I generally don't like to critique other people's writing in this space.  I do a lot of that in private, and it's a good way to make sure what I write is at least halfway relevant and up to date. 

But what's the point of having a blog -- especially one that describes itself as being "dedicated to the constructive criticism of the Washington Nationals" -- and not commenting when something grabs my attention?

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, as long as it's based on an educated, rational thought process.  There's room for anecdotal evidence and statistical analysis and to ignore one over the other is usually folly.

Today's column by Jason Reid in The Washington Post raises a question that has, to this date, been unasked and for good reason.  And quite frankly, I think Mr. Reid's conclusion and his methodology leave something to be desired.

Before we begin, Harper at Nationals Baseball also has a critique of Mr. Reid's work today.  You should read that piece too, because I generally agree with his points as well.

Mr. Reid asserts that the Washington Nationals organization should exercise the option on manager Jim Riggleman's contract, signaling "Riggleman’s importance to the future", before the season begins.  In his piece, Mr. Reid argues that "It’s not hard to manage with essentially a one-year deal. It’s downright impossible."

Mr. Reid provides no statistical evidence or analysis to back this statement up.  This is his opinion, though he offers it as if it is an incontrovertible fact.  He never once mentions Riggleman's career managerial record, other than to cherry-pick the Nats improvement in record from 2009 to 2010, as if that was all due to Riggleman's stewardship.

He goes on to cite the reasons he thinks the Nationals would be wise to exercise Riggleman's contract, including Riggleman's handling of the bullpen last season and the antiquated notion of the manager being "in control" of the clubhouse.

On the last point, Riggleman himself has gone on record stating his desire for the clubhouse to police itself.  He's just not that type of guy.  Yet Mr. Reid cites these qualities as reasons to give Riggleman a long-term deal.

The evidence shows that Riggleman is not a very good manager.  In 11 seasons, his lifetime winning percentage of .442 is equivalent to a 71-91 season.  In fact, his clubs have finished the season with a winning percentage higher than .469 in just two of those 11 seasons, neither of which happened as manager of the Nationals.

If the Nationals were a legitimate pennant contender this year, I might be inclined to agree with some of Mr. Reid's opinion.  But they are not.  The Nats will have had a successful season if they escape last place in the National League East.  If the starting pitching does not improve over last season, they might have a hard time matching their win total from last season.

No, this is not a team that needs to be extending anyone's contract on faith, feeling, or opinion.  A growing team -- all parts of it -- must be evaluated on its performance alone.  The players, the field manager, the general manager, the training staff, the public relations, the business managers -- every single one of them.

This ownership has proven a reluctance to change.  Remember, they didn't fire Jim Bowden -- he resigned.

If they want to retain Jim Riggleman, they are perfectly welcome to, but Riggleman should have to earn it.  There's no reason to do it now, other than the antiquated notion that a "lame duck" manager can't properly motivate his players; that he'll be tuned out otherwise. 

If any single player on a team that has lost 300-plus games over the last three years needs to be motivated to perform by the manager they should be removed from the roster TODAY, and that burden should fall on Mike Rizzo, not Jim Riggleman.

There will be plenty of time for contracts when the season is over, when any progress (or lack thereof) has been proven.  Picking up Riggleman's option before the season starts removes any flexibility Rizzo might have with respect to his field manager for 2012.

One last point on Mr. Reid's column, and this is the tricky one.  Granted, I may be more sensitive to others on this point, but I have to mention it, because it was the motivation for me to write this column in the first place.

Mr. Reid states, very clearly, why we should trust his opinion over anything else: 
"Unless you’ve spent significant time in baseball clubhouses, it’s impossible to understand the dynamic that exists among managers, coaches and players — especially on bad teams."
This, my friends, is elitist sports journalism at its worst. 

Mr. Reid may be a terrific writer.  He spent a lot of time on the D.C. NFL team's beat.  He's a respected journalist in D.C. and elsewhere.  Maybe because this is his first Nats column he left like he needed to let us know "he's been there".  He painstakingly cites the eight seasons he spent covering the Los Angeles Dodgers, including Riggleman's four seasons as bench coach.

In that case, maybe Mr. Reid should have done a little research about the Dodgers.  Walter O'Malley, long-time Dodgers owner, famously never gave out more than one-year contracts to his managers, Hall of Famers Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda. 

Worked pretty good for them.

14 comments

  1. David Lint // March 18, 2011 at 3:11 PM  

    Wonderfully written.

