MLB: Texas Rangers at Tampa Bay Rays

Is Ron Washington a good manager? His 611 – 524 career record suggests yes, he’s pretty good. He claimed consecutive AL pennants for the Texas Rangers in 2010 and 2011. Of course, the Rangers fielded some very strong clubs those years, with MVP performers and excellent players around the diamond.

And if we’re dolling out credit to their manager for succeeding, we should probably offer some scorn in equal dose. It was, of course, Ron Washington who oversaw the Game Six collapse against the Cardinals as the Rangers went from one out from a World Series title to Game Seven losers.

The same manager who watched his 2012 club – the one that began the season with “best team ever?” hype – fold up like a lawn chair down the stretch, losing the division lead to Oakland on the final day of the season. The Rangers spent more than 180 days in first place that season. The only day they looked up in standings? The final one. The one that matters most.

2013 was not much different. The Rangers sat with a 97% chance of making the playoffs on August 31st, according to CoolStandings.com. They held a two-game lead over Oakland in the AL West as the calendar turned to September, only to miss out on the playoffs completely.

It’s the manager’s lot in life – they receive undue praise and too much blame. Ron Washington gets more than his share of flack but he gets the one thing that really matters: job security. In the face of growing criticism, the Rangers extended the contract of their field boss through the 2015 season.

The new deal for Wash comes hot on the heels of a mini-controversy that arose from Rangers camp in Arizona. Controversy probably isn’t the correct term but hey, it’s Spring Training. Washington was asked about bunting and his great love of the sacrifice bunt and it seems he’s heard just about enough from your fancy stat machines.

“I think if they try to do that, they’re going to be telling me how to [bleep] manage. That’s the way I answer that [bleep] question. They can take the analytics on that and shove it up their [bleep][bleep].”

Mike Scioscia dropped 56 sacrifice bunts on his club, the most in the league, and he’s a genius. But Ron Washington dropped 53 and he’s bunting too much? You can take that analytics and shove it.

Washington went on to say that many of his young hitters (such as Elvis Andrus, Leonys Martin, and Jurickson Profar) will be instructed to bunt this year. Wash believes “the percentages for me in that situation go up by them squaring and bunting it rather than me allowing them to swing.”

Frankly, there is a lot to unpack in these quotes. First takeaway: Ron Washington is awesome. Second takeaway: Ron Washington’s beef with his perception probably isn’t offbase.

There isn’t really any need to point out the gory mathematical details in Washington’s statements. Yes, sacrifice bunts slightly lower your probability of scoring. It gives away a precious out. Mostly the old truism “if you play for one run, that’s what you’ll get” is a truism for a reason.

Ron Washington should probably know this stuff but it doesn’t really matter. The Rangers front office is full of smart people. If they don’t think it matters enough to sit down their manager and have a friendly chat about free outs, then it probably doesn’t matter to the Texas Rangers and is therefore not a concern of Ron Washington’s.

It is worth considering the low conversion rate of Washington’s bunts, particularly in the post-season.

Date Series Gm# Batter Opp Pitcher Score StSc BOP Inn RoB Out
2010-10-15 ALCS 1 Elvis Andrus NYY Mariano Rivera down 6-5 -1 1 Out b9 1– 0
2010-10-16 ALCS 2 Ian Kinsler NYY Phil Hughes ahead 0-3 3 6 Out b3 -2- 0
2010-10-19 ALCS 4 Mitch Moreland @NYY A.J. Burnett down 1-0 -1 9 Out t3 12- 0
2010-10-28 WS 2 C.J. Wilson @SFG Matt Cain tied 0-0 0 9 Out t3 1– 1
2011-10-01 ALDS 2 Craig Gentry TBR Jake McGee ahead 3-5 2 8 Out b6 12- 0
2011-10-11 ALCS 3 Elvis Andrus @DET Doug Fister down 2-1 -1 2 Out t6 1– 0
2011-10-19 WS 1 Elvis Andrus @STL Chris Carpenter tied 2-2 0 2 Out t6 1– 0
2011-10-28 WS 7 Matt Harrison @STL Chris Carpenter tied 2-2 0 9 Out t2 1– 1
2011-10-28 WS 7 Elvis Andrus @STL Chris Carpenter down 3-2 -1 2 Out t5 1– 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/25/2014.

The devil is always in the details.

  • Ron Washington bunted three times in the 2011 World Series, twice with Elvis Andrus, his number two hitter. The Rangers scored a grand total of zero runs off these bunts, losing the game each time.
  • The Rangers bunted down one in the ALCS that year, again with Elvis Andrus. They did not score and lost the game.
  • The Rangers bunted up two in the ALDS that year, this time with Craig Gentry. They scored twice and won the game.
  • The Rangers bunted three times in the 2010 ALCS. They failed to score twice but pushed across two runs in Game Four against a wild A.J. Burnett.

Ron Washington probably doesn’t remember these events this way. Perhaps Ron Washington should blame the guy who sets the Texas Rangers batting order for his constant bunt calls. That guy insists on hitting Elvis Andrus second all the time. That doesn’t seem like a good use of assets, but hey. Pinning the World Series losses on the manager’s love of bunts might be fun but it isn’t an accurate record of how things went down. It does look funny, however, watching them futilely try to generate offense time and time again.

So Wash bunts too much and he bunts ineffectively. Big deal. He certainly isn’t the only one, even if he is the most frequent transgressor against the Society for No More Free Outs. The second part of his comment, the Mike Scioscia part, now that’s interesting.

In a lot of ways, I don’t think the Rangers field boss since 2007 is off base here. Ron Washington gets a lot of stick because…Ron Washington looks and acts a certain way. His reputation precedes him and it sets him up for scrutiny he might not deserves.

That he mentions Mike Scioscia is interesting, too. I don’t think many folks regard Mike Scioscia as a “genius” anymore. Ron Washington received Manager of the Year award votes in each of the last five seasons, finishing second in 2010 and third in 2011. The Angels tactile wizard and the godfather of Scioscialism won the award in 2009 but garnered a just a single vote since then. But there is no doubting the difference in the perception of these two baseball men among fans and TV talking heads. How much of that perception gap goes beyond the difference in their respective demeanors?

Being a manager is tough, as we said above. The Rangers believe in Wash’s abilities as a leader and as an ally to the players. When announcing the contract extension, GM Jon Daniels made it very clear what parts of Ron Washington’s skill set the team values most.

He’s everything you look for in a leader. At the end of the day, players take on the personality of the manager and he’s got the a positive attitude that we are going to do things the right way and get things done.

And love him the players do. Wash might fall victim to favoring veterans too often or turning his back on a player like Koji Uehara too soon (which is insane and might be grounds for dismissal all on its own) but the players believe in him. When the Rangers faltered in back to back seasons, it didn’t appear to be because of a lack of effort.

If the team wanted Ron Washington to manage the club differently, they’d ask. If the Rangers weren’t happy with the in-game execution, they’d make a change. If Jon Daniels sweat those World Series bunts that went for naught, he’d let somebody know. Instead Texas opts to keep their beloved leader around for another two years. If the new-look Rangers struggle this year, will Wash be the one to blame?

The front office equipped their the tools to compete. They are probably bright enough to recognize the success of the team hinges more on the players producing rather than the manager pulling the right levers. Because goodness knows Wash will keep pushing the same tried-and-true buttons, eagerly awaiting a different outcome.