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Baker, Rizzo don’t buy criticism manager is too old school

Nov 6, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

USA Today

The mere mention of Dusty Baker’s name when candidates began surfacing in the Nationals’ managerial search brought strong reactions from all around. Many were thrilled at the news, pointing to his impressive record as a three-time NL manager of the year. Others, however, were not quite as enthused.

Criticism emerged of Baker being too old school: Is he averse to using analytics, which have become commonplace in today’s game? Is he simply too old to take on the challenge of restoring the Nationals to prominence?

Baker touched on all those subjects at Thursday’s introductory press conference, and so did general manager Mike Rizzo. You may be concerned about Baker’s ability to adapt and learn new tricks, but they aren’t.

Well, I was pretty good before I got here. Adaptation is no problem for me. My friends call me a chameleon because I can adapt to any time and anywhere,” Baker said.

Baker’s affinity for music is well-documented. He currently has a book for sale that chronicles his time at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival and a later experience where he smoked a substance now legal in D.C. with Jimi Hendrix. And much like music can stand the test of time, so can Baker, according to the manager.

I would like to think I transcend some generations like some musicians. Stevie Wonder still sounds good. The Doors might sound even better. I believe in old ideas but you have to translate them in modern ways so that they can understand,” he said.

Baker said his family helps keep him young. He has a 16-year-old son who in two years will play baseball for the Cal Bears. He has a 36-year-old daughter and a wife who he says is “50-something.” They are all younger than Baker and they all represent different generations.

Sometimes you gotta listen to the young to keep a pulse on things,” he said.

Baker’s defense of himself was strong, but Rizzo took it up a notch. He went into extensive detail about how Baker gets a bad wrap that is unfair if you pay attention to the details of what he has accomplished in his career.

He’s often described as an old school, dinosaur-type of a manager but yet was 13th in shifting in Major League Baseball in his last year as a manager,” Rizzo explained. “He’s famous for handling of players and handling of the clubhouse and that type of thing. But when you look harder and dig deeper and you watch the man navigate nine innings of a baseball game, it is truly something to watch when you’re really looking in-depth.”

True to form, Rizzo did his research. He spoke to former players of Dusty’s including Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. He relied heavily on the opinion of Reds manager Bryan Price, who replaced Baker when he was fired after the 2013 season. Price previously served as Baker’s pitching coach before getting promoted.

Rizzo and Price were minor league teammates and have remained very close friends. Price is one of the people in baseball Rizzo trusts the most and his review was very positive.

“[Baker has] always been a creative thinker, an outside the box thinker. He is certainly not a manage by the numbers type of manager, but he should get far more credit than he does for what he does in between the lines and in the dugout as he does for how he handles the clubhouse, which is impeccable,” Rizzo continued.

Baker may not manage by the numbers, but he will be receptive to data provided by the Nationals’ analytics department. According to Rizzo, Baker met with some of the Nats’ sabremetrics guys before the decision was made to hire him.

“It was an extremely important part of the interview process. But more than that, we watched how he managed games. The input from a lot of the coaches on that staff, the players that played for him, showed a man that was open-minded and open to change. He’s really come a long way in his recent past, especially in those last couple years in Cincinnati. The analytical part of it, it’s taken a lot of people a long time to adapt to that. But it’s a tool for us. It’s a weapon for us.

“He’s used it in the past. And he’s used it very effectively. So he’s on board. He had spoken to people in our analytics department, and he was extremely impressed by them. I think there’s a trust factor there that’s built right off the bat. He’s going to embrace it, because it’s going to help us win games. And that’s what he’s all about.”

Baker is confident he can continue to adapt with the Nationals as he moves forward as their manager. He pointed to Mets manager Terry Collins, who is the oldest skipper in the majors and just led his team to an NL pennant.

I don’t think of myself as 66 years old. I don’t know how old I am. It really doesn’t matter. The way I look at it, not to sound cocky or nothing, but I don’t see a bunch of dudes out there who look better than me right now,” he said.

 

  1. rgsie - Nov 6, 2015 at 7:06 AM

    Why don’t they make Papelbon the manager…..What a mess…

    • Joe Seamhead - Nov 6, 2015 at 8:10 AM

      What’s a mess? I think that this is going to be a very entertaining and successful move. I haven’t felt this positive about this team since the day Jim Riggleman quit.

      • ArVAFan - Nov 6, 2015 at 8:34 AM

        +12

      • natsguy - Nov 6, 2015 at 8:40 AM

        Joe.