    Couldn't have said it better myself.

  2. kathymg // March 18, 2011 at 3:22 PM  

    Yes, but if the Nats don't keep Riggs, it immediately takes away one of my fave nick names I've given almost each member of the team that I shout out LOUD during each game..Zimmy! Desi! Pudge! Bernie! Mikey! and there was "Get him Riggs"! it simply won't be as much fun if they bring in a Smith, or Johnson. ;-) hope you guys are well!

  3. Anonymous // March 18, 2011 at 4:14 PM  

    I totally agree with you. Riggs isn't anything special and there is absolutely no reason to commit the team to having him as the manager next year. There is also something to be said for him to have to step it up in his "contract year." It looks to me like this is an attempt to honor that age old deplorable Washington press corps tradition of sucking up to those in power.

    The quality of the writing/coverage in the dead tree edition of the ComPost once again reaffirms my strategy of getting all of my Nats info from the Natmosphere. :)

  4. Dave Nichols // March 18, 2011 at 4:45 PM  

    thanks for all the comments.

    @anon, i stayed one step away from questioning Mr. Reid's motivation for writing the article. i think the question can be asked, but there should be more than mere opinion to back up the endorsement.

  5. Jimmy // March 18, 2011 at 5:24 PM  

    No! No! No! No! No! No! NO!
    Bring in Ron Sandberg, someone who will fit in with all the younger players and be in Washington for a very long time.

  6. Anonymous // March 18, 2011 at 5:35 PM  

    Notice the byline on Reid's column: Viera, Florida. Clearly his motivation for writing it was to get the Post to pick up the tab for an excursion down south for some sun, sand and golf. That he chose the least critical non-issue out of the many non-issues not swirling around the team this spring to write about should be reason enough for the Post to deny his expense report once he gets back to DC. While they're at it, they should dock his vacation balance too.

  7. Dave Nichols // March 18, 2011 at 6:05 PM  

    @Jimmy: if you're referring to Ryne Sandberg, Hall of Fame player and former manager in the Cubs organization, I endorse whole-heartedly.

  8. bdrube // March 18, 2011 at 6:12 PM  

    Hi Dave--that first anon was me (not the second though). I goofed when I went to save the message.

    Whatever the motivation that was a sad example of "journalism." Bring back Svrluga.

  9. sjm 308 // March 18, 2011 at 9:48 PM  

    Very nice read and thanks for the link to the 2nd article as well. While I am pleased that another writer from the Post has joined the fun and also think the more the Nationals are in the public eye the better, I do agree with you that there is no reason to commit. I loved the fact that Alston went year to year and was surprised to hear that LaSorda did the same.

    Keep up the great work.

    sjm

  10. BeltwayBoy // March 22, 2011 at 6:30 AM  

    I agree with you that we should wait and see how this goes during the season. Giving him a contract now is not the way to go, but I haven't spent significant time in a big league clubhouse .......

  11. Anonymous // March 23, 2011 at 9:48 AM  

    Dave,
    I agree with you he doesn't deserve an extension. That being said, I don't think your the most objective person on Riggleman. I only see the criticism from you, but surely he has to be doing something right to have a better record than your beloved Acta had the season and a half prior.

    I think if he does a good job, he should get that year picked up, but I don't see any reason to sign him to a long-term contract as he is not much in demand. He's better than Acta, but that's not saying much.

  12. Anonymous // March 23, 2011 at 10:15 AM  

    On multi-year contracts, Alston/Lasorda were in a different era where there was more "loyalty," from both the employee and management. Imagine if someone like Torre wasn't given an extension during the height of the Yankee run in the late 90s, I think he would've bolted. It's just a different time, there is not as much job security as there used to be.

  13. Dave Nichols // March 23, 2011 at 2:14 PM  

    @anon re: Riggs/Acta. on-field talent + appropriate managerial style = wins.

    i'm not willing to assume Nats ten game improvement from 2009 to 2010 was based solely on Riggleman's input as you seem to be.

    if the Nats gain another 10 games this season (which i highly suspect they will not), Riggs will get his extension. but to do it before the season starts, as Mr. Reid suggested, is folly, IMO.

  14. Anonymous // March 23, 2011 at 4:21 PM  

    Dave,
    I'm agreeing with you on not giving him an extension. I just think you had a built-in bias against him before Riggs even got the job. I only see negative commentaries on him from you. All I'm saying is for all the defending you did for Manny, you trash Riggs every chance you get. As I said I just don't think your objective on this subject.