Riggleman Returns for 2011: Does It Matter?

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, October 27, 2010 | , , | 10 comments »

"Sometimes when the same person keeps giving the message, it starts to fall on deaf ears." -- Jim Riggleman, on his post-game meeting after a 6-5 loss to the Marlins on Sept. 11.

Photo by Cheryl Nichols/Nats News Network
In the grand scheme of things, does it matter?

The Washington Nationals officially announced yesterday that field manager Jim Riggleman would be retained for the 2011 season, fulfilling the final year of his two-year contract.  Basically, the Nats announced that they were not exercising their contractual option to buy out the second year of Riggleman's contract for a measly $100,000.

They are sticking with Riggs, at least to start next season.  There was no mention (nor even any whispers) of an extension, no organizational "vote of confidence" -- the press release didn't have a single quote in it at all.

Nothing.

Cheryl Nichols/Nats News Network
You know what else it didn't include?  Riggleman's record as a manager.

It mentions that he has managed parts of 11 Major League seasons, but no mention of his performance in those 11 seasons.

Let me lay it out for you:  In the past 100 years, no one has managed more games with a lower winning percentage than Nationals manager Jim Riggleman.  In 11 years, his winning percentage is .442.  How bad is that?  Based on a 162 game schedule, it's 71-91.

But how much does it really matter?

Nobody in their right mind thinks the Nats can contend next season.  There are still too many holes in the roster, not enough talent coming out of the minor leagues yet, not enough money from ownership to invest in multiple Major League players in positions of need.

Would a different manager be able to coax a few more wins out of the talent on hand next season?  Run differential said the Nats should have won 72 games last season instead of the 69 they ended up with.  Is Riggleman a three-win difference-maker?  Those types of things are very difficult to measure.

What we do know is that the Nats continue to be one of the worst defensive teams in the majors.  They are also one of the worst base running teams in the majors. 

And the team had discipline problems all season long, particularly from their center fielder, who started his melt-down with a glove-throwing incident turning a tough catch into an inside-the-park home run in June and ended with an eight game suspension for initiating contact with an unsuspecting catcher, inciting a brawl in Florida, and taunting fans on his way off the field WWE-style in September.

Cheryl Nichols/Nats News Network
Could some of Nyjer Morgan's antics been curbed early if Riggleman had disciplined him for the glove-spiking against the Orioles, as so many fans wished had happened?  Who knows?  But the Morgan drama was one that was allowed to linger all season long.  Do you think Tony LaRussa, who Riggleman respects so much, would have put up with that stuff?  Hardly.  He's running one of his best players out of town because he thinks he doesn't try hard enough.

Morgan once again led the league in caught stealing, yet Riggleman never put up a stop sign.  "That's Nyjer's game, I can't take that away from him," Riggs said after a loss to Florida when Morgan attempted to steal with two outs and the pitcher hitting behind him.

If the player has that little situational awareness, it is absolutely the manager's duty to make those decisions for him.

And what about the now-forgotten trip to the radio booth for Adam Dunn -- DURING a game?  Forget about potentially needing Dunn off the bench in the fourth inning or whatever it was.  Isn't it at least a little disrespectful to not even notify your manager that you're leaving the bench and riding up a public elevator during a game to talk to the opposing team's radio guy -- a conversation much more suited for around the batting cages during batting practice, than during the middle of a game?

Think Joe Torre would have let that fly?  Think if Matt Kemp left the bench to go say "hi" to Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, Torre wouldn't have benched Kemp for a month?

Cheryl Nichols/Nats News Network
How about the way Riggleman yanked Drew Storen around at the end of the season?  Complaints from starting pitchers about being lifted too early?  The constant tipping of the cap to opposing pitchers shutting down the vaunted Nationals offense?  The unnecessary double-swithcing, sacrificing and hit-and running?

If you want to look hard enough, there are things to quibble about with every manager; they all have their quirks.  Riggleman's stand out though because they feed into what are prolonged perceived problems with this organization:  poor fielding, poor base running and lack of accountability.

In the long run though, it really doesn't matter that much if Riggleman is manager for 2011.  They are a team that isn't going to compete for anything meaningful.  If the GM is the one that's ultimately in charge of young players getting playing time, there's no harm done.