        I honor your optimism, but have you not read the articles that have been coming out about our ownership group. Not pretty. Chasz can beat me up about it, but you know there are too many articles for this not to be true. If the Nats insist on bringing Papelbon back, there is going to be hell to pay and I don’t think the owners or Rizzo seem to understand.

        I do agree with your comment that it will be “entertaining” but only in the sense that its hard to keep your eyes off of a train wreck.

        The owners had better figure out how to fix the communication issues or they will never get Ted his title.

      • Joe Seamhead - Nov 6, 2015 at 9:24 AM

        natsguy, believe what you want. I find the press to be entirely the bad guys on this story, and if lies are repeated 10,000 times people start thinking they must be true.

        I am so looking forward to the Dust Baker era that I am doing just that: looking forward!

  2. natsguy - Nov 6, 2015 at 8:42 AM

    My issue is not with Dusty Baker it is with all the fubars that have been happening when the owners get involved.

  3. ehay2k - Nov 6, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    OK, here on planet earth…

    All the positives of the last few hours have for me pretty much washed away the negativity of the hiring process. (And I am not sure that any of the negativity was due to Rizzo, with the exception of his inability to shut down Twitter.) The bottom line for Nats fans shouldn’t be the process, it should be the result: Is the team better now than a few days ago? For me, the answer is a resounding yes!

    Start with Baker. No one can seriously argue he isn’t an upgrade over MW. Is he a long-term solution? Who knows, but we also know MW wasn’t. But was he perhaps the best available option? It’s pretty hard to argue that Bud Black, or Don Mattingly, and certainly any of: the Cora brothers, Martinez, or Randy Knorr, or any other potential candidate was “better” than Dusty Baker. In fact, if you just look at their win – loss records, then Matt Williams was the obvious choice! At the manager position, the bottom line is that the Nationals have made a huge upgrade. There are people who are concerned that Dusty sacrifices (bunts) too much, and as I have posted myself, he has a reputation for being too hard on pitchers’ arms. Perhaps the former is true, but I can live with it if he improves the team’s overall hitting approach. And the latter is moot because of the pitching coach that just joined the team.

    But it’s not just the hiring of Baker. There have been other upgrades as well. I liked Tony Tarasco, a lot. But Davey Lopes is universally beloved and it’s hard to imagine that bringing him in is not an upgrade. At the very least it’s a fresh perspective and that can’t hurt. Let’s see if MAT improves his picked-off-at-first percentage this year.

    I also liked McCatty, but bringing in Mike Maddux is in my mind a huge upgrade. First of all it has to help the pitchers to get a new set of eyes on their stuff and their preparation. It may be the latter that is more important. But the other thing that Maddux brings is a belief in using change of speed to fool hitters. His brother was pretty good at it. It’s something that I feel the Nats’ starting pitchers really haven’t done very well with the exception of Scherzer. And speaking of his brother, maybe he will drop by if only to say hi. That is an upgrade just from a “visitor in the clubhouse” perspective.

    As for the training staff, there was certainly room for improvement there too. I can’t say whether or not the new staff will be any better. Statistically the Reds were not that much better than the Nats in terms of lost player-games. However, my issue is not that guys got hit by pitches or ran into walls, it is that once they had injuries they didn’t seem to recover from them very quickly and sometimes the rehab regimen did more harm than good. Span and Rendon are perfect examples of that. In addition, there have been a litany of misdiagnoses, and repeated injuries to obliques and hamstrings that indicate that the staff were not able to properly handle injuries, much less prevent them. I’m not saying it’s possible to prevent all injuries, what I am looking for is the ability to understand how they occur and work to prevent what is preventable. And when injuries do occur, I want them to know what the hell they are and how to deal with them. I do not believe it is possible to do much worse then what the Nats’ medical and training staffs have done over the past few years. (Remember the cortisone shot in “the wrong spot”?) They can join Rick Xstein [sic – I am leaving that voice-to-text as is!] in blissful retirement as far as I am concerned.

    So, was the hiring process a circus? Yes. But I am not sure who is the ringleader. I doubt it was Rizzo. And if, in fact, Bud Black was offended by the initial offer so much so that he later turned down a $6m dollar deal, and if his wife was indeed tweeting about the closed-door procees, than good riddance to the pair of them. All I know is that the Nats appear to be a markedly improved organization on several fronts in just the last 48 hours. And we are talking about practice upgrades here man, upgrades. Are the Nats better? If so, then process be damned.

