The Jerome Holtzman Award?

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Jayson Stark thinks that closers don’t already get enough phony glory due to their often meaningless, personalized stat, so he proposes a special award just for them:

It’s time for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to establish
a new award for relief pitchers. And if it were up to us, we’d call it
the Jerome Holtzman Award, in honor of the late, great Chicago
baseball-writing legend who invented the modern save rule

Stark’s argument in favor of it basically comes down to his belief that closers are somehow the “forgotten men” during awards season and that we need something special to recognize their accomplishments.

I actually think we have the opposite problem: because they have a special stat open only to them, the value of the closer has become so artificially inflated, both in financial terms and in terms of perceived value to winning ballgames, that their very existence has altered traditional baseball strategy.

As so many others have noted, modern managers routinely hold their best relievers out of the highest leverage situations because someone — maybe Tony La Russa — decided that it’s more important to put them in the game when there are no base runners and they have a three-run lead. Creating some new award to honor that interesting but by no means critical role would only make this worse.

Neat idea, Jayson, but as far as January-doldrum conversation starters go, I’ll take a half dozen more steroid arguments.

Nationals’ sell-off a vindication for Dusty Baker

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The Nationals threw in the towel on Tuesday, trading second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and 1B/OF Matt Adams to the Cardinals. The club also placed outfielder and soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper on revocable waivers but took him back. The Nats’ sell-off is a vindication for former manager Dusty Baker, let go after the Nationals failed to advance past the NLDS for a second straight year.

Baker had roughly the same team current manager Dave Martinez did. It was arguably worse, considering he never wrote Juan Soto‘s name on the lineup card. The 2018 squad, sans Baker, has been marked by mutiny and underachievement. While failing to reach the NLCS in Baker’s two years was disappointing, he took them to Game 5 in the NLDS both years as well as 95 and 97 regular season wins. Right now, Martinez’s squad has a winning percentage more than 100 points lower than Baker’s last year. They’re on pace to go 80-82, which would be their first sub-.500 season since 2011.

Baker has always had an undeserved bad rap. He was, correctly, blamed for the Cubs’ demise, due somewhat to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior falling apart, ostensibly from overuse. However, after his stint in Chicago, Baker took the lowly Reds from the bottom of the NL Central to the top in two years between 2008-10. Then he took the Nationals, which had won a meager 83 games in 2015 and had made the playoffs just twice since moving from Montreal, to two consecutive NLDS Game 5’s.

Not much changed from 2017 to ’18. Martinez inherited Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Michael Taylor, Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy, Matt Wieters, Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Shawn Kelley, and Koda Glover, among others. But for one reason or another — injuries, admittedly, make up one reason — almost all of these players are having worse years under Martinez than under Baker. Describing the 2018 team to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Baker said, “They’re together, but they’re separate.”

Is it strictly Baker that would make the difference? No, of course not. But the Nationals organization seems unwilling or unable to address issues that may extend into the front office. The Nats seem happy to go through a new manager every couple of years and hope that fixes all that ails them. Since Frank Robinson’s five years at the helm from 2002-06, Manny Acta managed two and a half years, Jim Riggleman one and a half, Davey Johnson two, Matt Williams two, Baker two. Maybe the problem was never the manager. Perhaps the problem is the Lerner family and Mike Rizzo.