But if the talent alone shows the progress that GM Mike Rizzo thinks it will, the team would do well to examine their options at the end of next season when Riggleman's contract expires.

10 comments

  1. Anonymous // October 29, 2010 at 10:54 AM  

    I'm not sure why my comments were deleted just because I was critical of you and thought that because of your admiration for Acta, you were overly-biased against Riggleman.

    First of all, I don't think Riggleman is the greatest manager, far from it. However, I think you are over-the-top in the criticism of him.

    I think you cherry pick your points. The Dunn situation was handled "internally." Lannan was the only starting pitcher(that I know of) who publicly criticized for taking him out to early. And if anything that's a bad reflection of Lannan, to be so disrespectful of authority. I'll agree with you the Nyjer situation(s) weren't handled the best, but he did discpline him which you omitted. You make it seem like the defense was his fault, we all knew that they had arguably the worst defensive outfield in the majors and Dunn/Desmond were defensive liabilties.

    While your technically correct about the press release not havign quotes, if you read the mlb.com, you'll see both Desmond and Rizzo praise the move. The latter calling him a "terrific manager." You might want to use that quote.

    The Joe Torre comment was a bit ironic to me because I've never considered him a discplinarian. Furthermore, he was in a similar place to Riggleman before taking the Yankees job. The New York tabloids derided the hire, as "Clueless Joe."

    And you talk about accountability. One of the major problems with Manny Acta according to Ben Goessling was that, he acted as if it was a 90-win team when they clearly weren't. When Riggs took over the first thing he did was preach fundamentals more as well as holding after-game meetings every game. According to Bill Ladson, Riggleman is the first manager to have credibility since Frank Robinson.

    Riggs saved the Nats for a historically bad season last year where they were being compared to expansion Mets. And he had a modest improvement this year over Acta's teams in 2008/09, where he finished dead last both times.

    And look at Manny in Cleveland, he had marginally better success with a better team in a better organization that has a reputation for great player development.

    Again is Riggs a great manager, NO, but he's not nearly as bad as you made it seem and an upgrade over Manny.

  2. Dave Nichols // October 31, 2010 at 2:59 AM  

    Anon, thanks for your comments. I apologize if your original comment did not post. I assure you I did not delete it. I do not censor comments for content, only for spam and profanity. Perhaps a problem with blogspot? either way, sory it did not post.

    as for your larger comments, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, and your entitled to respect the opinions of the others you've referenced. if you think Riggleman "saved" the Nats from anything last season, you're certainly entitled to think that.

    my opinion of Manny Acta has nothing to do with my opinion of Jim Riggleman. I do not share Riggleman's appreciation for "small ball", but that's immaterial. my other opinions stand on their own.

    again, thanks for commenting.

  3. Anonymous // November 1, 2010 at 1:07 AM  

    Thank you for your reply. I appreciate your opinion even we do differ. Also, I would like to apologize for mistakingly accusing of deleting my comments.

    First off, I would like to point out that the Nats did a lot better after Riggleman took over last year and culminated with a seven game winning streak to end the year and pretty good August. I don't think it's a coincidence that new blood as we saw this year in Baltimore and Chicago, reinvigorates clubs. He focused on fundamentals and held team meetings after every game, something the previous manager didn't do.

    I would like a little bit of clarity on a few things since this article is vastly anti-Riggleman and does not point out positive contributions he has made. As I've said before, I don't consider him an elite manager, but at the same time I believe he is a serviceable manager to guide this ship during a rebuilding period.

    It just seems on the surface from reading the article, you are writing a paper on why Riggleman is a bad manager and leaving out some crucial information to help your point.

    As I pointed out above, you omitted some key facts like the Dunn situation being handled internally as well as the fact Riggleman did bench Nyjer and hit him lower in the lineup as a result of his behavior (in addition to his performance). In addition to your bit about the press release being technically correct, you didn't point out the comments that either Desmond or Rizzo said, including the latter calling Riggleman a "terrific manager." Why isn't this being included in the article? It seems to me that you are not entirely presenting the facts and I think it would be great to see the whole picture. I believe failing to include these important pieces of information are misrepresenting the situation.

