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Harper on Williams: “I love him as a manager”

Sep 15, 2015, 11:29 PM EDT

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PHILADELPHIA — Bryce Harper offered full-throated support for Matt Williams on Tuesday night, crediting the Nationals manager for helping him through an MVP-worthy season and stumping for his return in 2016.

“Truly, I love him as a manager,” Harper said following the Nationals’ 4-0 victory over the Phillies. “Flat-out, I absolutely do. And if I didn’t, everybody would know. Absolutely everybody would know. Because I’m not shy to say things.”

Though club officials haven’t publicly discussed it, Williams’ fate hangs in the balance over the final 2 1/2 weeks of what has been a disappointing season for a Nationals team that was overwhelmingly favored to win the NL East but currently finds itself 8 1/2 games behind the Mets. The club’s struggles are a byproduct of numerous factors — an injury-depleted lineup, an underachieving rotation, a poorly constructed bullpen — but Williams also has come under scrutiny for his in-game decisions and lack of emotion on a public stage.

Harper’s endorsement doesn’t necessarily carry any weight — general manager Mike Rizzo has said in the past he doesn’t pick managers based on players’ opinions — but it did reveal the close relationship that has developed over the last two years between the young slugger and the former big-league third baseman.

Williams and Harper discuss hitting approaches on a regular basis, and the two convened just before Harper stepped to the plate for his eighth-inning at-bat Tuesday night against Adam Loewen. Harper asked Williams how he should approach the Phillies left-hander.

“Just sit back on it and try to roll,” Harper said Williams told him.

“Alright,” Harper replied. “Hopefully I’ll hit a homer.”

He did just that, taking Loewen’s 1-1 fastball the other way and over the left-field fence for his second homer of the game, his 39th of the season. As he returned to the dugout after circling the bases, Harper came up behind Williams and gave his manager a bear hug as the two exchanged smiles and a laugh.

“He does everything he can to help me,” Harper said. “He’s unbelievable with the mind game and being able to talk about hitting, being able to have a guy like that in my corner, to go up to him and really ask him what he thinks, how he’d approach the at-bat.”

The Harper-Williams relationship has developed considerably over the last two years. Much was made when Williams benched the young star for failing to run out a groundball early last season, but the bond between the two has been strong ever since.

Harper can’t necessarily relate to that many other current or former players, given how much he has accomplished at such a young age (his current 1.134 OPS would be best in the majors since Barry Bonds’ 1.422 mark in 2004). But in Williams he has a manager who both hit for power in his career — he was on pace to break Roger Maris’ 61-homer record before the strike prematurely ended the 1994 season — while also playing alongside one of the greatest hitters in baseball history in Bonds.

“Being able to play for a guy like that, that I can actually talk to about at-bats, approach at-bat to at-bat, and just being able to have the fire and the intensity that he has, the way he approaches every single day,” Harper said. “He wants us to be perfect, and I love that. I played for a guy like that in high school. And my dad’s exactly like that, also. Coming in every single day and having that push to win ballgames, playing for a guy like that is fun. I love Matt, being able to see what he thinks about hitting and things like that, it’s a lot of fun.”

  1. Gnat - Sep 15, 2015 at 11:45 PM

    Ha ha who wants to fire MW now? Harper just did the Jimmy Chipwood for Coach Dale move from Hoosiers. Lol:)

    • Muddy Ruel - Sep 16, 2015 at 9:44 AM

      Jimmy Chipwood, great reference. Getting close to time to watch Hoosiers again.

  2. Karl Kolchak - Sep 16, 2015 at 12:16 AM

    Harper might want Williams back, but all of the large number of empty seats at Nats Park this past month show that the fans emphatically disagree.

    • voteforno6 - Sep 16, 2015 at 6:39 AM

      Well, obviously the fans know more about this than Harper does.

    • NatsNut - Sep 16, 2015 at 8:14 AM

      Thats a pretty big stretch to call the empty seats a statement on fan feeling toward MW. Sure, its probably cuz team is out of contention (almost) but thats about all u can say.

