An Appreciation of Dusty Baker Through 18 Games
The 2012 Washington Nationals were 14-4 through their first 18 games before finishing the month of April at 14-8. It was the best start in the brief history of the Washington Nationals and everyone remembers how the 2012 regular season turned out. The Washington Nationals were the best team in baseball and the division race was never really all that close despite our mid-season fits of panic. 2016 is off to much the same start record wise but this is a very different Nationals team.
The early 2012 Washington Nationals struggled to score runs, and there best offensive weapon was the wild pitch. They were beating the teams they were supposed to beat like the 2016 Nationals but they were doing it because of great starting pitching and the other teams incompetence. John Ryan Murphy throwing away a bunt attempt that was heading foul was a bit of 2012 Nats leaking through but the Nats also scored five other runs in that game one of them being a ninth inning pinch hit home run by Bryce Harper. The 2012 Nationals were the twelfth ranked team in run production in the NL in the month of April. The 2016 Washington Nationals are currently eighth in the NL in runs scored per game. It's a slightly better offense and one that certainly looks to be scoring more because of their own skill than the 2012 team.
The 2016 Washington Nationals are also good at preventing runs. They have gotten stellar starting pitching and the defense has been much better than anytime in the past. It is hard to say how much of this is owed to Dusty Baker but my estimation would be it's a fair amount. Davey Johnson wasn't a preparation manager and Matt Williams talked about doing a lot of things but never really did them. So far in the 2016 season the Washington Nationals are showing up to games ready to play and not beating themselves with defensive errors. It is in these small but important things that show up over the course of a season that separates an experienced manager from one in over his head.
In 2014 Matt Williams was handed the keys to a Ferrari and asked to drive straight. Not much went wrong and he accomplished that task until the playoffs. Matt Williams big mistakes in 2014 came with dealing with Bryce Harper and as it would later turn out handing too much control over to Jayson Werth. Dusty Baker from the beginning has let it be known that he and he alone is in charge of the Washington Nationals clubhouse. It's hard to say how much of an impact this has on winning but I'd imagine it's much better to show up to a healthy working environment than the toxic one created by Matt Williams. Even in 2014 not everything was peaceful. There were unnamed veterans and Kevin Frandsen throwing Bryce Harper under the bus and questioning his position on the team. Bryce Harper's play has erased a lot of that but Dusty Baker has never even let the question arise as to who this team revolves around.
Dusty Baker doesn't manage by the book or by The Book. He has always done his own thing and he's been very successful doing it. His critics never bother to question themselves or their thinking and wonder how Dusty Baker has been so successful for so many years and with so many different teams. Seeing it up close it is apparent. Dusty Baker comes across as a players manager but is as strict and rule oriented as any hard nosed manager. His players buy in to scheduled days off, charting pitches, and whatever else they do to be prepared to play every day. This is the most focused and prepared Nationals team I've ever seen and the entire 25 man roster is involved on a weekly basis. Matt Williams was given the keys to a Ferrari and wrecked it. Dusty Baker has his critics and his flaws, but he at least knows how to drive stick.