Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Aw, Heck, Valentine Wouldn't Have Been Much Better

Word came down today that Fizzleman is losing the interim tag and has been named the permanent manager of the Nationals.

I was just about to post a comparison between Riggleman and Bobby Valentine, the reported "other" final candidate. (Kind of rude for Rizzo to scoop me--where's the love for a fellow Illini, Mike?). But I thought I'd share what I got anyway.

One of my bigger gripes with Riggleman was the Nationals' miserable performance in the running game. The team had a 70% success rate on steal attempts under Interim Jim, the second worst of any manager in baseball this year. That's bad, but compared to Valentine, Riggleman was practically clairvoyant when it came to sending runners. In his time in with the Mets, Valentine's teams had stolen base success rates of 56.7%, 57.4%, 71.1%, 58.9%, 57.9%, and 67.4%. Blech.

Then there were the sacrifices, bunts, and suicide squeezes. Riggleman called 50 sac attempts in 75 games, a 108-sac pace that made him the third most frequent spoiler of outs in baseball. In New York Valentine, ranked #14, 4, 12, 8, 16, and 6 in sac bunt rate from '97-'02. For an NL team, that's hardly makes him a sac bunt addict, but he also didn't exactly eschew the bunt either.

Riggleman also gives away far too many baserunners. In 75 games, he issued 33 intentional walks. Projected over a full season, that would give him 71.3, three more than Joe Torre's MLB-leading 68. Valentine wasn't much better though, averaging 53.3 IBBs per year and ranking #11, 3, 5, 13, 5, and 5 in the league from '97-'02. Again, for an NL manager he wasn't the worst offender imaginable, but that's still far too many.

Of course, any list of complaints about Jim Riggleman starts with his inability to keep young pitchers out of Birmingham. From Kerry Wood to Jeremi Gonzalez to Jordan Zimmermann to Craig Stammen, young pitchers in Riggleman's care sooner or later find their way to the DL. He hasn't successfully transitioned any prospect--pitcher or position player--from the minors to the big leagues since Joey Hamilton in San Diego in 1994, and he's shown precious few signs of lessons learned.

While in New York, Valentine rarely had a pitcher among the league leaders in pitcher abuse points. He put a swift end to the meat-grinder treatment that ruined the "Generation K" trio of Jason Isringhausen, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher under Dallas Green. For that reason alone, I was rooting for Valentine to get the job over Riggleman.

But that's probably not what the team had in mind when considering him. What Valentine--and Mattingly, for that matter--would have brought is some splash, a bit of name recognition and box-office appeal. But the team wasn't about to make an offer Valentine or Mattingly couldn't refuse--that's not the Nationals' way. And let's face it, neither of these guys were coming to DC unless they got Godfather money.

So for all practical purposes, it was Fizzleman from the start. Oh well. At least we don't have to feel conflicted when it comes time to call for his head. And I give him a year. If he survives in this death march of a job longer than Manny did, then he'll really have achieved something.


ckstevenson said...

Do we just call him "Semi-permanent Jim"? Or "1 year Jim"? "Less interim Jim"?

The handling of young pitchers will be most intriguing. I can't saw I have much faith in Jim after the Desmond < insert word that isn't as harsh as debacle but starts with a "d" here >. My hope is that Rizzo will impose strong innings limits (and he carried through on those this past year), that will help to curtail Jim's inherent nature of over-using arms.

I'd love to know the set-up for the job. Did they say "The keys are yours, take 'er out for a spin"? Or "Let's just improve our record from the last few years"? "Aim for <100 loses"? In the past when Jim abused arms I think he was gunning for a pennant. Since that isn't possible, will he be more tempered?

dale said...

A couple of rebuttals. Considering that Rizzo gifted the club mid year with the best base stealing threat since Soriano you would expect Riggleman to loosen the strings on the running game. Its not as if he was sending Elijah Dukes on every play. Second, including Jordan Zimmermann as a Riggleman pitching casualty is a reach. I dont recall the club doing anything but being prudent with the care of Zimmermann.

If Riggleman can improve the team defense coming out of spring training then he will be a huge improvement over Manny. For all his accolades I never saw a team ready to play baseball coming out of spring training the last two years under Manny. To this fan at least Riggleman was an improvement for the Nats. I see the Riggleman/Rizzo tandem as a first step in the upward climb in this team's fortunes.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dale on Zim(NN) and if you take Dukes out of the running game equation it looks much different. I would be happy if Dukes was off the team but I know Steven things he should play everyday so it is interesting that Steven is picking on Riggs for a stat that is greatly lowered by Dukes' brain freezes at 1st base.

Joel said...

Riggleman's track record of destroying young pitchers is littered with legit examples, so I have to agree with Dale and say that your ham-handed attempt to place the Zimmermann injury on Riggleman's resume is unecessary to the point of being laughable.

In the past when you've made questionable reaches to try and prove your point it was understandable because the target was Jim Bowden and the express purpose of this blog was inherent in the title... but this is just clumsy and only serves to discredit all of the really good points you made.

Steven said...

