Winter Meetings interview with Matt Williams
Q. What's this experience been like, your first time through it as a skipper?
MATT WILLIAMS: It's been good. Getting to know ‑‑ I've been to the Winter Meetings before, but as an advisor, in that role. So to get to know everybody, one, because I don't know everybody, within the organization, all the scouts. It's been great to get to know those guys. Look at the team, put the team on a board and look at all of the different ways we could go about fielding that team, winning and all that stuff. It's been a lot of fun. I've enjoyed it.
Q. What is the work like for you this winter, is it learning the team? Are you formulating ideas about lineups or ideas about ‑‑ what's a day‑to‑day workday for you right now?
MATT WILLIAMS: Well, it's been a couple of times back to DC, certainly, to do some things representing the club. But from an everyday work standpoint, we're about 25 days into Spring Training right now, in putting those schedules together. Again, it's one thing to put them together, it's another thing to man them and to staff them.
So we're talking about staff. We're talking about who's going to be there. Certainly the players that potentially could be there, the guys that we know are going to be there. And how we work through Spring Training to get them prepared for opening day. It's been fun. Weekly conference calls with the coaching staff, getting everybody's thoughts on all the players, what we can and can't do differently, and what we can do to win. It's been fun.
Q. How detailed do you get in that? Do you form BP on February 29th?
MATT WILLIAMS: Yeah, from early work through the end of the day. It's a fun part of that. I believe that if you're prepared, then things happen organically and naturally for your club. That's what we plan to do.
Q. At this point how much have you reached out to players, how much have you made that an emphasis or are you worried about that aspect of it when you get to spring and get to put faces together?
MATT WILLIAMS: It will all be done before we get to Spring Training. I've talked to seven or eight of the guys so far. I saw Ryan Zimmerman while I was in DC, Adam LaRoche was there. I got a chance to speak to him, sit down with him. Spoke with Ian. We've got a bunch of new babies, so those guys are busy. A lot of guys are busy, so sending texts back and forth, as of right now, let them get their feet wet and do the honey‑do's at home. We'll get to everybody before we get to Spring Training. Even to the point of sending them schedules.
Q. No in‑person meetings with the Florida‑based guys, have you seen them at all this week?
MATT WILLIAMS: No, I spoke to Ian, and saw Ian at the press conference. I spent an hour with him, which was good. And ‑‑ which was fun. He is shaggy right now (laughter), which is a good thing.
Q. As you talk to coaches and people in the organization and learn more about it, has your perception of anything changed? What have you learned that you didn't know?
MATT WILLIAMS: Well, you really don't know unless you know, right? So that's part of the process. So what I've learned is that this organization is very concerned with winning. There are high expectations, and we all embrace that. You don't get those high expectations unless you have a team that's willing to fulfill them or capable of fulfilling them.
So all those things and all the pressure that comes along with that is good. We're embracing that and I'm excited about that. I've learned that they're meticulous in the way they go about planning. And we've had good dialogue, really good dialogue in the last couple of days, and in the suite and amongst the scouts and everybody involved, on potential players and what we could and couldn't do. It's been fun. It's been good.
Q. Is your level of input in those talks what you imagined it would be like as a manager?
MATT WILLIAMS: Yeah.
Q. Or it's new territory for you?
MATT WILLIAMS: Well, it's new because I've never really been the manager that was able to speak in that regard. But it's been great. My opinion is asked. They ask my opinion. They want to know what I think. They want to know how I would have that player play within the team concept. They want to get any thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses and what they can and can't do. All of those things are important.
It is a collective effort, though, I'll tell you that. Rizz takes advice from a lot of people, digests it, processes it, and makes sure that he makes the right decision. And he's done a wonderful job of that.
MATT WILLIAMS: Just that this club is very talented, certainly. And they're a little disappointed in how things went last year, especially. And again, two years ago, winning more games than anyone else and not making it to where they wanted to get to is disappointing.
But they're even more disappointed in what happened last year. They want to make amends for that. They want to make sure that doesn't happen again. And that's the players talking, which is great. So you sit there as the manager, man, these guys are on it. They're ready to go. They are itching to get back and start and all of those things. We're going to have to do things right next year, and all of that, to play well. But they're looking to get back, which is a really good sign.