  3. lphboston - Sep 16, 2015 at 4:06 AM

    If Harper likes Williams so much, then make MW the hitting coach.
    Because we absolutely cannot go through another season like this.

    • Doc - Sep 16, 2015 at 8:27 AM

      This season was about pitching, not hitting. And the last time I checked Nats were outscoring the Mets by about 50 runs.

      • bowdenball - Sep 16, 2015 at 8:37 AM

        +1

        Although to be fair Williams’ questionable decisions affected the pitching and the defense more than the offense. And just because the offense is decent doesn’t mean you’re exempt from making bad decisions about it, e.g. the famous Rendon 3-1 bunt attempt.

      • Guapo - Sep 16, 2015 at 8:41 AM

        Right. That’s the point.

        Under Williams’ leadership, the offense has produced extremely well given the circumstances (i.e. 4 of your top 5 in the lineup from ’14 missing significant portions of the season).

        But the pitching and defense has let this club down. The staff under performed across the board.

        A good Manager needs to bring both offense and defense along to win championships.

  4. Joe Seamhead - Sep 16, 2015 at 6:20 AM

    Williams owes Bryce a dinner at the restaurant of his choice,

    • JayB - Sep 16, 2015 at 7:23 AM

      yup…..if Harper really felt that way then he would have said this a month ago…….Rizzo calling Harp asking for a favor is what that was…..Bet the decision has been made by Lerners and Rizzo knows what is coming….they are just trying to soften the impact on MW career…….Harper said sure Mike…..I can do that if you want…as long as he is gone next year….I can make you and he look good for the experiment….next we are going to see MW step down for personal reasons.

      • Dave - Sep 16, 2015 at 7:28 AM

        Back to your basement, JayB. Here’s your tinfoil hat.

      • dryw4nats - Sep 16, 2015 at 8:22 AM

        Don’t forget, Rizzo also said “Oh, and Bryce, while you’re at it, make sure to give him a big hug in the dugout, just in case the cameras are on you.”

      • Joe Seamhead - Sep 16, 2015 at 8:52 AM

        Like Jon Snow, you know nothing, JayB.

  5. JayB - Sep 16, 2015 at 7:31 AM

    OK Dave….watch what happens here….MW is not going to be here next year…..and Rizzo is going to do everything he can to make this look good

    • Dave - Sep 16, 2015 at 7:37 AM

      I do not doubt that MW will be gone next year. But how on earth do to you come to the conclusion that the star of the team is doing Rizzo a favor by singing the praises of a manager who Rizzo has to fire?

      That makes no sense on any level. That would make it more difficult for Rizzo to do the deed, not less. But we all know your contempt for Rizzo, so anything that happens must be Rizzo being a manipulator or something.

      • 3on2out - Sep 16, 2015 at 8:16 AM

        The real fly in the ointment is that Williams WILL be back. He is, on the whole, an average manager with a contract thru ’16. The Lerners aren’t going to pay TWO managers. They are businessmen…they hate that kind of avoidable duplication. JayB’s tinfoil hat-inspired conspiracy theories will amount to nothing.

    • NatsNut - Sep 16, 2015 at 8:16 AM

      Maybe. But wow, saying Rizzo asked Harper to say this publicly to gelp him out is just out there.

  6. ArVAFan - Sep 16, 2015 at 8:24 AM

    So what I’m hearing from Harp is that Williams is a great coach. Good–then he should coach (maybe not here: that would be a tad awkward). It’s not as if Harper needs a lot of in-game managing (unlike, say, the bullpen).

    • Guapo - Sep 16, 2015 at 8:44 AM

      +1000

      Coaching and Managing require different sets of skills.

      One is about individual instruction, guidance, and troubleshooting on mechanics and approach.

      The other is about setting organizational tone and cadence, strategy, and leadership.