Re: Elijah Dukes and the running game. Dukes was terrible this year, no doubt. (It's odd, since he wasn't awful last year, going 13 of 17.) Still, most of that happened during Manny's time. Dukes had 3 CS and 1 SB under Riggleman. If you take out those numbers, the Nationals would still have been a 73% success rate on steals, still worse than all but four other managers.

And if Dukes running was the problem, that should have been an easy one to solve. Besides, what's easier than giving a guy a red light? CSes aren't generally bang bang plays, and I've heard nothing suggesting that Dukes was defying his manager by running on red.

As for Zimmermann, I agree that Fizzleman isn't mostly to blame for that situation, and indeed Zimmermann might have been a case where a guy was just "fated" to get hurt, and usage wasn't the issue. I've discussed this one at length in previous posts, but it's worth re-iterating.

Here's why I don't hold the team and Riggleman totally blameless however. Monitoring pitcher usage is about much more than just pitch counts. You have to watch mechanics, look for signs of fatigue, and most of all, COMMUNICATE well with your players so that they will tell you exactly how they are feeling. Zimmermann said after the fact that he'd been feeling pain for a long time and didn't feel comfortable telling anyone. Stammen said the same, though luckily he wasn't nearly as bad off.

Yes, that's St. Claire's fault first and foremost, and Acta's and even Rizzo's to an extent. But the bench coach is there in the clubhouse too, and it's not like there's a rule against him having a relationship with the best young player on the team. Still, I would give Riggleman the benefit of the doubt on all of this if not for the fact that when Chico asked him about this, Riggleman INSISTED that it was the PLAYER'S responsibility to monitor their own health, to tell the difference between pain and injury, NOT the coach's job. Also, when I personally asked Riggleman what he learned from the Kerry Wood situation and how he would handle Zimmermann differently (before Zimm got hurt) he defended his handling of Wood, complaining that the Bud Men at Wrigley would boo whenever he pulled Wood from a game. He said that the only reason that he'd consider doing anything differently was to avoid criticism personally. And he said that usage isn't really a factor in pitching injuries anyway, that "pitchers just get hurt." Period.

So all of that in context has led me to the conclusion that although Riggleman isn't primarily accoutable for the Zimmermann injury, that his voice in the clubhouse on this issue is harmful, and given the pattern of silence on injuries among young pitchers, I choose not to hold him totally harmless.

I would back off forever if Riggleman came out and said, "I've learned a lot from these situations--Wood, etc.--and I realize now that I personally made some mistakes, and I've learned from them, and I now realize that I need to really pay attention to pitchers' health and usage, and even in Zimmermann's case, though I wasn't the pitching coach I was there, and I believe all of us coaches could have done more to find out that Jordan was hurting. That's on me too."

But when he's been asked about these situations, he says basically the exact opposite.

Steve said...

My immediate thought is that this has dashed much of the optimism I was feeling about next year. May as well make Nyjer Morgan the player-manager, since the Nats' only watchable stretch of the season coincided with his presence.

I agree with Steven that Valentine would have been an only slightly better choice -- I've never been impressed with Bobby V anywhere, although maybe I'm biased by having been teased with team "potential" when led the Rangers...

I really wish Eric Wedge could've been the pick here, but I guess it's too close to the fall of the Indians, and perhaps he falls into the "unproven" category that Manny came from. Of course, there's plenty of proof of nonwinning (and other issues) with Valentine and Riggleman...

Sasskuash said...

I agree with Dale about the team defense, and overall performance, coming out of spring training. The past 2 years, this team has come out and had absolutely horrific performances in April and (at least) the first half of May. That puts them in a bad spot, and kind of ruins the season for everybody, including fans, when you're saying in June, "well, maybe next year..." If they can come out and play decent (even above .400) baseball from game 1, I will be impressed.

If no pitcher's arm falls off, that would be a bonus too.

Anonymous said...

I think that no matter what happens this season, he will be back next year. I see Riggleman (hopefully) as the manager for the rest of the really bad Nats era- a bridge to a time when the team is competitive and actually needs a good manager. So long as he doesn't abuse the players and ruin any chance of that better future from happening, I'm not too worked up over this. Getting a really good manager would be a waste with this collection of talent.

Charlie said...

I think we chatted about this during blogger day - I don't mind Riggleman for his in game strategy. His personality is fine. His baseball acumen is good. But his past with pitchers scares the hell out of me.

Hopefully he learned from the past, I don't think he particularly abused guys on the Nats the way he did in Chicago. Whether the Zimmermann and Stammen injuries were more coincidence than causality... I guess we'll find out more next season. I do have some faith in management to be thinking about these things, too. Which is not something I would have said a year ago.

ckstevenson said...

Seems as though some of the details and pre-conditions for Jim taking the job of trickling out. Ladson's recent report about Riggleman saying Guz is definitely moving to 2B seems to be one of those items. I'd like to know if it was Riggleman's hesitance to play Desmond at SS (which seems correct given JR saying he was the last to see it), and therefore Rizzo's decree about the move and giving Desmond a shot. Or is Guzman moving with a JR assumption of a free agent SS signing?