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Williams on “aggressive” approach to baseball

Nov 5, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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There is much we already know about Matt Williams. We know he was an intense competitor during his 17 big-league seasons. We know he is an excellent communicator based on his post-playing career as a broadcaster and coach. And we know he believes in the importance of defense based on his own track record (four Gold Glove Awards) and his decision to add defensive “coordinator” Mark Weidemaier to the Nationals’ coaching staff.

We don’t, however, really know what kind of in-game manager Williams will be, because there’s no real track record to examine. (Sorry, but guys don’t really manage in the Arizona Fall League the same way they do in the major leagues.)

Williams was asked several times in several different ways to describe his style of managing during Friday’s introduction at Nationals Park. The word he kept using was “fluid,” suggesting he won’t entirely know himself until he gets a chance to do it.

But one other word Williams used many times does offer a window into his philosophy: “aggressive.” He’s a take-charge guy, and he expects his teams to play that way. Especially on the bases.

“I think it’s aggressive, in every aspect,” he said. “We’re going to try to take advantage of the situation that presents itself to us. … If a guy’s slow to the plate, we’re going to run. We want to put guys in motion and hit-and-run. We want to do some things that are maybe outside the box in getting a guy in from third base. Certainly, that’s a process. But that’s what I think.

“You can’t score unless you touch the plate, so we’ve got to go. And we’ve got to defend that plate with everything we’ve got as well.”

Williams’ track record as Diamondbacks third base coach the last three seasons does support his aggressive reputation. He was never afraid to wave a runner home, even if it meant ultimately getting thrown out.

“A couple of years ago, I led the league in getting guys thrown out at the plate,” Williams said. “Which is good, I think. I think it’s good. Now, the fans of Arizona may think differently, and I’ve heard those fans from time to time. But I think that if you apply pressure, you have the advantage.”

The Nationals actually were fairly aggressive on the bases this season. They took an extra base 42 percent of the time when presented the opportunity, the fifth-highest rate in the NL according to baseball-reference.com.

There are other ways to be aggressive, though, and Williams suggested he wants the Nationals to do some different things at the plate, including more hit-and-runs and squeeze bunts.

“We’re going to look at that very hard and see where we can take advantage of that and see how we can get a guy to third with less than two outs,” he said. “I believe in the safety squeeze, man. I really believe in it. We’ve got a pitching staff that handles the bat. Can we hit-and-run with them? Maybe, given the right opportunity.

“So the plan’s fluid and will present itself every day differently. All of those things lend themselves to being aggressive.”

  1. nats128 - Nov 5, 2013 at 7:53 AM

    “A couple of years ago, I led the league in getting guys thrown out at the plate,” Williams said. “Which is good, I think. I think it’s good. Now, the fans of Arizona may think differently, and I’ve heard those fans from time to time. But I think that if you apply pressure, you have the advantage.”

    This is the quote that has be going “huh”? There are bad sends, there are lucky sends, and there are good sends. You must know the fielders arm and positioning and the situation. Are you sending the runner because there are 2 outs and the pitcher is up next?

    I wasnt fond of Trent Jewitt. He had some poor sends. He sent Wilson Ramos with the bad hammy and he was out by 10 feet. I think we were all wondering what Trent was thinking. It was aggressive and stupid. The only way he scores would be if the throw was way offline.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 5, 2013 at 9:15 AM

      Good points. Applying pressure to your opponent is great until you let them off the hook by a bad baserunning mistake or a poor coaching decision. Get your edge by strong scouting and pick the right moments to get aggressive.

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 5, 2013 at 9:20 AM

    Ghost of Steve M. – Nov 3, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    Per Chase, Matt’s style will be “very, very aggressive”. The more aggressive you do get the more aggressive the opponents get to thwart you. They have scouts too. The element of surprise is your best strategy.

    I’m all for a divergence from pure Earl Weaver status quo but you need certain personnel to pull off the more aggressive style. Stats have shown hit & run can be effective but it fails more times than it succeeds and leads to sometimes an embarrassing caught stealing.

    I would like to see some more stolen bases, the occasional suicide squeeze, and some more bunts for hits. Not sure if I can stomach more baserunning blunders but I remain cautiously optimistic.

    Remember, the Nats weren’t having problems scoring runs on average in the 2nd 1/2 of the season. The solution is a fast start!

    I wrote that a couple of days ago.