Q. You talk about your conversations with Rizz when it comes to what the team might need to do. When he comes to you and says what areas of the roster do you want to see us improve, what do you see, what are the kind of the areas that you want to see addressed going forward maybe?
MATT WILLIAMS: Well, I can look at the stats and say, you know, what everybody else has said. One, we have to be better than 13th in the League in defense. We have the ability to be better than that, much better than that. So that's something that we want to address.
There's a lot of factors that go into that, of course, but it's something that we want to make emphasis on. We want to get to spring and say here's the plan, let's try to go execute that plan.
Offensive efficiency has been talked about a million times, but it's true. Rick Schu is very in tune with that and he's excited to get back to Spring Training. He had a half a year with these guys, and they made great improvement. But he's excited about that prospect, and scoring some more runs.
We know with the pitching staff and what we had last year, and certainly the addition of Doug Fister, it even comes into play more this year, score three runs a game, you have a really good chance. We have to concentrate on that kind of stuff. We've got some fellows with some speed, and we can use that as well. Those are the areas that we want to look at a little bit closer.
Certainly do everything else that we thought of, that every team thinks of in Spring Training, getting their starters prepared, look at the bullpen, make sure we've got guys in place, knowing roles, all of those things. But those three areas, in particular, I think we can concentrate on a little bit more.
MATT WILLIAMS: You know, I think if you look at his numbers, they stack with anybody, they really do. Top 10, 15 in baseball. And we're glad to have him. He pounds the strike zone, he induces a lot of ground balls, which leads to our defensive preparation. And, again, quietly stacks against anybody, just about. So we're happy to have him. It was a great acquisition.
Q. Did you know anything about him before?
MATT WILLIAMS: Just playing against him, I got a chance with the Diamondbacks, over the last years we played. I saw him pitch on television and all that. We're glad to have him, he's a good pitcher.
Q. You said you're going to be an aggressive manager?
MATT WILLIAMS: Yeah.
Q. Teams don't have a book on things you do, tendencies, styles, how far of an advantage will that be early on, if at all?
MATT WILLIAMS: I don't know. I think ‑‑ I'm not so concerned about that. What I'm concerned about is using guys' talents the way they want to be used. So if we have a guy that can steal 20 bases, we want to try to take advantage of that. We want to let him have that opportunity.
That's what I mean by being aggressive, that's what I mean. It's not, listen, when we get on first, we're going to go. That's ludicrous and that's not something that you want to do as a manager.
But we want to let guys use their talent. So that being said, aggression comes from not only offense, but defense, as well. We want to put pressure on the opposing team from a defensive standpoint, too. We have good pitchers. Certainly a fantastic starting rotation and we want to put pressure defensively, as well. It's just a question of knowing your guys. That's what I'm concentrating on now.
Q. How does McLouth help you defensively?
MATT WILLIAMS: Well, it's interesting. Nate has been an everyday player, right? So the challenge for me is going to be to get Nate at‑bats. You look at outfield and you go, where does that fit? Jason needs some days. We saw it a little bit last year, especially as they got toward the end of the season and they were really in the hunt and they could make the playoffs and all that. Guys were playing on one leg.
So I want to certainly give Jason some days, let him rest his legs. The way ‑‑ the way he plays the game, he plays so hard, there's going to be times he's going to get nicked and banged. So Nate can fill there. He can play all three outfield positions. So I'm able to give Denard days off, as well, which is needed in the course of the season.
Of course you want to run your guys out there and you want to win games and all that. But I have to be mindful of the fact that these guys need rest, too. So can he get 350 at‑bats? Yeah, if we do it correctly. And he can be a great asset to the club. He brings speed, defensive prowess, he brings a little bit of power to the equation. He's a guy that we can insert in the lineup in a starting role, and also come off the bench and be effective.
Q. Three of your guys had surgery?
MATT WILLIAMS: Yeah.
Q. Are they still on track, and Stephen, for example, would he still be a full go?
MATT WILLIAMS: Yeah, his rehab is going phenomenal. Everything checks out from a medical standpoint. He is ready to go day 1 Spring Training full bore. Bryce will be the same. I talked with Adam before he left for the USO tour. He's been in the woods pulling back his bow, so his elbow is in good shape.
