The Washington Nationals have themselves a new manager, and his name is Matt Williams.
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported on Friday the team hired the third base coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks to replace Davey Johnson as manager. Per MLB, the Nationals cannot make the official announcement until after the World Series, but reports are pointing to Williams as the guy.
Source outlets reported the top two candidates for the job were Williams and Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr. Mike Axisa of CBS Sports reports Knorr is going to remain Washington’s bench coach under Williams’ staff.
Williams does have a connection to Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo. Rizzo served as the Director of Scouting for the Diamondbacks when Williams played there.
The Colorado Rockies considered the former 5-time All Star third baseman to replace Jim Tracy before the gig went to Walt Weiss. Williams finished runner up to Jeff Bagwell in 1994 NL MVP voting when he hit a league leading 43 home runs and came in 3rd in voting in 1999. He played in the World Series with the San Francisco Giants in 1989, Cleveland Indians in 1997 and was unsuccessful twice before finally going all the way with the Diamondbacks in 2001.
2014 is going to have to be a rebound year for the Nationals. Expectations were sky-high for this team going into the year. They finished with the best record in all of baseball in 2012 with a 98-64 record before bowing out to the St. Louis Cardinals in 5 games of the NLDS.
Just to show how much was expected of this team, ESPN.com published predictions of 43 analysts on March 30 to predict the winners of each division, the two wild cards and the World Series.
Out of those 43 predictions, only five people correctly predicted the Braves to win the NL East. Every other person who contributed to this picked the Nationals to take the divisional crown for the second year in a row. For the record, the five people who picked the Braves to win the East selected the Nationals as one of the two wild card winners.
In other words, every ESPN person in said report thought the Nationals would make the playoffs. 29 people thought the Nationals would represent the senior circuit in the World Series, and 16 of them had Washington winning the whole thing.
One of the big reasons is outfielder Bryce Harper injured his left knee by running into a wall at Dodger Stadium in May and then when the team started to get hot in September, the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year had left hip problems.
Baseball Reference lists the disappointing year the Nationals had in context. For a team picked by many to win the World Series, they were 1-23 in one run games and blew 32 leads. The problem with the 2013 Nationals is they were too little, too late. The club went 34-20 the final two months of the season, but found themselves under .500 for more than a month from July until August.
Still, there is some upside to this. The fact that they made a push for things late down the stretch shows they were not about to lay down and die. They definitely have a lot of power, as it’s always promising when five players in the lineup hit 20 or more home runs in a single season.
In terms of pitching, Jordan Zimmerman was their break out starter this year. He led the NL with 19 wins and 2 shutouts. He also had a WHIP of 1.088. Though the consensus is the award will go to Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw for the second time in three years, Zimmerman is bound to finish high in the NL Cy Young race, just as Gonzalez finished 3rd in 2012.
Don’t forget about Stephen Strasburg. Critics shouldn’t let that 8-9 record fool them. He has yet to pitch 200 innings in his career, which the team may need going forward, but he had a 1.049 WHIP and just like in 2012, came very close to striking out 200 batters.
Williams is walking into a franchise that is on the verge and is capable of making a deep October run. Let’s face it, nobody knows who is going to win the World Series in 2014. A healthy Nats team can definitely get into the mix of things. Maybe it’ll be somebody who made the playoffs this year, or perhaps a last place team in 2013 can come out of nowhere and reach the World Series like the Boston Red Sox have this year.
Going forward, with four seasons of coaching under his belt and a team on the rise, this move could turn out very well for the Nationals.