  4. Dave Nichols // November 1, 2010 at 12:36 PM  

    Anon, thanks for the follow-up.

    I wrote this piece to primarily ask the question if it matters who the manager for the 2011 season is. In it, I pointed out a few of the things that I disagreed with how the manager handled things. It wasn't intended to be a complete profile of the manager, including the good and the bad.

    As the author, I have the prerogative to form and present my opinions as I see fit, including the information I choose to present or dismiss.

    I did not see the article you mentioned quoting Rizzo, and I wasn't privy to the discussion, therefore I didn't mention it. I'm sure Rizzo said something to another reporter when asked about it. I just find it strange there wasn't any quote from him in the official press release.

    I don't share your opinion that Riggleman is a "serviceable" manager. His numbers say that he's lost more games in the amount he's managed than any other manager. That's a pretty damning statistic.

    I also completely disagree with many of his basic tenets of baseball strategy. "Making things happen" on the bases might be exciting for fans, but it has proven to be poor baseball strategy. And I think you give way too much credit for any success record-wise Riggleman has achieved. Judging his performance based on a seven-game winning streak in the last week of last season is faulty judgment, IMO. He's been given a roster that is many ways vastly superior to anything Frank Robinson or Manny Acta had to work with--the record should be better.

    As for omitting discipline for Dunn and Morgan...well, you'll have to prove to me there was any. The team said Dunn's situation was handled internally. That's not discipline. Morgan was moved into the 8th spot for a couple games, but never sat. That's not discipline. And it certainly didn't curtail his future action.

    Anyway, thanks for the debate. it's good to know someone is reading, even if they disagree with what I have to say.

  5. Dave Nichols // November 1, 2010 at 12:36 PM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  6. Anonymous // November 1, 2010 at 3:21 PM  

    You do have a right to argue the points you see "fit." However when you say things such as the "Complaints from starting pitchers about being lifted too early?" And there is only one starting pitcher listed, that is misrepresenting the facts. I could be wrong, but I don't think there is another starting pitcher who has gone on the record with similar complaints to Lannan. And like I said originally, IMO, that reflects more poorly on Lannan than the manager. You don't criticize your boss publicly, especially someone who is NOT that good like Lannan. I think it would've been nice likewise with the Dunn situation, had you disclosed the situation was handled "internally." He MIGHT have not been discplined but anyone with no background information on this matter, would assume the case was not handled at all.

    Here's the article on bringing Riggleman back from MLB.com with the quotes (http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20101026&content_id=15851746&vkey=news_was&c_id=was): ""I'm glad he gets to be a part of it for [at least] one more year," Desmond said. "It's good to know that next year he is going to be here. Coming into Spring Training next year, hopefully he has little bit of security. It's going to be good.'" -- AND -- "'He is a terrific baseball manager,' Rizzo said. 'He has great respect from his peers in this game. When the game starts, he is as good as anybody in the game. He has the respect in the clubhouse. He is a diligent worker and he is a loyal employee.'" Sounds like an endorsement to me. You could argue the sincerity of it, but I don't think Rizzo makes such a statement if he doesn't feel that way.

    On the Morgan situation where he did indeed sit out a game following the Cardinals incident, here is what Mike Rizzo said, "Whenever things like that happen -- we address a lot of things. We don't announce them. We don't talk about them. He's family, and we keep all of our family stuff in house." (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/nationalsjournal/2010/08/nyjer_morgan_has_his_say.html)

    Just out of curiousity, where do you stand on Rizzo? Isn't he supposed to be discplining players as GM especially off-field matters. He has continually praised Nyjer, even moreso than Riggleman.

    I agree with the exception of 2005 with the aging veterans, that Riggleman has a slightly better lineup. But that was the downfall of Manny, as I'm sure you know. Every year from 2007 to 2009, he had a better lineup, yet there was a inverse correlation in the lineup. The roster Riggleman has versus the one Manny left with is slightly better. It's still virtually the same heart of the order- Zimm, Dunn, Willingham(who Manny didn't use in many case in favor of Austin Kearns, who came with him to Cleveland). His main improvement was having Strasburg for a dozen starts, in the scheme of things, didn't really matter, the other starters were virtually the same, you could argue worse with Marquis. Had an upgraded bullpen with Capps and Storen too.

