Earl Weaver, Davey Johnson, and the Washington Nationals
Eight of Davey Johnson's thirteen seasons as a player were spent in Baltimore and four and a half of those were spent under manager Earl Weaver. The world of baseball received sad news this morning that Earl Weaver had passed away, but his legacy lives on. Earl Weaver was not a big believer in the strategy of stealing bases or sacrifice bunting, or more importantly he wasn't in favor of giving away outs. In more than a few ways Earl Weaver was the first sabermetrician.
When most people think of sabermetrics they think of numbers and stats, but it is the concepts that are far more important than the math that proves them. Earl Weaver understood the value of an out in a time when not many other managers did. The game of baseball owes a lot to Earl Weaver, and with Davey Johnson as their manager there might not be a team built in more of an Earl Weaver manner than the Washington Nationals.
To understand the importance of an out or avoiding them vs. other philosophies let's look simply at the standings. Of the teams with the five highest OBP in the NL; St. Louis, Colorado, Arizona, San Francisco, and Milwaukee four of them finished .500 or better, two made the playoffs, and four finished in the top five in runs scored with Washington displacing San Francisco for fifth in runs scored, but the Nationals did finish sixth in the NL in OBP. While there is a direct correlation between runs scored and OBP there isn't one in stolen bases.
The five teams that successfully stole the most bases in the NL were Milwaukee, San Diego, Miami, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. Two of those teams were very good OBP teams, but the three that were not in Philadelphia, San Diego, and Miami were ranked eighth tenth, and fifteenth in runs scored. With such a scatter shot difference between the number of steals and the number of runs scored it can be concluded that there is not a correlation between scoring runs and stealing bases.
That is because getting on base and not making an out comes with more benefits than stealing a base. When a base is stolen the man who was already on base has simply moved up one base. It is far more beneficial and helpful in the pursuit of run scoring for a batter who was not on base to reach base than for one that was already on base to move up 90 feet. Sure the man that steals second from first has put the team in far less danger of a double play occurring and can now score on a single, but he was already on base to begin with. The batter that reaches base has passed the torch to another batter who can then drive him in or reach base himself. In the most basic terms a stolen base has little impact on how many batters a pitcher has to face that any whereas additional base runners do.
The Washington Nationals were the sixth best team in the NL in 2012 at reaching base and the second best at hitting the ball out of the yard. Hitting for power, like getting on base, has a direct correlation to runs scored. The top five SLG teams in the NL in 2012 were basically the same as the top five OBP teams with Washington displacing San Francisco. Reaching base and getting driven in through extra base hits scores runs. That seems simple enough, but yet some managers mess it up. Some managers get confused with a batter reaches base. They believe they have to do something with the runner. Davey Johnson, like Earl Weaver, doesn't like to do things with his runners.
In the NL the pitcher bats and often times it is a good strategy for the pitcher to bunt as they are very close to an automatic out. So being that Davey Johnson is an NL manager he can't completely avoid buntings. The league average for sacrifice bunts in the AL is 50 as opposed to 90 in the NL. Davey Johnson attempted a sacrifice bunt 71 times. This was second lowest in the NL ahead of only the Cubs, who had far fewer runners on base. Like Earl Weaver, Davey Johnson, doesn't sac bunt.
The Nationals as a team are built for pitching, defense, and the three run homer. It is easy to project 20 or more homers for six or seven members of the Nats line-up with the lone exceptions being Kurt Suzuki and Denard Span. But Span is a career .359 OBP leadoff hitter and while he doesn't steal a lot that is perfect for the Weaver way of baseball. Span's main job is to get on base and get driven in by Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, or Adam LaRoche. The Nationals are also built to play defense with plus defenders at every position, and especially up the middle with Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and Denard Span.
As far as the final component of pitching goes there is no part of the Nationals team that is more discussed and more highly rated than their starting pitchers. Before the 2013 season comes to an end the rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren, and Ross Detwiler could go down in history as one of the best ever. Pitching, defense, and waiting for the three run homer. That is the Nationals, that is Davey Johnson, and that is Earl Weaver baseball.