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Matt Williams: pro-stats, pro-eyes, pro-everything

Mar 4, 2014, 12:06 PM EDT

Matt Williams

LAKE BUENA VISTA — I’ll post some pictures and random thoughts about the Braves’ complex a little later, but for now let’s talk about Matt Williams.

Williams was a bit of an unknown quantity to most fans when he was hired as the Nats’ manager. One obviously knows of his playing career and one knows he coached in Arizona, but it was harder to get a read on his preferences and dispositions as a manager. Is he going to be one of the new breed of cerebral managers who puts a lot of stock in advanced metrics? Is he going to kick it old school? Inquiring minds want to know.

This morning during his media availability Williams was asked a lot about that. What are his go-to stats. How he feels about taking extra bases. Defensive shifts. That sort of stuff. His answers suggested that he is going to take every single piece of data, be it from the analytics department or his own gut, into account. He’ll leave nothing off the table.

For stats, he said that it depends largely on who the hitter is. He’ll look to on-base percentage for his leadoff hitters like Denard Span. For someone like Wilson Ramos batting average with runners in scoring position will matter more. For guys like Bryce Harper who, Williams says does everything well and “can take over a game,” it all matters but it’ll all probably take care of itself. For pitchers. he wants to see his strikeout guys striking guys out and guys who strike fewer batter out, normally speaking, to just get early outs. “Stats are good,” Williams said. “But feel is also good.”

I asked him about defensive shifts, and Williams said that there are “reams” of data out there and that it’s impossible to take it all in. That said, he’s going to do his best to try, and expects that he’ll have the Nats shifting more on defense this year than we’ve seen in the past while having his hitters do their best to take advantage of open holes presented by opponents’ shifts. But again, there are no absolutes. Not all pitchers can hit the spots necessary to force hitters to hit into the teeth of an extreme shift. Not all hitters have the bat control to poke it through the opposite side. Williams went back, again and again, to making sure that guys aren’t asked or expected to do things beyond their capabilities. That seems to be the common denominator for him.

So no, Williams is no extremist. No hardcore stathead but no old school curmudgeon either. Not that most managers are extremists about such things in comments during spring training. It’ll be interesting to watch his tendencies once the games start to matter, however. I can’t get any real read on what his predispositions will be once the enemy has been met and the battle plans are made obsolete.

  1. sportsdrenched - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:35 PM

    There is no place for level headedness and discernment in baseball. Matt Williams better shape up and become an extremist. I mean, what are are we supposed to talk about?

  2. karlkolchak - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:36 PM

    One thing I’ve noticed in the first few preseaon games is that the Nats are taking more advantage of their team speed. Their lack of aggressiveness on the basepaths last year under Johnson was maddening, especially early on when they weren’t scoring runs.

    • rdanie29 - Mar 4, 2014 at 1:45 PM

      Williams tended to be aggressive while coaching third in Arizona and it would be my guess that he will want his team to be aggressive now.

  3. paperlions - Mar 4, 2014 at 1:08 PM

    The best you can hope for is an open-minded manager that values all of the information that is available that can help his team win (whether it comes from guts, scouts, or nerdy dudes), and integrate it to the best of his ability to maximize team performance.

    • 18thstreet - Mar 4, 2014 at 7:32 PM

      Nah, the best you can hope for is to have those things happen, plus the utter humiliation of your least favorite team. Aim higher, Paper.

      • paperlions - Mar 5, 2014 at 10:18 AM

        Sure, sure…but I meant the best you can hope for with respect to your manager, not in general. But you are right, if Matheny uses such an approach and the Reds become a horrible team that would be pleasing to me (who my least favorite team is changes through time, right now, it is Cinci….reflecting respect of competition, I guess).

  4. themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 4, 2014 at 1:18 PM

    Paraphrasing Helmuth von Moltke while masquerading as a reporter are we (With a byline and everything)? that’s blogging the right way!
    And here’s another good one, from one of my fovorite poets –

    As a man sow, shall he reap. and I know that talk is cheap.
    But the heat of the battle is as sweet as the victory

    Bob Marley

  5. natstowngreg - Mar 4, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    I like what we’re hearing from Matt Williams. Thus far.

  6. 18thstreet - Mar 4, 2014 at 2:41 PM

    He’s a witch!

    • lazlosother - Mar 4, 2014 at 7:00 PM

      Well he does weigh as much as a bat.

  7. infieldhit - Mar 4, 2014 at 4:21 PM

    I feel like some managers (not necessarily Williams) will just give lip service to advanced stats, when really they’re like politicians who say “I believe in all of the above approach!” regarding energy sources, when they really don’t.

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