Everybody will be good. The good thing about the offseason surgeries this year, is they were cleanup surgeries, they weren't major surgeries. So it's stuff that is easily rehabbed and they should be ready.
Q. At the end of the season the lineup looked a little different than it had earlier in the year. Do you envision as you think about this, that being your lineup or do you see some different things you'd like to do yourself?
MATT WILLIAMS: I want to make sure that I understand where guys do well and what they do well. Not necessarily stating the lineup at this point. I want to put Bryce in a position that he can steal a base if he wants to. Where is that? It could be a number of places.
I want to make sure that my guys that are in the middle of the lineup are comfortable in the middle of the lineup and they stay there for the majority of the time. But you have things that you can do to stack against a certain pitcher or what have you. But for the most part I want my guys to be in the position where they're comfortable, one, it's stable to them and they can play the game.
So to answer your question, but not answer it, would I like to have my three or four or five guys all year? Yes. I understand that's not going to be the case. But that's the plan, something of that nature.
Q. Touching off of that, do you have an idea of a lineup in your head right now, one that you envision?
MATT WILLIAMS: My pitcher is going to hit 9th, I know that. I know that much. Certainly you don't argue with Denard leading off. We think of him in that role. We have multiple options in the two hole, with the guys ‑‑ with the middle of the infield guys, certainly, either one of them. We've got the ability to have a couple of big, hairy guys, no pun intended, in the middle of the lineup, without naming names. We can stack lefty, righty, if that gives you any indication how something like that may work. So there's lots of options.
The good thing about it is we have those options. That's a really nice feeling to have guys that you can interchange, if you need to, that are comfortable hitting in the middle of a Major League lineup and have success doing it. So all of those things point to a good lineup and something that we can, as a staff, can use very well.
Q. Did you talk to David Johnson at all?
MATT WILLIAMS: Yeah. I told Davey, I asked him to come to Spring Training. He's not far from the Spring Training complex. He is extremely respectful of me and the staff and doesn't want to step on anybody's toes. So hopefully he will call and let us know he's coming, and make a big to‑do. We'll have a big cake.
Again, he wished me good luck, and I asked him to be present and he's still in an advisory role with the team. I asked him to come into the office and sit down and talk baseball. And I'd love to pick his brain. Hopefully he accepts that and we can do that.
Q. Are you the kind of guy that looks at your 25‑man roster and wants to use all 25 guys, keep them all integrated on a regular basis?
MATT WILLIAMS: Yes. It's interesting because there's two sides of that coin. You want to win every game. Today is the most important game. But you also have to understand that I need Wilson Ramos healthy in September, as well. If we want to get where we want to get to and do what we need to do, I need him healthy. And he wants to be healthy.
So those off‑days in April are really important. So in that regard, I want to make sure that I'm getting guys starts that aren't regular guys, so they're fresh, so if I have got to pull a trigger in the eighth inning and have a guy to pinch‑hit, that he's got timing. I understand all of those things. So I want to do that.
Now it's up to me to make the decision, listen, I know Zimm, I know you're doing well, but today is an off‑day for you, and that's the way it's going to be, because this is better for the long run. I'm going to have to make those decisions.
I'm not afraid to because I understand the grind of 162, and I also understand the grind of making it and winning the World Series, as well. So it's a lot of games. So we have to make sure we're mindful of their health, if we're going to get to where we want to get to.
Q. When you see Ryan Zimmerman, do you see a little of what you were as a player in him?
MATT WILLIAMS: I think he's a much better player than me. He's got so much more ability than I had. What I see in Ryan is a true run producer. And he can do it many ways. I've seen him hit for very good average. He hits the ball to right center, as well as anybody. Phenomenal fielder, athletic. He could play shortstop if he wanted to. I see a guy that's emerging as a leader in the club.
I spoke with him at great length last week. He was in working out and getting prepared. And he's excited about the prospects of this year and he's ready to take the role of that leadership and be that guy. So that's what I like. I like guys with that type of attitude.
Q. You were one of those guys?
MATT WILLIAMS: Yeah. You've got to go play the game and want to have the desire to win. That tenacity is important. And I think we've got some guys that bring that, so that's a good thing.