      Many are good at one or the other. Few are good at both. Williams may have great Coaching skills but his Managerial skills are poor.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 16, 2015 at 9:30 AM

      Exactly.

  7. nats106 - Sep 16, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    We are a cynical bunch. I guess that comes with living in DC……

    Plus those empty seats were at Nationals Park North, not the home base. I’ll be there Thursday, so there will at least 2 fans in attendance.

  8. bc4314 - Sep 16, 2015 at 9:00 AM

    Svrluga had a good column in the Post today in case you all missed it:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/sports/wp/2015/09/15/what-matt-williams-could-learn-from-ned-yost/

    I think Williams will be back next year due to his contract situation. And I think he will improve. While he wasn’t perfect this year, I do not think he was the primary cause for the disappointing season. Even if Rizzo and the Lerners fire him, who are they going to hire to replace him?

  9. jd - Sep 16, 2015 at 9:29 AM

    If MW was merely an ‘average’ manager as some put it then it might make sense to consider that he may grow in his position like Ned Yost. MW is not an average manager, his contribution is not a net zero. He most definitely cost the Nats. It’s not easy to assign a number of games lost to a manager like you can to a player (WAR). There is no doubt in mind that the number is not insignificant.

  10. alexva6 - Sep 16, 2015 at 9:42 AM

    to me these comments just show that Bryce is learning about the off-field/business side of the game. just as he has done with his on-field performance

  11. bc4314 - Sep 16, 2015 at 9:46 AM

    How is “average manager” defined? I’m not sure I buy the narrative that Matt Williams “cost” the Nats. No one can put a figure on the number of games lost due to his decisions just as no one can put a figure on the number of games won due to his decisions. It’s all conjecture.

    Has he made some head scratching moves during the season? Of course. But there isn’t a manager in MLB who is perfect. Bottom line is the players didn’t perform and it may or may not cost Williams his job. Only time will tell.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 16, 2015 at 10:02 AM

      And that, of course, is why the decision isn’t as cut-and-dried as DFA’ing a struggling hitter or pitcher. The only statistic (if you will) a manager generates is Ws vs. Ls, and that’s obviously a function of many different variables. So it will really boils down to a question of trust. Do you trust him to make the right decision in a close game? After having watching Matt Williams in action over two seasons, will Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family continue to trust Mr. Williams with the keys to the team? And if they don’t, they’re smart enough businessmen to understand that Mr. Williams’ contract is a sunk cost that shouldn’t really factor into their calculations of future return.

    • bowdenball - Sep 16, 2015 at 10:08 AM

      That’s an interesting point, bc4314. After all we don’t watch all the games, we just watch the Nats games. The skewed perspective leads Nats fans to make all sort of other incorrect declarations about the team: that they don’t hit well with runners in scoring position, that they don’t do a good job moving runners, that they only produce against bad pitching, etc.

      I guess I’d say that we have to trust the experts who do watch the entire league for their work: expert media analysts. Many of them- perhaps even most of them- have singled out Williams as being a particularly poor in-game strategist, and I’ve never heard a single one defend him as a decent in-game strategist.

      We also do watch at least one other team every night so we can compare Williams’ decisionmaking to one other manager. For example, Terry Collins is no genius but we saw that he shuffled his rotation to face the Nats in two 3 game series right out of the break, a move that clearly helped his team. We see him use his most effective reliever for 4 or 5 out saves when the circumstances call for it. And so on.

  12. Muddy Ruel - Sep 16, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    Wow, MW’s team won 96 games in 2014. He was manager of the year. And he’s only in his second year of managing. WaPo this morning had an article comparing KC’s Yost’s development as a manager and saying MW is, well, evolving, too. I think we’d agree managers need experience. When MW was first hired I worried about the learning curve. This year he’s taking the hit in some quarters for the failure of the pitching staff to live up to the hype, plus all the injuries. Again this year Zimmerman won’t play 100 games. Anyway, we have to blame somebody, I suppose.