    They had an historically bad first half of 2009, that's just a fact, Manny was Captain of the ship for that. It wasn't only seven game winning streak to end the year, it was the consistent winning for that period of time in August.

  7. Dave Nichols // November 1, 2010 at 3:47 PM  

    The Nats went 13-17 in Sept/Oct 2009 (which includes the 7-game win streak to end the season), a .419 winning percentage (a 67-win pace) which is lower than Riggleman's lifetime win %, which as we both know by now is the lowest by anyone with as many games as he's managed.

    It's just a fallacy that the Nats played better, harder or smarter under Riggleman than they did for Acta. The distraction of the 7-game win streak clouds everyone's vision.

    also, Riggleman had a completely different bullpen than the one that was historically bad to start the season, which was even better still this season. the better bullpen is the reason the Nats won 11 more games this year than last, not anything that Riggleman did. And he'd probably tell you that too.

  8. Anonymous // November 1, 2010 at 4:03 PM  

    Well under your theory, Acta should have never gotten a second chance with the Indians. He had one of the lowest winning percentages in the history of MLB. Yet, he got offered not one but two jobs. Shows you how weak the market is. By the way, I think Manny Acta is a great guy, just not exactly major league managing material.

    You said the Nats were a "vastly superior" team roster-wise under Riggleman versus Acta. Yet, you only list the bullpen. There bullpen is decent don't get me wrong, but this isn't exactly the Yankees and Capps got out of a lot of close situations and Storen still has a learning curve. For the sake of argument ill give you the bullpen being "vastly superior" but I don't think anyone would argue he has a much better lineup or rotation. I also don't blame Riggs for Marquis.

    Also, I stated the seven game winning streak, but also mentioned their August. Anyway you slice, their second half of the year was much better than the first. That's what I was trying to prove more than anything.

    If teams records are supposed to correlate by how they are on paper, how do you explain the regression under Manny? He had one of thw worst lineups in MLB history in 2007 that was supposed to lose 100+ games and he got Manager of the Year votes for "overachieving." Than he has a two hundred loss years (I'm counting after he got fired for the second one) to begin the Nats Park tenure. Yet you continued to stand-behind him. Unless he starts winning in Cleveland, you can be sure, he'll be shown the door there.

    Again, I don't think Riggs is a great manager, just not nearly as bad as your portraying things. They have a better record after all. Aren't you supposed to win? I don't think Manny would've won as many games here as Riggs did this year, his Cleveland team was better than us and finished with a similar record. I believe Riggs is an upgrade from Manny.

  9. Dave Nichols // November 1, 2010 at 5:08 PM  

    Not for the sake of nothing, but Cleveland lost their CF (Sizemore), SS (Cabrera) and catcher (Santana) to season-ending injuries, severly hampering their record. But my article is not about the Cleveland Indians or Manny Acta.

    My article was about a few incidents this year and how the Nats manager, Jim Riggleman, handled some things and my opinion that since this team isn't going to compete for anything in 2011 that once 2012 comes around they should consider their options at manager when it it could matter greatly.

  10. Anonymous // November 1, 2010 at 5:20 PM  

    The reason I bring up Acta is I'm showing you the improvement from the lousy final year and a half of the Acta era, which have to be one of the worst stretches in MLB mangerial history. Also, pointing out his futility continued in Cleveland, where they were a game away from the World Series less than three years ago. In terms of injuries, those are just excuses, they are part of the game every team has them.

    We're in agreement though about Riggleman probably not lasting past 2011 in that this is a throw away year. If they felt confident about him, they probably would've excercised his option so he didn't feel like a lame duck. I personally think the Lerners are cheap and don't feel spending a lot of $$$ on a Bobby Valentine(like he'd probably want to come here). Unlike you I don't think they will realistically be competeting in 2012, more like 2013-14. They are more than a few puzzle pieces away from being competitive and too many question marks around.

    I still am bit curious who the other starting pitchers are who we're complaining about being taken out early besides Lannan? Since Lannan was the only cited one and you implied multiple pitchers by using a plural tense. It seems like speculation at best that they we're unhappy if you can't back it up with quote from atleast another starting pitcher.