The Nationals put Jim Riggleman on the phone today with members of the Nats' blogosphere - welcome to managing in the Internet age, Jim. Nice of the Nats to recognize the online world exists and afford the opportunity. We'll use some of the material gathered in a later post but today is for pontification and rambling and trying to make some sense of the hire. Here's what I came up with:
The past couple of days have been spent trying to get my arms around the whole Jim Riggleman thing. Good move or not? Bargain hire or proper hire? A guy who could be around a while or a space holder for a couple of years?
The conclusion I’ve reached is you could pick any of the above answers and come up with good reasons why it is correct.
I want to declare it a good thing. I like Riggleman and I’m on the record as saying I prefer good people over the opposite in any situation. If you have to bring in knuckleheads to win, I’d rather not.
Overall, Riggleman’s numbers don’t look great. For his career, he’s 139 games below the .500 mark. Of the 663 managers listed at baseball-reference.com, only 15 are as many or more below .500 and most of them were from the 1800s or the turn of the century (Manny Acta, by the way, is at -94 in less than three seasons).
But those numbers don’t really mean much. Riggleman mopped up in Seattle last year and Washington this year. That’ll mess with your numbers. How many really good teams did he have? You give him the Dodgers and Joe Torre the Nats, I’ll bet anything Riggleman wins more games. You give me the Dodgers and Torre the Nats, I’ll bet anything I win more games.
Tom Kelly is widely regarded as a pretty good manager. He went to postseason twice and won two World Series. For his career, he’s 105 games under .500.
Would anybody have gushed over Torre years into his career? No one talked about him as a potential Hall of Famer after his early stints. When he took over the Yankees, well, he became a lot better.
How about Terry Francona? Think managing the recent Red Sox team enhanced his rep a little over what it was with the earlier Phillies editions?
Retreads can work, if they have good players. If not, they’ll probably be out of a job again before too long.
What I think is a pretty good measure is this: Did they get the most out of what they had?
A good example of that came a couple of years ago with the Washington Capitals. They fired Glen Hanlon on Thanksgiving and brought in this minor league guy named Bruce Boudreau. Didn’t he end up as coach of the year? Hanlon wasn’t getting as much out of that team as was there, Boudreau got it all out of them and more.
You saw that a little with the Nats last year. Anyone with eyes could see they were a better team in the second half of the season. If you told me when Riggleman got the job he’d win 33 of the final 75 games, I would have taken that. Who wouldn’t after a 26-61 start?
Most believed the Nats would win 70-some games and I think a full year of Riggleman would have produced that.
But that’s not totally fair because Riggleman also had a different team than Manny Acta had, mostly because of Nyjer Morgan. Suppose Acta had Morgan, Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett all season. Would we be having this conversation today? Suppose Acta didn’t start the season with a bullpen put together from Toys R Us on Christmas Eve?
One argument I’ve heard and read this week bothers me. Riggleman was chosen over Bobby Valentine because the Nats are not ready to win just yet. When they are, you bring in a Valentine type.
Interesting. I disagree. The Nats over the next couple of seasons, we hope, will be developing the core of the team that will be ready to win at some point. This manager will get Stephen Strasburg’s major-league career started, Drew Storen’s major league career started. You hope most of the winning pieces show up in 2010 and 2011 to go with Ryan Zimmerman, Jesus Flores (stay healthy, huh?), Morgan, maybe Ian Desmond and a couple of others.
A bad manager can really mess up that process. A good manager can help speed up the process, even if it isn’t reflected in his record. If the Nationals are really within a few seasons of being ready to win, this manager could be the most important in their history.
That’s why I wrote earlier that hiring Riggleman just because he was cheaper than Valentine would be a very bad idea. The keys to the future are in this guy’s hands, not the next guy. It better be the right choice.