    • nats106 - Sep 16, 2015 at 11:09 AM

      Yeah, as much as I am a critic of MW, it’s kind of hard to consider firing a guy who’s record is way over 500 after 2 years. Yes they may have performed badly, yes they have been a great disappointment this year, but it’s still hard to link those two together. 500+ record? And fired?

      It’s easy for us to call for his head (which I have) I’m sure it’s a tougher decision for Rizzo. Or maybe easier because he has no plans to dismiss him. We’ll find out soon enough.

  13. bc4314 - Sep 16, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    You want to blame someone, how about the players who did not perform? Here are a few of the culprits:

    Player 2014 WAR 2015 WAR

    Rendon 6.6 1.2
    Werth 5.0 -0.5
    Fister 4.3 0.3
    Desmond 4.0 1.3
    Strasburg 3.4 -0.1
    Gonzalez 2.2 -0.1
    Ramos 1.6 0.6
    Zimmerman 1.2 0.6

    Dave Cameron at Fangraphs originally pulled these figures together.

    • bowdenball - Sep 16, 2015 at 10:16 AM

      Those stats aren’t right- you used the hitting numbers for the pitchers I think. For example Strasburg is at 2.4 fWAR after last night’s masterpiece.

      Anyway, you can’t separate the performance of player and manager. In addition to the obvious connection of advising their performance like last night’s example with Harper, there’s also the fact that the manager’s decisions put the players in a position to succeed or fail. Rendon (and Escobar) would probably have better defensive WAR numbers if they’d switched places in the infield any time they were both in the lineup. Pitchers generally will have better numbers if they’re pulled from games at the perfect time instead of left in too long or not long enough. Werth should never be played in RF and should be pulled for a defensive replacement more often; putting him a position to fail defensively has left him with a massive negative defensive WAR number.

      • Muddy Ruel - Sep 16, 2015 at 10:48 AM

        Okay, I’m for hiring bowdenball to manage the Nats next year. He obviously has all the answers, although I’d like to see some examples of exactly when MW screwed up. Maybe like when Storen blows up almost every 8th inning?

      • bowdenball - Sep 16, 2015 at 11:14 AM

        Thanks! I accept. By the way is this Mark or Ted Lerner? Or is it Mike Rizzo? Whoever it is, let me know when to report. I’m happy to wait until after this season to take over to facilitate a smooth transition.

        If by chance you’re not one of those people and you’re just being sarcastic, then I think maybe you’re in the wrong place. This is a comment section of a blog occupied by diehard Nats fans. People here second-guess play, managerial decisions and personnel decisions almost constantly here pretty much constantly. If that troubles you I suggest you spend your online time elsewhere.

        And if you really want an example of an MW screwup, how about we start with the Rendon 3-1 bunt attempt in the 9th inning of Game 2 of the most recent Nats series, which he defended by saying he didn’t want to hit into a double play, which is kind of like saying you are shooting yourself in the kneecap to make sure nobody can use that bullet to shoot you in the head? Or how about having Escobar swing 3-0 and hit into a double play that likely cost the team a game about three weeks ago, which he defended as an organizational strategy that works for Harper and Werth, ignoring both the particular circumstances of the game (bases loaded, trailing by one run late) and the fact that Escobar is a ground ball machine who hits into many many double plays and Werth and Harper are mroe fly ball prone?

        There’s two particularly dense decisions that stand out because they were particularly harmful and because his explanation for them was so obviously flawed, but rest assured: there are many many more.

      • nats106 - Sep 16, 2015 at 11:16 AM

        Wait, BB-you need an agent. If you haven’t signed with Boras, I’ll be glad to represent you.

      • trfwans - Sep 16, 2015 at 11:42 AM

        Here’s exactly how MW screwed up w.r.t. Storen. As Boswell pointed out in his chat the other day, for a reliever Storen takes a long time to get warmed up, and he needs his routine. And as Bos also pointed out, the Nats have always known this. Storen has always done well in a setup role when he starts an inning clean. He proved that last year when he set up for Soriano. Yet MW continued to bring in Storen with men on base, setting him up to fail. Which he did.