Q. He's had some throwing issues, obviously, some of it physical, maybe some of it mental. Do you discuss that with him at all?
MATT WILLIAMS: No, not at all. I know that from talking to him and talking to the doctors and the trainers and our rehab coordinators, his shoulder is 100 percent. It needs to get a little bit stronger and that's what he's working on. Again, there's a process of injuries. You get injured. They fix it. Then you rehab it and then you get back into playing shape.
At the end of last year he was just getting back to the point where it wasn't a struggle for him to get a ball across the diamond. That is just arm strength. He's working on that now, he'll continue to work on it. And he's going to be just fine.
Q. A similar topic, Bryce, you mentioned how hard he plays. Is there a fine line there between playing hard as much as you can and making plays that he can make athletically and not putting himself in a spot where he knocks himself out of the lineup?
MATT WILLIAMS: Well, I think you can't control that. Bryce is going for the ball. If he wants to go to the wall to get the ball, he's still going for the ball. You can't tell him not to do that, so sometimes he's diving into the stands and get banged up. And something we may have to deal with. But I love that about him. I love that.
I love the fact that he plays the game the right way, every day, and he's all out for his team. If Stephen throws a ball and a guy hits a ball that's going to ‑‑ may just go over the fence, Bryce is going to try to catch it. We love that. And you can't change that about him.
Q. In looking for a lefty reliever, does he get input from you, how you run your bullpen?
MATT WILLIAMS: Yeah.
Q. What kind of guy you'd like in that role?
MATT WILLIAMS: It's interesting because there are options within the club currently. But there's also options for, again, it's well noted that Detwiler is going to compete for the 5 spot in rotation. So if that happens, if Ross is that guy, then who do we have that would be the lefty out of the bullpen?
I personally like a lefty specialist, if you will, that can come in and ‑‑ for that two‑out situation and get them out. I also like a guy that can do that, that we can stretch to another inning. As an example you've got a lefty in that fifth inning or whatever it is, or sixth inning, and then you've got left, right, left following. And he can go back out. The guys that Mike is talking about fit that bill.
So, again, it's a question of who's available, what it costs, or in a trade situation what some other team may want, all of that comes into play. In a perfect world you'd like a short lefty, short righty, the problem with baseball is it's not perfect. Those are the wish list things, and we'll see what we can come up with.
Q. When you talk about long guys out of the bullpen you envision guys that have background as starters and give you four or five innings, or talking more three innings?
MATT WILLIAMS: You want a bridge. As far as I'm concerned, you want that bridge. In the perfect plan, before the game is you'd walk out there, you don't anticipate your starter going out there and taking line drives off the shin and having to come out of the game in the second inning. Then you've got a bridge to the 7th.
So, again, I come from an organization last year where that guy was Josh Collmenter. Everybody is familiar with Josh, and how well he did, especially extra innings, he can go four or five innings, that's a unique situation.
For me it's more of a guy that can go two or three, bridge the gap, and set your bullpen later in the game with a lead. There's many things that come into play. It's more of a two‑, three‑inning guy. Again, there's other guys that we have that fit that bill, as well, that have pitched in the big leagues before. Tanner Roark, is he in the bullpen or make sure that he gets starts and ready to go in case something happens. All of those questions come into play.
MATT WILLIAMS: Ohlendorf, Ross fits that bill. He's done everything in the game. He's closed at times, he's started, he's a long guy, he can do everything that you want him to be.
Q. In Spring Training how important will it be to get your eyeballs on a lot of people in your organization so during the season you have paperwork scouting and then ‑‑
MATT WILLIAMS: That's important to see players play. And again, you can look at stats and say this guy hit 25 homers, but I want to know the intricacies of the player. I want to know what his instincts are. We're going to have a little heavier camp than the organizations have in the last couple of years. So we'll have 60‑plus players.
It's a function of me wanting to see them, certainly. But it also works for our schedule. You see a little bit of different schedule I think than you've seen in the past. It will be rapid fire, and it will be very short. But that's by design, that we can get our work done as a group and then we can break off into our individual work later in the day or earlier in the morning to get our fine‑tuning done.
