Washington Nationals: How Much Blame Does Davey Johnson Deserve?

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the inevitable became the reality as the Washington Nationals were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

If the season was played over the course of one game, you could say that the goat horns belong on Tanner Roark, who took his first major league loss after being lights out since he came up in August. Of course, Roark deserves very, very little blame for Washington’s disappointing season, if any at all.

This season was presumed to go very differently. Washington was supposed to pace the NL, win 98 games again, and perhaps even more with their new closer and leadoff hitter to balance out their lineup. Bryce Harper was going to run away with the NL MVP award, and Stephen Strasburg was going to dominate the NL Cy Young voting.

Manager Davey Johnson, who is retiring at the end of the season, was going to put a stamp on his first-ballot Hall-of-Fame resume and ride off into the sunset with a World Series win after not managing in over 10 years.

Well, none of that happened. Harper missed over a month with knee bursitis, and may still need surgery to remove the bursa sack from his knee. Strasburg missed a start, started off slow and will finish with half his 2012 win total, though his ERA is still very good and this will just be a blip on the radar. Johnson’s managerial decisions at times seemed questionable, and he’s not going to ride off very triumphantly this season.

So how much blame does Johnson deserve for this season?

Managers tend to get too much blame when a team loses, and not enough credit when their team wins. Johnson is a well-respected manager and quite possibly in the top five of the league’s all-time greatest managers. He’s guided four different franchises to the playoffs and has never finished lower than third place with any team he has managed.

Johnson also has the 10th-best winning percentage (.562) as a manager, and will without a doubt be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

Johnson does have his warts, however. He stands by players he likes almost to a fault. A great example of this is Danny Espinosa, who would have been demoted or placed on the DL a long time ago if he were on many other teams. Instead, Espinosa stuck in the Nationals’ starting lineup way too long, and contributed to Washington’s sporadic offense and subsequent down season greatly, mostly because of Johnson liking him so much.

Johnson also tends to take too long to make changes such as benching players or platooning players. When Anthony Rendon hit his rookie wall, that should have given Johnson the license to platoon him and Steve Lombardozzi.

Johnson is a great manager, and he has transformed the Nationals from baseball laughingstock to preseason World Series picks. His stamp will forever be on this franchise, and he does not deserve a lot of blame for Washington’s down year. Johnson cannot control injuries and ineffectiveness — he can only control his lineup card every day.

Remember Johnson for how good of a manager he was, and how much he did for this franchise; because if not for him, there is no magical 2012.

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