David Huzzard: Masterful Johnson blends ingredients into a winner

A manager has something to do with winning, but whatever that is, it can’t be measured and it is not certain how much it matters. Only that it does. If the average person were given the finest ingredients in the world they could not produce a dish as excellent as a master chef, and that is what Davey Johnson is as a manager. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo gave Johnson the ingredients, but Johnson has worked them into a dish that has produced a 58-39 record 97 games into the season.

Johnson, an offensive manager much like his mentor, Earl Weaver, isn’t going to run himself out of an inning or give away too many outs with a sacrifice bunt. Coming into Wednesday’s action, the Nats had the fifth-fewest sacrifice bunt attempts in the National League. Johnson wants the Nationals to have every opportunity to score, and that is difficult to do when constantly giving opponents free outs.

The result is that, coming into Wednesday the Nationals have scored two or more runs in 111 of the 243 innings they’ve scored in - or, when the Nationals score, 45.6 percent of the time, it is a crooked number. The average NL team will put a crooked number on the board 43.9 percent of the time. That 1.7 percent might not look like much, but the Nats have scored in 27.9 percent of the innings they have played, putting them on pace to score in 163 of their remaining innings. That 1.7 percent difference is three innings of crooked numbers for at the least three extra runs over the remainder of the season. If those three runs don’t sound important, keep in mind the Nationals are 18-16 in one-run games, and tied with the Brewers for the most extra-inning games in the majors.

All those extra-inning games are taxing on a bullpen that ranked seventh in the majors with 299 innings pitched ahead of Wednesday’s action. It is important to look at how those innings are spread out. In past years under different managers, Tyler Clippard was routinely one of the most used relievers in baseball. In 2012, there are only two Nationals in the top 20 for innings in relief and they are long men Craig Stammen and Tom Gorzelanny. Johnson’s use of the bullpen might appear confusing if looked at on a per-game basis, but a good manager is trying to win the season and not every individual game. A loss in June or July where Davey avoided using Clippard or Sean Burnett to hold a one-run deficit might lead to two wins later in the season with those arms fresh.

Going back to early in the season, the Nats were not an offensive team. In April, they scored 3.36 runs a game, but Johnson didn’t panic and start managing small ball. He stuck to his belief of waiting for the three-run homer and has been rewarded as the Nationals have scored 4.57 runs a game in the 75 games since. The NL average for 2012 is 4.21 runs a game. So, since April, the Nationals have been a well above-average offensive team.

If there is wisdom in patience, then Johnson is a wise man. He suffered through April while the team struggled to score runs, waiting on players like Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman and any type of production from left field. Johnson was also waiting on a piece he wanted to take north with the team - one Bryce Harper, who since being called up to the majors has hit .268/.340/.443. Adding that type of presence to the lineup cannot be discounted, but the patience to stick with a struggling player like Danny Espinosa who hit .205/.300/.269 in April and since has hit .265/.328/.440 is just as important.

There are other impressive aspects to the way Johnson manages. When Werth went down with an injury, he mixed and matched, and worked platoons of players so well in the outfield it is hard to say who of Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina is being replaced in the lineup when Werth returns. There is also the fact that the Nationals are 25-14 in their division and have a winning percentage of .521 against teams .500 or better as July 25. How much Johnson deserves credit for those records is debatable, but what isn’t debatable is that under a lesser manager, the Nationals may still be a good team, but they wouldn’t be the class of the NL as they are under Johnson.

David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals for Citizens of Natstown, and offers his viewpoints as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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