Dave Martinez already broke new ground in Nationals’ managerial history by winning the World Series in 2019, but in 2021, he will again traverse new territory previously untrod by Nats’ managers: a fourth season on the job. Davey Johnson won Manager of the Year in 2012, Matt Williams won the award in 2014, and Dusty Baker became the first Nats’ manager to win back-to-back NL East titles in 2016 and 2017, but each of Martinez’s predecessors were let go before a fourth campaign (or third in the case of Williams and Baker).
Martinez figures to blow well past the three-year record previously held by Johnson, Jim Riggleman and Manny Acta. Martinez was given a contract extension last year, freeing him to take the long view in the development of his young players, including superstar Juan Soto, writes Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post. The Nationals – reactionary to disappointing playoff losses in the past – seem to have a new view under Martinez, weathering a difficult 2020 without missing a beat. They’ll enter 2021 expecting to contend, and Martinez will look to check another box off his list by winning an NL East title.
Part of his forward-thinking approach is mulling new ways to maximize production from his superstars Soto and Trea Turner. This season, the question is whether or not to move Turner from the leadoff spot, writes Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com. The Nationals don’t necessarily have another prime candidate to step into the top spot of the lineup, however. Martinez would like to try Victor Robles at the top of the order against southpaws, writes Zuckerman. Beyond a small sample size of success leading off, Robles has done little to prove himself a natural candidate as a table-setter. He owns a 5.3 percent career walk rate and a 36.7 percent first pitch swing percentage – a good deal more aggressive than the league average of 28.3 percent.
Viewing Turner as a middle-of-the-order bat is sound, however. Though he’s mostly known for being one of the fastest players in the game, Turner’s bat carries serious thunder: Turner boasts a .216 ISO and 130 wRC+ over the past two seasons. He’s performed 18 percent better than average with the bat for his career. Turner has largely been underrated in part because his most impressive performances have come in seasons cut short either because of a late promotion (2016), injury (2019) or the pandemic (2020). It was his return from injury that largely prompted the Nationals magical run in 2019, however, as Turner famously returned in May to hit .296/.352/.487 despite a broken finger. The Nationals are relying heavily on Turner to be the offensive superstar he was in 2020, when he was on pace for a 7+ fWAR season at a 162-game pace.