Manager Jim Riggleman chafed today as a recent suggestion that he is a “small-ball manager,” a departure for someone who typically shies from publicly addressing media criticism. Riggleman defended his style as simply managing his roster as situations arise.
His thoughts, in response to a question by Nationals radio broadcaster Charlie Slowes, were long and impassioned. Here they are in full, followed by some stats and examples:
“It’s been brought to my attention by a couple people that there was some reference to me as ‘small-ball manager’ or whatever,” Riggleman said. “I can tell you that there’s no intention on my part except to manage the players I have. If I have players who can run, I want them to run. If I players who can’t run, I don’t want them to run. If I have players who need to put down a sac bunt, then that’s what we do. I love that kind of baseball, but I certainly love the home run, too.
“I absolutely know we are at the mid-point in the National League with sacrifice bunts. We bunt no more, no less than anybody else, really. Bunting and small ball, I’ve never used that phrase myself. You manage the game situation. If it calls for a bunt, you bunt. Most of the time our players bunt, they’re bunting on their own if it’s for a base hit.
“As this comes up, people try to make an issue out of it. It’s a little irritating because nobody has ever asked me about it. I understand it’s written about. But somebody who’s unenlightened about strategy of baseball chooses to put a label on you as a ‘small-ball manager,’ that’s just unfair. It’s ridiculous. As I see and look at numbers every day, I know the Philadelphia Phillies have a very powerful offense. They have the exact number of sac bunts as we do. The St. Louis Cardinals have the most of anybody. It’s ridiculous. It’s people trying to label someone in a negative manner.
“Quite often, it’s the other way. It’s people internally saying, ‘Let’s bunt a little more. Let’s run a little more.’ There was reference to Ian Desmond has a sore leg because he run too much early in the year. Which, I guess we can try to get Carl Lewis on the team and say, ‘Please don’t run.’ If you have talented people, you let them play.”
The Nationals have laid down 25 sacrifice bunts this season, which ties them for sixth in the National League. The NL average is 24. Of the Nationals’ 25 successful sac bunts, 13 have been by pitchers, 12 by position players. By comparison, the Phillies have used 24 successful sacrifice bunts, 14 by pitches and 10 by position players.
For perspective, the Marlins have used have used 10 sac bunts by position players, the Braves have used 13, and the Cardinals, the league leader in sac bunts under heavy-handed manager Tony LaRussa, have laid down 31 total sac bunts, 18 by position players.
At least one time this season, according to a Nationals source, Danny Espinosa used a sacrifice bunt on his own volition as the second hitter of the game while batting right-handed. In the dugout, Riggleman told Espinosa not use the tactic again, because he was too good a right-handed hitter to sacrifice himself so early in the game.
Three situations have come up recently that would test Riggleman’s “small-ball” tendencies. In the sixth inning Sunday, power-hitting catcher Wilson Ramos sacrifice bunted with runners on first and second with no outs. Riggleman explained afterward that Padres reliever Chad Qualls had a vicious, groundball-inducing sinker, and he wanted to avoid the double play.
In the same game, Riggleman eschewed a bunt in a situation some believed called for it, letting pinch-hitter Matt Stairs swing away with no outs and a runner on second while trailing by one in the eighth inning. The next day, he did the same thing with Laynce Nix at the plate. Since both Nix and Stairs and left-handed, Riggleman hoped they might ground to the right side and move the runner up, but he also wanted them to have a chance to score the run with a hit, without wasting an out.
The Nationals have attempted 60 stolen bases this season, fourth in the NL. Their 75-percent success rate is just above the league average of 73 percent, which suggests they are not stealing more or less than their ability to steal suggests they should.
Riggleman has taken his fair share of criticism in this comments section for some of his tactics. After hearing his thoughts, did he change your mind? Does he bunt and/or steal too much? Not enough? Discuss!