    • Joe Seamhead - Nov 6, 2015 at 9:19 AM

      +2016

    • Eugene in Oregon - Nov 6, 2015 at 9:25 AM

      +1.

    • Doc - Nov 6, 2015 at 10:07 AM

      Well said, ehay2k!

      Let’s get on with the biz of seeing how this works.

      Speculation on what writers have speculated on what the owners may or may not have done is nonsense. Such nonsense becomes more nonsense when NI’s like natsguy speculate on speculationt. Time to give Rusty Dusty a chance

  4. tcostant - Nov 6, 2015 at 9:13 AM

    Rizzo buys it!

  5. Eugene in Oregon - Nov 6, 2015 at 9:30 AM

    Re the comments about the GM and the owners above: It wasn’t that long ago that the same things — if not worse — were being said about the Mets ownership and GM…

    http://nypost.com/2015/07/02/its-disgusting-how-jokester-gm-cheap-owners-watch-mets-burn/

    …and that turned out okay (for the Mets, I mean).

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 10:58 AM

      Mr. inOregon, imagine how the season would have played out if the Mets ownership had not taken that writer’s advice immediately to heart?

  6. jfmii - Nov 6, 2015 at 9:38 AM

    rgsie–If Bryce wants Papelbon back, so be it… After all he is the aggrieved one, not us the fans. I am not much of a fan of Papelbon’s and I was hoping to be rid of Drew Storen as well. But if either comes back, I will root for them to succeed.

    And what is the mess anyway? They got it right. Our local media guys probably jumped the gun by announcing Black’s hiring, then all felt wronged when he wasn’t the man. Our media made a bunch of assumptions that may or may not have been true, who knows?. Then Rizzo either explained what really happened or spun the heck of the whole thing. Who knows? Doesn’t matter, and I for one, am much happier with Baker as the choice.

    And the comparisons of the Lerners to the worst, most disgusting owner in all of the major professional sports franchises, Daniel Snyder– well that is just knee-jerk and ludicrous

  7. rmoore446 - Nov 6, 2015 at 9:51 AM

    I’m charged up about the future. If Harper is okay with Papelbon, I’m not going to object. My worry is about how much Pap has left in the tank.

    The most negative news I’ve seen that could impact the future is a NY judge yesterday overturned the arbitration ruling in the MASN case.

    • ehay2k - Nov 6, 2015 at 10:28 AM

      Regarding the arbitration issue, that was exactly what Angelo’s wanted. However, the market value formMLB broadcast rights has only increased since that ruling. Yet another example of “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.”

      I hope the next arbitrator(s) may him pay dearly.

      • rmoore446 - Nov 6, 2015 at 10:31 AM

        +1

    • jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 10:36 AM

      rmoore446,

      Actually the ruling was all that negative. The biggest issue the judge had was that the Nats were using the same law firm as MLB. I think the Nats can easily resolve that by hiring another law firm and petitioning anew. And in the end the award may very well be larger than the one we got rejected.

      • jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 10:37 AM

        not all that negative.

      • Section 222 - Nov 6, 2015 at 10:53 AM

        +1 jd. It’s going to take awhile longer, but the Nats are going to get paid at some point. And I expect the Lerners are keeping that in mind as they make financial decisions.

  8. janebeard - Nov 6, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    I moved past Dusty and the screw up. And I’m siting for bull pen news. I sure HOPE that Bryce is making nice to make the world think we COULD keep Papelbon so they can grade him for $10k, or whatever minuscule amount they can get for him. He simply has to be gone, not just for Bryce, but because the fans need to know the owners get it and are going to do better. No more buying bad pieces at a discount. Please please please.

    • allquiet3022 - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:56 AM

      Everyone’s mileage may vary on this, but I think this franchise faces enough challenges without turning the Papelbon-Harper dustup into a morality play. If Papelbon still has some gas in the tank and if Bryce can put it behind him, I think it would be borderline malpractice to give the guy away for a bag of balls, which we would be lucky to get for him given the media saturation. Why not let Dusty try to do the thing he’s proven he does so well? I.e., rein in the big personalities and fire-eaters and channel the aggression toward winning. How did the Yankees feel about A-Rod being on the roster last March and how did they feel in September?

