Williams: 'We're here to win'
The Nationals will keep most of their coaching staff intact despite a change in managers, a decision both Mike Rizzo and Matt Williams agreed upon, but they will have two new coaches in uniform next season, including one who will hold a brand-new position.
Matt LeCroy, who played for the Nationals in 2006 and has served as a manager in their farm system the last five years, will replace Jim Lett as bullpen coach. Mark Weidemaier, formerly a member of the Diamondbacks' front office, will be hired to serve as a seventh uniformed coach, coordinating the club's defensive positioning and advance scouting.
Weidemaier's hiring is particularly intriguing because it follows a recent trend in baseball to emphasize defensive positioning based on scouting and advanced stats. The Rays and Pirates were among the most notable clubs to employ regular infield shifts this season and wound up making the playoffs in part because of their strong defensive efficiency.
Williams, who was given the opportunity by Rizzo to make changes to his new staff, immediately requested the addition of Weidemaier, who helped Arizona become one of the game's better defensive teams.
"One of the reasons I wanted to bring Mark Weidemaier on board is that he is an expert at that," Williams said. "He has been an advance scout. He created all of our defensive advanced reports with Arizona, has scouted both leagues, spent 175 days of the 180 days of the season in a hotel room on the road, knows what he's doing. And I think that will help us be a better team."
Rizzo embraced the idea and approved the addition of a seventh coach to Williams' staff.
"That's one of the things he feels is very important: defensive alignment and advanced sabermetrics," the general manager said. "And this is a guy he feels brings a lot to the table. I've known him myself for 25 years, worked against him many times as an advanced scout, and he'll be great addition to the team."
The Nationals were charged with 107 errors this season, third-most in the NL. They were fourth-worst in the NL in defensive efficiency (converting batted balls into outs).
"We understand that it's a very fine line between 2 1/2 runs or 3 1/2 runs or 4 1/2 runs," Williams said. "It's a very fine line. But I do understand also that if we can cut one down at some point during that game, we have a much better chance of winning with the kind of club we've got. So that's important. That's going to be our focus as a coaching staff, and we'll let the players know certainly that we expect that to be a focus of theirs moving forward."
LeCroy will be on a big-league coaching staff for the first time in his career. The former catcher, first baseman and designated hitter was unfortunately best known in Washington for his abysmal performance behind the plate on May 25, 2006, when he surrendered six stolen bases to the Astros and had to be pulled in mid-inning, leaving manager Frank Robinson in tears after embarrassing one of his own players like that.
The highly popular and fun-loving LeCroy returned to the Nationals organization in 2009 as manager at low-Class A Hagerstown. After two years there, he managed high-Class A Potomac in 2010, then managed Class AA Harrisburg each of the last two seasons. He'll run the bullpen in Washington, replacing Lett, who had held that position since 2010.
The rest of Williams' staff will look exactly like Davey Johnson's staff at season's end: bench coach Randy Knorr, pitching coach Steve McCatty, hitting coach Rick Schu, first base coach Tony Tarasco and third base coach Trent Jewett.
Knorr's return is perhaps the most significant, considering the 44-year-old also interviewed for the manager's job and was the overwhelming choice of Nationals players to replace Johnson.
Williams, though, immediately reached out to Knorr upon getting the job and said he wanted him to stay and serve as his right-hand man, utilizing 10 years of institutional knowledge as a big-league coach and minor-league manager in the Nationals' system.
"I can't claim to know them or know this team as much as Randy does," Williams said. "So I'm going to lean on him. He's been kind enough to say: 'Lean on me. I believe in this franchise. I believe in this team. I believe in our chances. And I want to be here.' He doesn't have to be here [but] in our conversations he said he did. I trust that, and I love that fact. I am going to lean on him heavy."
In an impressive display of support, Knorr flew from his home in Florida to Washington to attend Williams' news conference on Friday. He'll also fly out to Arizona next week for extensive meetings with Williams on the Nationals' personnel and philosophy.
"It was a tough decision to come up today, because to me, this is his day and I didn't want to take anything away from that," Knorr said. "But he asked me to come up, and I'm his bench coach and I'll support him 100 percent."