  3. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 5, 2013 at 9:57 AM

    There are some players I worry about learning the difference between “aggressive” and “stupid.” I think the problem is less on the bases than at the plate. The Nats don’t have a lot of guys with consistent corner-to-corner speed. And those that do seem to do it fairly consistently. There is one player whose inability to properly comprehend his limits coming out of the batter’s box requires him to learn to dial it down a bit. All in all I doubt that Williams’s emphasis on “aggressiveness” will lead to a single extra run this season. If there’s a bunch of additional runs it will be because (A) better scouting, game planning give the coaches a better handle on how much they can challenge opposing outfielders and (B) players are disciplined to do what the coaches tell them — “run when I say ‘run’ and stop when I say ‘stop.'”

    At the plate, there are different sides to the aggressiveness coin. E.g., Desmond has been “aggressive” at the plate for four seasons. And mostly has a lot of bad counts and Ks to show for it. While Zimmerman has to learn they won’t give you a mulligan for called “strike three.” I would just as soon Williams would emphasize “discipline” and they end up with more Werth/Rendon 10-12 pitch ABs.

    • David Proctor - Nov 5, 2013 at 11:59 AM

      Over the last two years, Desmond has 45 home runs and an .812 OPS. He’s put up some of the best numbers of any SS in the league. So he also has that to show for it. His approach can be frustrating at times, but it works for him. Riggleman tried to make him a guy who worked the count and all that and he almost ruined him for good.

    • adcwonk - Nov 5, 2013 at 12:00 PM

      Desmond has been “aggressive” at the plate for four seasons. And mostly has a lot of bad counts and Ks to show for it.

      Huh? He’s got a lot more than that to show for it! Starting with a Silver Slugger award in 2012.

      In 2013, among NL shortstops, he was 2d in the league in OBP and SLG.

      To sum up: Tulowitzky was the only better SS in the NL (speaking of batting).

      • David Proctor - Nov 5, 2013 at 12:04 PM

        And Tulo’s OPS is 100 points higher at home than on the road. If Desi played at Coors, who knows what numbers he’d put up.

  4. Sonny G 10 - Nov 5, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    Here’s where I’m goinjg to disagree with most of you. I liked Trent Jewett’s aggressive sends last year. In my opinion the number of bad sends last year you could count on one hand of a guy with three amputated fingers. If you don’t get guys thrown out at the plate, you’re not being aggressive enough imo. Last year at one point we had five starters hitting .200 or below. Are you going to hold the runner at third and count on one of these guys to drive him in? Poosh! I say, be aggressive, send the runner and make the defense make a perfect throw. If the runner is out, we do it again the next chance we get. Over all, I believe we score more runs that way. Of course all of this I’m saying is tempered by game situations, so there will be times when you aren’t as aggressive.

    • NatsLady - Nov 5, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      Agree. And the stats agree with you. It’s like the banking business–if you don’t have some loans that go into default, you aren’t making enough loans. Yes, the Ramos send was egregious, and we all remember that. But Trent waved a lot of guys to the plate who DID make it, and we don’t remember those as much.

      • Doc - Nov 5, 2013 at 12:36 PM

        Bad sends and guaranteed sends are both probably in the minority of sends.

        Most sends to the plate are more likely a gamble between a runner’s speed and an OF’s arm. I would bet more on the runner’s speed than the OF’s arm. And that for me is what aggressive sends are all about.

  5. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 5, 2013 at 10:26 AM

    Off-topic but prompted by previous thread: Does anyone know who in the minor league system, besides Souza, was/is vulnerable to the Rule 5 draft?

  6. Section 222 - Nov 5, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    I’m with SonnyG on aggressive baserunning. And I think what he said is exactly what Williams means when he says it’s a good thing that he led the league in runners being thrown out at home. I look at it this way. If there are two outs, you have at best a 1/3 chance to score from third, depending on who the next hitter is. This guy (no idea whether he is reputable) says the overall probability is 2.75 out of ten, which seems to make sense.

    http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/users/brooks/public_html/feda/datasets/expectedruns.html

    So if you have a 50-50 chance to score on the play at the plate, it’s worth sending the runner. With nobody out, it would be a different story of course.

    Lots can go wrong on a throw home — bad or late throw, mistaken cutoff, bad bounce, the catcher drops a good throw (that’s happened to us plenty), the ump makes a bad call (that can go either way of course). So challenging the defensive team to make a perfect play is a good choice if you’ve got a shot at scoring.

  7. Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 5, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    I remember Bryce called out at the plate was a bad call by the ump, not a bad send necessarily but it was criticized for the specific situation. Replay would’ve reversed the call. The criticism with that “send ” I think was there was only 1 out and Werth was on-deck. My memory could be faulty, I think situation has to dictate aggression.