      I don’t know Papelbon and I don’t need to–and I’m certainly not trying to excuse his bullying and macho posing, which I find incredibly tiresome and adolescent–but I can also make a case where a guy comes to a team fighting for its life in a pennant race, feels pressure to contribute immediately, does a dumb and dangerous thing thinking his teammates will applaud him (head-hunting), feels humiliated when they don’t stand by him (not saying they should have!), and then goes off on the guy he perceives as hanging him out to dry in the press. And let’s at least admit that’s what Bryce did, understandably. But I think it’s pretty clear by now that the Nats’ clubhouse was on life support before Papelbon got here, so I don’t find it particularly surprising that a new random variable introduced into a fairly toxic mix led to an explosion. In a MW-run clubhouse I don’t think the question was “if” but “when,” “who,” and “how bad.”

      Papelbon seems to be a jerk, but I don’t think based on what I’ve seen or read he even makes the Top 200 of baseball’s bad characters. I also don’t think it was an accident that Dusty talked about an older player having his hands around his throat in his own early playing days. Again, please know I’m not excusing it, just trying to suggest perspective. As I said, your mileage may vary.

      The Dusty Era provides the perfect opportunity for a reset for all involved. Process be damned, we ended up with Dusty and sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. And if somebody wants to offer something of value for Papelbon then sure, go for it. Likewise, if he shows signs of not having it any longer, DFA him and move on. Also no reason whatsoever to get rid of Drew, who will have many millions of reasons to re-establish value as a Wade Davis-like setup guy.

  9. nats106 - Nov 6, 2015 at 9:57 AM

    Old school is good school as far as I’m concerned. As far as gut feel goes in relation to analytics, you can draw up numbers any way you like, but 50 years of instincts is a good thing.

    Plus I like his taste in music. Have you ever been experienced?

    • Joe Seamhead - Nov 6, 2015 at 10:06 AM

      nats106 – Nov 6, 2015 at 9:57 AM

      Plus I like his taste in music. Have you ever been experienced?

      As a matter of fact….I can’t remember.

      • ArVAFan - Nov 6, 2015 at 10:19 AM

        +some vaguely remembered number

      • nats106 - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:15 AM

        Hey Joe, I heard you shot your mamma down. Hey Joe….

  10. Joe Seamhead - Nov 6, 2015 at 10:01 AM

    The Griffiths
    George Steinbrenner
    Al Davis
    Marge Schott
    George Preston Marshall
    Peter Angelos
    Bob Short
    Robert Irsay
    Snyder
    Loria

    Just a few off the top of my head. No, the Lerners are not even in the running for worst, or even top 10 owners that I have lived through.

    • jfmii - Nov 6, 2015 at 10:36 AM

      Good list

    • ehay2k - Nov 6, 2015 at 10:44 AM

      You forgot MLB, who trashed this franchise before selling it to the Lerner’s.

  11. Mrsb loves the Nats - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:00 AM

    Really interested in seeing who the bench coach is now…

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:01 AM

      And too bad that Tarasco hasn’t been announced as staying with the organization yet.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:07 AM

      Sandberg is probably available…
      They’re going with big names. Just saying.

      • jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:12 PM

        I think this is a perfect position for a younger potential next manager type like Alex Cora.

  12. Section 222 - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:08 AM

    I’m definitely moving on from the “process,” especially from dissecting who said what to whom when kind of stuff. Looking forward as JoeS said seems like the way to go.

    I was enthusiastic about Black because he seems more cerebral manager who is more experienced in applying modern analytics to lineup construction and in game decisions. For example, I really hate bunting by anyone other than the pitcher at any time other than when you need one run to tie or win the game in the 9th, or when there’s a fast runner on 3rd base who can score on a squeeze. So I’m sure Dusty will frustrate me from time I also tend to think that “clubhouse chemistry” is overrated. But there’s no doubt that Dusty is a winner so maybe he can bring out the best in our guys in a way MW couldn’t. And how can you not love a guy who wrote a book about seeing Jimi Hendrix at Monterey, and name dropped Stevie Wonder, the Doors, Bill Russell, Bill Walsh, and Obama, among others, at his opening press conference?

    For another angle on Dusty, in which I think he comes off really well, check out this 30 for 30 short on the origins of the High Five. H/t to my friend and sometimes lurker DC.

    http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=11253247

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:38 AM

      I didnt want Dusty. But he is here. So I will support him and root and all that other jazz.

      But I am going to with-hold all judgement/reservations and wait him out for a year, kind of like what I did with MW.

      ALL i know is if I hear any form of ‘we will get them tomorrow… or got a game tomorrow…. tomorrow.’ I think Imma lose it.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:59 AM

        I, for one, live for the day when “we have a game tomorrow.” I’ll be staring out the window waiting for spring, until then.

