Monday, October 31, 2011

Washington Nationals in Good Hands with Johnson

In what would have been the most important managerial news of the day if it wasn't for a certain guy in St. Louis, Davey Johnson was announced as the Washington Nationals 2012 manager. Johnson was brought into the dugout by Mike Rizzo after Jim Riggleman fell on his own sword. Johnson had been acting as Rizzo's special assistant before the move. Like Rizzo points out in the linked piece above, the only question concerning Johnson was his energy level and his interest in leading the Nationals to the future. Rizzo no longer has such doubts and neither should we.

Davey Johnson has a proven track record. His fifteen years in the dugout is less than half of Tony LaRussa's, but Johnson has a much better winning percentage over that time (.561). In his fifteen years as manager, Johnson has five first place division finishes, one World Series Championship and one league pennant. His teams have also finished second seven times and third twice, which could be just as important in this day and age of wild cards (there could be two by 2012). And Johnson also has experience bringing along young teams which will come in handy with the terrific young talent the Nationals possess.

And Johnson does have a chance to really see a new era in Nationals baseball. Young talent abounds led by Stephen Strasburg, Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen, Henry Rodriguez and Jordan Zimmermann. Established young stars like Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and veterans such as Jayson Werth make this team very interesting. He does have some question marks to figure out though.

Ian Desmond at short hasn't come along as much as you would like after two full seasons. Desmond only cut down his errors by a handful and his fielding metrics are not great to look at. That might balance out if he was effective at the plate but he's not. Center field is another problematic position. Rick Ankiel played about as well as Rick Ankiel can play which would be okay if he was a role player. But if he's your starting center fielder, that's not ideal at all. And will Jayson Werth rebound from what was a dismal season compared to his previous seasons? You would like to think so, but time will tell. And is Michael Morse for real?

The Nationals, of course, will go as far as their pitching takes them. If Strasburg stays healthy and gives them thirty starts, that's great and the same goes for Zimmermann. Those two should be the top guns for years to come. But what comes after them? Ross Detwiler showed that perhaps he might be rounding into a decent starter. Chien-Ming Wang could be surprisingly effective despite never striking anyone out. But that's two big ifs there. John Lannon doesn't fill this observer with much enthusiasm. Brad Peacock's strikeout rate in the minors didn't translate to the majors in a very small sample size, but if he can approach his minor league numbers, he could be effective. Strong pitching has always been the hallmark of Davey Johnson teams. If anyone can figure it out, it's Johnson.

The bullpen is terrific with Storen, Rodriguez and Clippard leading the way. If the starters get the lead to the bullpen, the wins should come.

The Nationals have major league talent now and have more in the pipeline (Bryce Harper anyone?). They need a centerfielder and perhaps one more starter, but they could surprise a lot of people next season. They play in a tough division but with Davey Johnson in the dugout, they have an experienced and successful manager. If anyone can pull the Nationals to the next level, it's Davey Johnson. Today's news should be very good news for Nationals fans.

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