June 25, 2017

Mr. Black Goes to Washington

October 29, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The Washington Nationals have settled on a manager to replace Matt Williams.  After the World Series they officially will name Bud Black as their manager for the 2016 season. It is a positive move and one that will hopefully signal more concrete steps to address the many moving parts that are the 2016 Nationals. Five days aftero the World Series, the Nationals will make Qualifying Offers to Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Doug Fister and Denard Span, or not.  Then the free agent frenzy will escalate steadily toward the Winter Meetings and as all of those occur, the parts will start to fall into place.

At some point Bud Black will begin to know what his team will look like, but there are myriad mysteries to contemplate. In the coming months Black will learn whether Papelbon and Storen are coming back and assuming not, who will replace them. Will there be a bat signed to protect Harper. Who is going to replace Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister in the 2016 rotation? What will the rest of Bud Black’s staff look like?

Despite all the unknowns about the 2016 Nationals, the Washington Nationals have to look pretty good to Black after his nine seasons in San Diego. He inherits a team with many reasons to believe it can contend again in 2016 with smart moves by GM Mike Rizzo. Will Bud Black play a role in personnel decisions for 2016? He was considered as a potential GM in Anaheim several seasons ago because of his smarts and his excellent relationship with Mike Scioscia.

It’s a great job for Black and hopefully the Nationals, but why would a West Coast guy like Black would be interested in DC?  He was born and raised on the left coast and spent much of his coaching and managing career in Anaheim and San Diego. You go where the jobs are, but Black is 58 years of age and he had to be pretty motivated to beat out Dusty Baker and Ron Gardenhire, just to name a few.

An important puzzle piece emerged on his Wikipedia page that may explain his keen interest.  His younger daughter Jessie was a talented NCAA gymnast who “graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in math and kinesiology in 2014.” Kinesiology is the study of human movement and while it may make all the sense in the world for a gymnast, it also can be turned to the study of pitching mechanics as surely as the study of math can be used to burrow deeper and deeper into the statistical minutia of the game. Whether she is going to be a secret weapon in Bud’s clubhouse or not, the flights to the DC area for her meets explains his knowledge of and interest in Washington, DC.

Black is reputed to have beaten out Dusty Baker who impressed the Lerner family immensely during a day long interview. But Baker’s reputation for overusing his pitching staff does not comport well for the team that famously refused to pitch Stephen Strasburg in the 2012 playoffs. Black by comparison has been a pitching coach and a good one who interestingly enough was 2016 free agent John Lackey’s first pitching coach when he came up for the Anaheim Angels. The Washington Nationals have put a premium on pitching from the beginning of Mike Rizzo’s tenure with the Nationals, defined initially by the signing of then pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg.

Bud Black claims to be a pitching first manager and that is makes a lot of sense for Washington. In a 2008 Baseball Prospectus interview, he said that “pitching wins.” That, after his staff featuring a young Jake Peavy and an old Greg Maddux lost almost 100 games. But it was his anemic offense that finished last in runs scored in the NL that season. The offense was finally beefed in his last season when they brought in Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Will Middlebrooks to man the outfield. With the addition of James Shields and Craig Kimbrel to bolster the pitching, there were expectations for something big south of LA.  None of those plans worked particularly well in aggregate and Black paid the price in June when he was fired.

During Bud Black’s tenure in San Diego, the team had two winning seasons, in 2007 and 2010.  He never made the Post Season. He was Manager of the Year in 2010 when the Atlanta Braves beat our the Padres by a single game for the Wild-Card spot. That year the Padres team had the second best pitching staff in baseball with an ERA of 3.39, just a tick behind the World Champion San Francisco Giants who featured Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez at their very best. The Padres had 22-year old Matt Latos and Clayton Richard at his “peak.” But what was notable about the Padres in 2010 was their bullpen. Heath Bell had 47 saves and was backed by Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams and that bullpen accumulated an aggregate 7.8 WAR, according to FanGraphs, to outdistance any other MLB team by a mile. So Bud Black KNOWS what a good bullpen looks like and what they can do, whether Mike Rizzo will give him one to work with–a function of his budget obvious–is another matter entirely.

In the same interview, Black said that he believed himself to be adequately analytic in his approach and that he used both statistical and video analysis of opposing teams as part of his preparation for games. In describing his love of managing on a day to day basis, he said:

“My decision-making…starts early in the day by playing out scenarios and hypothetical situations that might occur during the game. Each game is unique to itself, so for every decision I make there is a basis for reasoning behind it. I love talking about it after the fact with anyone who wants to talk baseball.”

Black says that he and Mike Sciocia were almost always on the same page when they were in the Anaheim clubhouse together.  It begs the question as to who will join Black’s coaching staff in Washington, DC? There is a blank slate since every coach that has been with the Nationals over the past few seasons was shown the door with Matt Williams. The early rumors are that Rick Renteria will likely be the bench coach since the two had a smooth working relationship previously and Renteria has been without a job since being fired as the Cubs manager. 

But the more intriguing question is who will be Bud Black’s pitching coach. The highly respected Mike Maddux is out of a job in Texas and is probably the best available choice. There are options within the organization such as Chris Michalak who is currently the pitching coach with the Nationals Harrisburg affiliate. Michalak has worked in Harrisburg with Joe Ross and A.J. Cole, both of whom are likely candidates for the 2016 Nationals rotation. Other candidates for promotion within include hitting coach Mark Harris with Harrisburg and Brian Daubach who managed Bryce Harper in his minor league career.

The bottom line in Washington–so to speak–is that Nationals Park could be inundated by the Anacostia River because of Global Warming. But maybe between then and Bud Black’s first day next April, Washington will have a World Series winner.

 

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