So it will be a bigger camp, to answer your question.
Q. I know you care about your 25 more than really anything else, but when you changed divisions, it's who you're playing more often, can I ask how that works and how you want to put together the team?
MATT WILLIAMS: Our team is our team. I come to a situation that I think a lot of managers would love to come to, frankly. It is a wonderful team that has good starting pitching, power, speed, defense, everything's here. What I have to do is make sure that I put those guys in position to succeed. So it's going to take more than 25, certainly, we all know that.
The good thing about our club and our organization is we have guys that are ready, that are not going to be that 25. So if we need ‑‑ something happens or something goes haywire and we need to get somebody there to play, they step right in and do it. That's a nice feeling to have.
Q. You guys have not been traditionally a shifting defense. It's new to this team, new to the organization, how are you going to implement it this year? Is it a gradual thing, how involved will you bring the pitchers into it?
MATT WILLIAMS: It's imperative. So I will give it to you this way, I think is the best way to give it, we will have defensive meetings certainly every day. Every day within the season for 162 games there will be a defensive meeting. That will be with the pitcher, how he attacks the guys and how we play behind him.
Again, there's no perfect world. But we have a road map and plan going on. I also want Ian Desmond to have the opportunity to say, I know Stras or Gio is trying to pitch this guy in, but he can't get the ball in. That happens during the course of the game. I want to give Ian or anybody else the ability to adjust themselves.
So we give them the road map. We have all the information in the world that we could possibly want. We want to give that to the staff, let the staff go crazy trying to figure all that out. And then provide something very simple to the players that they can follow or have as a road map going in. And then let them play the game.
If you get too aggressive statistically with the players, it tends to be paralysis by analysis. I want Ian to play, I want Ryan to play. I want Stephen to go out there and not worry about this guy's OPS, but what am I going to do to get him out and have the confidence that I make this pitch and he hits it, he's going to be in the right spot. I think we're making a little bit more of a concentrated effort on playing defense. We're not inventing the wheel, we're just shifting the focus a little bit.
Q. (INAUDIBLE) it in the minors, as well?
MATT WILLIAMS: Yes, organizationally. Yes. And it's part of the process. So we hope to have a winning team and a world championship team, not just this year, right? Everybody does, right? So that's the focus, that's where you want to get to. So that has to start in the Minor Leagues, as well. And have that familiarity with all the Minor League players that may get to the big leagues, so when they get there it's not a surprise. They've been doing it. It's very simple to do. It takes effort on the staff's part and on the organization part to put all that stuff together. But everybody is willing to do it and they're excited about doing it.
Q. How have you already started incorporating some of the advanced statistical measurements and how do you incorporate that into your managerial approach and philosophy?
MATT WILLIAMS: We have it already. As I speak Mark Weidemaier and our advance scouts are in a meeting. And we've been doing those meetings over the last two or three days. Getting to know each other, one, setting a plan, creating the forms, creating the analysis how we want it, and making that plan going forward. So all of that stuff is being done now. So when we get to the point where we get to actually put the cleats on and the umpire says play ball, we have a plan going forward.
Q. You coming into an organization where there wasn't a lot of change except for you, you're the new guy, but you're also in charge, how do you handle those two sides of this?
MATT WILLIAMS: I'm the new dude, yeah. I have tried to let everybody know that, listen, I'm here to learn, as well. So can't sit here in front of you, like I told you in the press conference, that I've got 20 years experience, because I don't. I need to learn from them. We sit in that suite up there and our scouting staff has hundreds of years of experience in the game.
So we've spent long hours in the last two days talking generalities of baseball, specifics of players, organization, certainly our guys that we have that are ready to come to the big leagues. Our guys that are going to be in the big leagues. I'm learning from them, which is a really refreshing thing.
Now, I'm going to go out there and be the manager, okay? That's great. But it's going to take all of us to get to where we want to get to. And I've tried to let them know that that's important to me. And it's important to me to have everybody's input. And allow them to give their input I think is important, too. It's been refreshing.
Now, there will be more of it over the next day and a half. And hopefully I leave here and head down to Viera on Thursday with that knowledge and a good sense of everybody and what we want to accomplish.