    • Section 222 - Nov 5, 2013 at 11:44 AM

      No doubt the situation should influence aggressiveness, but it’s pretty hard to criticize a send if they guy was actually safe, regardless of the situation.

      I’m looking forward to hearing more detail, if they ever get their act together to release it, on how instant replay will work. Is the standard “incontrovertible evidence” like in the NFL? Just as recently as the World Series there were plays where the call was anything but clear, even on replay.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 5, 2013 at 11:47 AM

        I think the umps call takes precedence if video evidence is inconclusive.

      • Section 222 - Nov 5, 2013 at 11:53 AM

        That’s what I would think too, but I haven’t seen any official description of what the standard is — more likely than not, clear and convincing, conclusive, incontrovertible. And of course there is the whole question of positioning runners who stopped because of an out call, like on a trapped ball.

      • Jw - Nov 5, 2013 at 12:56 PM

        Just heard on MLB Network that they are dry-running replay during the AFL. Managers have unlimited challenges and are encouraged to use them.

      • ArVAFan - Nov 5, 2013 at 12:59 PM

        When I met with the umpire in August, that was one of the items that was still to be worked out between the players, MLB and the umpires (what happens if a call–any permissible call–is reversed). Home runs were easy in that regard: trapped vs. caught–not so much. I think I saw they were trying out the new system in the AFL for several days this week, with the umps in NY by video link (similar to NHL). Good way to do a trial run.

        I don’t remember him giving the exact standard for overturning the call, but he implied it was going to have to be pretty clearly incorrect to be overturned. Not surprising, since other sports go the same way.

        He also pointed on one failing in the system: no sound. Umpires depend on sound, especially for the call at first base (ball-in-glove vs. foot-on-base) and hit by pitch.

      • scbilly - Nov 5, 2013 at 3:52 PM

        I don’t understand why lack of sound would be a drawback for replay. In real time umps rely on sound because they can’t look two places at once. Shouldn’t be an issue when reviewing via video.

        My question is what happens to the neighborhood rule or plays like the one at home in the WS where the “tag” was applied via the shoulder instead of the glove holding the ball. Does it stay in the game anyway when replay will show what’s happening without a doubt?

  8. Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 5, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    I think aggressiveness can also be a mindset in personality. A manager must have a player’s back. Bryce had been a target and a manager must protect his player.

    I think instant replay will correct some of the Bryce bias but it still can’t be used in balls and strikes and check swings. It will balance the bad calls like the slide at home plate or a close call running out a single or called out at a base on a steal.

  9. David Proctor - Nov 5, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    For anyone looking for baseball, the Mesa Solar Sox are being televised on MLB Network tonight. That’s the team that has the Nats prospects. Brian Goodwin had quite a game last night. He was 2/4 with a 2 run homer and a stolen base. Matt Purke struggled.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 5, 2013 at 12:30 PM

      Thanks for the heads up! Good for Brian Goodwin but I hope the HR was on a compact swing and a line drive. The swinging for the fences and a longer swing is what got him in trouble last year. I liked the short swing he had in the AFL All Star game.

      What happened with Purke?

      • David Proctor - Nov 5, 2013 at 12:36 PM

        Purke just had a disastrous second inning with a lack of command. Loaded the bases, walked in a run, gave up a sac fly and then a single. Overall, he gave up 3 runs in 4 innings (all in that second inning).

  10. veejh - Nov 5, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    We’re finally gonna see some safety squeezes! Davey would never dream of safety squeezing someone in. I hated that.

  11. David Proctor - Nov 5, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    Also re: Goodwin, he’s played outstanding defense. He’s very smooth out there, like Denard Span, except with a much better arm.

  12. David Proctor - Nov 5, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    One more thing re: Goodwin (I should’ve just put all of this into one post), since you were asking Ghost. Here’s a little review of the game last night:

    “In his first at bat he worked a 3-2 count and even took a borderline strike on a 2-1 count that would have been called a ball by a good major league umpire, but the umpire at Hohokam stadium last night never even bothered to clean off the plate. How he knew where the strike zone was is a mystery to me. Goodwin’s second at bat is when he hit the homerun and again he worked ahead in the count, fouled off a couple tough close pitches with two strikes, and drove the ball out of the park over the 390 sign in right. It was a good compact swing getting the bat head to the ball quickly. The final Goodwin at bat I saw last evening ended with a ground out RBI, but it was again a professional at bat where he didn’t swing at bad pitches, fouled off tough pitches with two strikes, and eventually found a way to put the ball in play. ”

    And then about the defense:

    “Goodwin bailed him out on two occasions by running down line drives hit into the gap. Goodwin takes quick clean routes to the ball and looks like a natural in center field. Watching him play the position reminds me of how Denard Span plays. How they both know where the ball is going to be and take the shortest smoothest route to said point and end up waiting for a ball that off the bat looked and sounded like a hit. Goodwin made one final impressive defensive play with a reliever in the game when he came in on a fast sinking liner and grabbed it off his shoe tops at the last second. “

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 5, 2013 at 4:42 PM

      Good to hear and if you think Goodwin has a better arm than Span than he must have a good arm.