    • jfmii - Sep 16, 2015 at 12:18 PM

      One could say that MW’s insistence on putting Desmond out there despite his struggles is a negative on MW’s ledger, though I think that may have been as much an organizational decision as it was MW’s. Blame it on Rizzo, right, JayB?

      Pitching badly underperformed this year, and that is a big reason why MW always came out looking bad. I don’t like the way his brain works, but I just don’t think you can blame him for this year’s failure to make the postseason.

      • playturner - Sep 16, 2015 at 6:50 PM

        I think that MW’s problem is total inflexibility. He continued to play Desi and Ramos exclusively and let them hit in critical situations despite their repeated 3-pitch Ks. Using players able to make contact might have made a difference in many close games. Put these examples on his other many mistakes, and ask why the manager keeps playing those underperformers.

  14. jimbobbillyjoe - Sep 16, 2015 at 10:16 AM

    D’ya know how genius Bruce Bochy started out his very distinguished managerial career? His first full year as a manager the Padres went to playoffs and then got swept. Next year they were 5 games under .500. The next they went to the World Series. And got swept. The Padres did not when 80 games once during the next 5 years. I would imagine there are a lot folks in San Diego who have been scratching their collective heads for the last 6 years wondering how on earth is Bochy winning all of those world series’ . . . I think there is a whole lot more to being a big league manager than any of us knuckleheads will ever be able to comprehend and even if we could it’s still up to the guys on the field to do their jobs or the manager loses his. I bet Rizzo takes the long view.

    • nats106 - Sep 16, 2015 at 11:19 AM

      Yeah, I looked at that a few weeks ago, I had thought he had managed somewhere else between the Padres and the Giants, but not the case. Plus Williams career winning percentage is higher than Bochy’s.

  15. bc4314 - Sep 16, 2015 at 10:23 AM

    Ah, you are right bowdenball, I pulled the wrong WAR stats for the pitchers. My mistake. I also obviously didn’t include the relief corps, which obviously has its own set of issues.

  16. tcostant - Sep 16, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    Next year you can love him from afar.

  17. trfwans - Sep 16, 2015 at 11:16 AM

    Here’s the deal. After this disappointing and underachieving season, there is no way the Lerners will let Rizzo maintain status quo in the on-field management of the team. They will demand some changes, and the token sacrifice of a coach or two will not be enough. So what will it be? Will Rizzo fire his boy MW along with mini-MW (Weidemeir), or will he keep MW and purge the coaching staff of all the organization men (Knorr, McCatty, Schu) who as it happens pretty much built the team that Rizzo’s boy mis-managed this year?

    • langleyclub - Sep 16, 2015 at 11:36 AM

      Hard to say what will happen, but my guess is that Williams will return and that McCatty will go. Despite all of the injuries, the Nats will score more runs than last year. So, MW will get credit for keeping the offense going in the face of adversity. Clearly, MW’s problem has been focused on his handling of the pitching staff; so, my firing McCatty and bringing in a new pitching coach, the Nats will claim to have addressed the problem.

      Also, while not determinative, sure helps that the face of the franchise loves MW.

      • Nats Fan Zee - Sep 16, 2015 at 11:52 AM

        Perhaps Cat should go because you can’t fire the entire starting staff, but, the one coaching change I have not seen discussed here is the bullpen coach. Jim Lett retired last year and was replaced by Matt LeCroy. Jim was a tough old bird that did not ran a tight ship. Matt seems much more loose. Was this an influence? Who knows.

