Matt Williams: pro-stats, pro-eyes, pro-everything

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LAKE BUENA VISTA — I’ll post some pictures and random thoughts about the Braves’ complex a little later, but for now let’s talk about Matt Williams.

Williams was a bit of an unknown quantity to most fans when he was hired as the Nats’ manager. One obviously knows of his playing career and one knows he coached in Arizona, but it was harder to get a read on his preferences and dispositions as a manager. Is he going to be one of the new breed of cerebral managers who puts a lot of stock in advanced metrics? Is he going to kick it old school? Inquiring minds want to know.

This morning during his media availability Williams was asked a lot about that. What are his go-to stats. How he feels about taking extra bases. Defensive shifts. That sort of stuff. His answers suggested that he is going to take every single piece of data, be it from the analytics department or his own gut, into account. He’ll leave nothing off the table.

For stats, he said that it depends largely on who the hitter is. He’ll look to on-base percentage for his leadoff hitters like Denard Span. For someone like Wilson Ramos batting average with runners in scoring position will matter more. For guys like Bryce Harper who, Williams says does everything well and “can take over a game,” it all matters but it’ll all probably take care of itself. For pitchers. he wants to see his strikeout guys striking guys out and guys who strike fewer batter out, normally speaking, to just get early outs. “Stats are good,” Williams said. “But feel is also good.”

I asked him about defensive shifts, and Williams said that there are “reams” of data out there and that it’s impossible to take it all in. That said, he’s going to do his best to try, and expects that he’ll have the Nats shifting more on defense this year than we’ve seen in the past while having his hitters do their best to take advantage of open holes presented by opponents’ shifts. But again, there are no absolutes. Not all pitchers can hit the spots necessary to force hitters to hit into the teeth of an extreme shift. Not all hitters have the bat control to poke it through the opposite side. Williams went back, again and again, to making sure that guys aren’t asked or expected to do things beyond their capabilities. That seems to be the common denominator for him.

So no, Williams is no extremist. No hardcore stathead but no old school curmudgeon either. Not that most managers are extremists about such things in comments during spring training. It’ll be interesting to watch his tendencies once the games start to matter, however. I can’t get any real read on what his predispositions will be once the enemy has been met and the battle plans are made obsolete.

Diamondbacks, T.J. McFarland avoid arbitration

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Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports reports that the Diamondbacks and reliever T.J. McFarland have avoided arbitration, agreeing on a $1.45 million salary for the 2019 season. McFarland, in his third of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $1.675 million while the Diamondbacks countered at $1.275 million. McFarland ended up settling for just under the midpoint of those two figures.

McFarland, 29, was terrific out of the bullpen for the D-Backs last season, finishing with a 2.00 ERA and a 42/22 K/BB ratio in 72 innings. While the lefty may not miss a lot of bats, he does induce quite a few grounders. His 67.9 percent ground ball rate last season was the third highest among relievers with at least 50 innings, trailing only Brad Ziegler (71.1%) and Scott Alexander (70.6%).

McFarland was dominant against left-handed hitters, limiting them to a .388 OPS last season, but the D-Backs deployed him nearly twice as often against right-handed hitters, who posted an aggregate .764 OPS against him. It will be interesting to see if the club decides to use him more as a platoon reliever in 2019.