  13. jd - Nov 5, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    I also have a funny feeling that the Braves won’t be able to play target practice with Bryce Harper any more.

    • Section 222 - Nov 5, 2013 at 2:46 PM

      Yeah, cause look how Williams’ tough guy act intimidated the Nats in that beanball war in Arizona a few years ago.

  14. Section 222 - Nov 5, 2013 at 1:56 PM

    If you search “Nationals safety squeeze” on MLB.com you come up with just one play — from June 2011.

    http://wapc.mlb.com/play/?content_id=15657263&query=nationals%2Bsafety%2Bsqueeze

    I love me some safety squeezes, especially with the pitcher batting, and he gets on base anyway because the defender unsuccessfully tries to get the out at home.

  15. Section 222 - Nov 5, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    I’m not too worried about no sound on the first base calls. Umps use sound as a proxy for sight — because they can’t focus on the ball hitting the glove and the foot hitting the base at the same time. HBP may be another story, but that might be a call where the ump’s judgment will prevail unless it’s really clear there was no contact.

    I’m definitely in the pro-replay camp. I just wish this NFL inspired challenges thing wasn’t necessary. That adds an element of strategy that’s really shouldn’t be part of the game. Maybe after a year of it, they’ll go to a system where the league office signals the crew chief that the play is under review because the monitoring ump saw something and just reverse calls that were wrong on the spot.

  16. Section 222 - Nov 5, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    scbilly, I sure hope the “neighborhood play” becomes a relic of the past as a result of replAy. The question under the system they are using, I suppose, is whether managers will challenge these kinds of plays. Because if an unwritten rule develops to never challenge a neighborhood play, then they won’t get reversed. My guess is that really egregious neighborhood plays will get challenged, especially in late innings or when a run would score if there is no DP. At the same time umpires may not overlook the player turning the DP not being on bag for fear of being reversed if the call is challenged. So if they notice that he’s just in the neighborhood they will call the runner safe. That will lead to 2Bs and SSs not doing it as much.

    In my view that would be a good result. There is nothing that says that every grounder to second with a man on first has to be a double play, and no shame in just getting a forceout because you have to actually stay on the base until the ball gets there.

    The play at home is probably a little different. I doubt that anyone watching that WS collision in real time was able to tell that there was no tag. So it will probably go unchallenged. Anyone know whether a manager will have time to watch a replay before deciding whether to challenge?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 5, 2013 at 4:49 PM

      Good thoughts on the neighborhood play as those will be challengeable just like the ole ball beat the runner on a tag play could be a thing of the past and probably should be since different umps call it differently.

  17. David Proctor - Nov 5, 2013 at 4:57 PM

    I think it will become an unwritten rule among managers to not challenge the neighborhood play unless it’s egregious. Nobody wants their own players taken out.

    • Section 222 - Nov 5, 2013 at 5:03 PM

      We’ll see. If an egregious neighborhood play is permitted to killy a rally in the top of the ninth in a tie game, a manager will be under a lot of pressure to challenge, as they should be. The neighborhood play is stupid. People justify it as a safety measure, but that ignores the fact that you only need it if you think that teams deserve to always get double plays. They don’t.. If you can’t complete a DP with the runner bearing down on you, you eat the ball and get a forceout.

      • David Proctor - Nov 5, 2013 at 5:22 PM

        Well like I said, if it’s egregious, I think they’ll challenge it. But if it’s close or the player just barely misses the bag or something, I don’t think they’ll challenge it.

      • Section 222 - Nov 5, 2013 at 5:28 PM

        That’s probably right. If he just barely misses the bag, they might not even see it. Another reason that I don’t like the challenge system. The dugout is not the best vantage point for deciding whether to challenge. I’d still like to know whether there will be enough time for someone in the clubhouse or press box to see a replay before the manager decides whether to challenge.

  18. section109dc - Nov 5, 2013 at 5:27 PM

    Off topic, but I miss the spring training countdown clock. Any chance it will appear this year, Mark? Has anyone seen a countdown clock on another blog?

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2013 at 11:30 AM

      Well, there’s always the NIDO+

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