      • jd - Sep 16, 2015 at 11:58 AM

        This would be very disappointing. To me the mistakes MW makes speak of someone who does not have a feel for the game and an understanding of situations. I am not optimistic that these traits can be learned over time. The defense of the moves as outlined by Bowdenball speaks even more to this lack of basic baseball understanding and Bowdenball did not even venture to last year’s elimination game which was managed in the same bizarre fashion as many games this year . Lately MW abandoned the ‘this is how we always do it’ approach to bullpen management and has adopted a frantic matchup approach which is also not thought out and does not use simple analytics.

        Another good example is the total mismanagement of a classic September pinch runner Trea Turner who is normally used too early or too late and rarely in a way where he can be a decisive weapon to win the game.’

        I would gladly accept the ‘risk’ that MW will eventually become a good manager, I am not advocating hiring a ‘proven’ manager. I am all for a young intelligent forward looking manager. I simply think MW isn’t one.

  18. jfmii - Sep 16, 2015 at 12:08 PM

    3on2out, you are correct. MW will be back.

  19. jfmii - Sep 16, 2015 at 12:24 PM

    jd, sorry, but you, as many of us passionate fans often do, give yourself too much credit in hindsight. And to say a guy with MW’s resume ” has a “lack of basic baseball understanding” is just wrong.

  20. Muddy Ruel - Sep 16, 2015 at 12:30 PM

    I apologize for directing a sarcastic comment to a fellow Nats Insider by name. Shouldn’t do it. But how about the Nats Insider police? They suggest you go elsewhere in the blogosphere when they don’t like your sarcastic comments even though they themselves make pompous, subjective, and, yes, sarcastic comments every day. Not fair, says I.

    • bowdenball - Sep 16, 2015 at 12:39 PM

      I have no problem with your sarcasm, Muddy. As you say I’m a pretty big fan of it too! I was suggesting you go elsewhere because you seemed to take issue with someone challenging managerial decisions. If that bothers you, this is not the place for you. Nationals strategy discussions, both in game and regarding personnel moves, is pretty much the life blood of the comments on this blog.

  21. Joe Seamhead - Sep 16, 2015 at 12:47 PM

    In the kid’s first major league start he gave up 9 runs, 4 earned, [but the error was his own missed catch] on 9 hits. All in 2 complete innings.

    A.J. Cole was left out there to be destroyed by the Braves. Yes, the Nats came back later to win the game and then to go their best hot streak of the season, but leaving AJ in for that 2nd inning was the day I lost what I had left in my confidence of Matt Williams’ in game managerial skills. Also, in last year’s playoffs, pulling JZimm in the playoff game didn’t bother me, but leaving Drew Storen in to pitch to Sandoval after Posey got the hit was dumb assed baseball. Sure, Drew blew the save, but Williams and McCatty blew the game, and the Nats’ chances, by letting Pablo hit from the left side of the plate.

  22. JamesFan - Sep 16, 2015 at 2:51 PM

    The player who is having a career (so far) year is happy with the manager as his personal hitting coach (interesting no mention of Shu). Might be interesting to know what those who had terrible years–most of the team–think about him. The reality is that the team did not perform for him. Clearly there is an effort to salvage MW–Rizzo’s public support, Boz column, Harp’s out of the blue endorsement.

    Rizzo has his work cut out for himself this winter–replace Desmond (rookie Turner maybe), replace two starters, reconstruct the bullpen, strengthen the bench and add depth to overcome the inevitable injuries to Zimmerman, Werth, maybe Rendon, maybe Ramos. Do the Nats give Stras the big contract in his free agent year?

    Can MW motivate a team with major revisions when he didn’t do so well with a team expected to win it all? It’s a big gamble to keep MW as manager for 2016. A slow start next year with this guy would be an early disaster. I favor a new hitting coach for Bryce.

  23. wskyrnr21 - Sep 17, 2015 at 7:35 AM

    HAHA laughable ……….. Of course he wants him back the inmates run the asylum! Harper gives 100% effort when he feels like it and the manager gets spanked when he sits him down ( could only happen once).

    Players like Harper and Escobar do as they please with no regard for the ” Big Marine” ( also a joke never spent one day in the USMC)

    Semper FI

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