: it seems to me that Willingham seems "motivated." If a .995 OPS is what an unmotivated JW can do, I'd love to see a motivated JW.

I agree that Acta had "lost" his players but I doubt that Willingham was one of them.

Ben said...

True, true.

But if you look at Guzman, Kearn, Belliard, Johnson and the Bowden specials, they look miles away. Dunn too, is basically reading daily press releases about how we are moving in a direction that does not include him even if they claim he is untouchable.

Bless Willigham though. I have ranted constantly about what a terrible signing he was but, right now I would keep him over Dunn.

John O'Connor said...

I would keep Willingham over Dunn even if the money were equal (which it isn't). God knows Willingham is no Devon White, but he has shown to be a passable corner outfielder. I bet when you factor in defense and baserunning, Willingham is a more productive overall player than Dunn. And when yuo figure in the cost, it's a layup in my mind.

(By the way, this site requires you to type in a verification word to post, and mine this time is "moron." I don't know what to take from that.).

VP81955 said...

For the rest of the season, evaluate your talent, audition for 2010 roster spots, trade or DFA as many players as you can who have no long-term future, and in the offseason hire a manager and general manager who can install a completely different culture here.

And like it or not, Lerners, just as in the case of Stephen Strasburg, you'll have to overpay -- getting good talent doesn't come cheap, particularly since most of MLB has perceived Washington as a baseball graveyard for two-thirds of a century.

Mark said...

You hit it on the head. He lost the players and they were mailing it in.

This team is NOT as bad as its record.

Its not about how great a guy Acta is, his in-game strategy, or even the very professional way he deals with players.

Its about how he prepares and motivates them to win. I look and look, but I just don't see it. And, for weeks on end good players continue to make the same mistakes.

phil dunn said...

The only reason Manny Acta lasted this long is because they were paying him peanuts. That's why they haven't promoted Rizzo to the GM, then they would have to pay him more money. If they hired a real manager and a real GM, that would cost bucks and we all know the Lerners don't like to part with their money.

Michael said...

@ Ben: Bowden wasn't fired. Perhaps that's just a technicality for practical purposes, but it's certainly possible that this club might not have fired him in the wake of the Smiley Gonzalez fiasco.

The idea of bringing Frank back really isn't that bad, in fact I think it's really on point. Unless the Nats know exactly who they want to be the permanent manager, what they need now out of a skipper is someone who can light a fire under the collective ass of their roster and make this team look like an appealing to place to come and manage. Frank Robinson has a great track record of coming into clubs and doing just that. He did that with the Orioles as well as the Expos. Perhaps Frank is not the man to do this in 2009, but that's about the best they can hope for. On the whole I don't think a fiery, confrontational manager is necessary, but in the short term it can be effective.

Riggleman seems like a nice enough guy, but I don't he's appropriate for that role. He's never been much of a manager and I don't see the club improving under his leadership.

Real Fake Sports said...

Why promote the bench coach? The team isn't going to go anywhere this year. Get some new life in the dugout or more importantly in the clubhouse.

Funny satirical article about the Nats season.

Sports Satire - Washington Nationals Mathematically Eliminated from MLB

Ben said...


I take your correction. Bowden was in fact not fired. Which makes it all the more galling. He was, presumably, destined to leave but the club did nothing at all, which left them in the mess of having a manager and an interim GM, building a team mid-season. Not enviable, and a more direct cause of this mess than Manny's easy going style.

It does beg the question of what it takes to get someone fired. I mean Bowden tried. He tried really hard. Short of sacrificing the Lerner family dog and putting their youngest grandchild up for adoption it's hard to see what else he could possibly have done.

Either way, we have a habit of parting ways with important positions without a real contingency plan for dealing with the fall out. I mean Riggleman? Really? Does anyone suspect he is the right guy for the job?

Michael said...

You almost have to wonder if the Nats brought Riggleman in for the specific purpose of being the interim manager when (not if) Acta would be terminated.

This franchise is begging to be contracted.

Ben said...

Contracted like Lenny from Of Mice and Men