        😉

      • ArVAFan - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:03 PM

        ICYMI: Sec 3: you can watch live baseball from your Sofa today at 2:35 (Arizona Fall League) at MLB.com.

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:44 PM

        I have a good nu of Nats games from the past year recorded on the DVR. So I pass the time by watching them. I also watch the Nats Classics too.

        Its not been too bad since the WS just ended… and then i have the basketball team and football teams who keep my interest as well.

      • natsfan1a - Nov 6, 2015 at 1:41 PM

        Me to my husband, the night after the World Series ended: ” I miss baseball.” Le. Sigh.

    • natsfan1a - Nov 6, 2015 at 1:40 PM

      Thanks for the clip, 222.

  13. water47 - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:14 AM

    So, who ge the QO. As in the three years of the QO no player has taken the offer, Let’s gamble. give it to all four. The only one who really might take it and hurt us might be Fister. But, if he regresses to the mean and we get his old self then he is very serviceable.

    Also, if Span declines and I think he will because he wants a 3 year deal. Then, we have a chance to fill out the outfield. Granted MAT was ok but his bat leaves much to be desired. Let’s go big and score Heyward. He play CF, Harper in LF and a platoon of Werth and MAT. It will be a tough two years but that is the cost of signing Werth awhile back.

    Having Heyward on a long deal (he is only 26) and extending Harper & Rendon would make a formidable roster. Also, as three are going to want an Opt out at 5 years so roster reset s possible.

    • jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:19 AM

      water47,

      They are saying 10 years and $200 mil for Heyward. I am not sure he’s that good.

  14. jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:17 AM

    Off topic. My son and I had an interesting conversation the other day about the overall state of the Nationals organization.He made a really good point IMO. The model franchise in MLB over the past decade by a very wide margin has been the St.Louis Cardinals and the secret to their success has been their ability to maintain a steady pipeline of players graduating from the minor leagues and stepping in to their lineup, rotation and pen. So despite the fact that they lost their best prospect (tragic car accident) and the fact that key players like Adams, Holiday and Wainright have gone through major injuries they never seem to skip a beat.

    Now, looking at our organization we have had success mainly because we were so bad for so long we got the best draft picks for a period of about 3 years which brought us Harper, Strasburg and Rendon but the only significant other player we developed in the past several years (who has graduated) is Jordan Zimmermann. I am not counting Taylor yet because I think the jury is still out. The other concern is that our top prospects mostly seem to stall when they get to AA. Players like Skole, Hood etc never make it all the way.

    I think that in this day and age of free agency you have to have a steady pipeline because you can’t keep everyone, it’s just not cost possible. If we succesfully graduate players like Difo and Severino and if we get players like Marmolejos and Mejia to to move up nicely and then Robles and at the same time if pitchers like Giolito graduate and Lopez moves etc then perhaps my concern will be allayed.

    So far I’m not sure.

    • Section 222 - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:39 AM

      I agree with this analysis of the two organizations, but what’s to be done? How are the Cards able to do what they do? It’s not having high draft picks because they win all the time. So is it their scouting, their GM, their analytics department, their computer hackers, dumb luck?

      I don’t follow the prospects like you do, so I have no idea how the pipeline looks, compared to the Cards or any other team. I do know that we hear great things about players who never seem to make it to the bigs.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:51 AM

        So is it their scouting, their GM, their analytics department, their computer hackers, dumb luck?

        How many Boras clients do they have? Just wondering.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:57 AM

        Or does playing in the ML Central, against the Cubs, Pirates, Reds, and Brewers (each of which has had a good year or two, but not sustained success, over the past decade or ten), figure into it?

      • jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:58 AM

        deuces,

        I am not sure either. I think Rizzo et all are very good talent evaluates which I guess leads me to the conclusion that we aren’t great at player development. Again, I am drawing a conclusion based on observed results.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:07 PM

        I wonder. If the Nationals’ player development were at fault more than the other teams, wouldn’t at least some of their cast-offs find success elsewhere? I mean, they can’t be so bad that they just ruin everybody that doesn’t graduate inside a year, can they? Maybe they can.

        I don’t know what the average should be, what successes other teams have, but I would think that, if the scouting is especially good or bad, it would show up in middle- to late-round picks making it to the top (or not). It would show in first round picks, too, of course, but those get so much scrutiny, and the GM would have spent a lot of time on it personally. Lower rounds, he has to rely on the scouts more, I think.

        I don’t know how the Nationals look on that scorecard.

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