Quality should be Job 1

Before the mid-1980s, American-made automobiles had a reputation for having too many manufacturing errors that led to unreliable cars. The competition from Japan and Germany were producing vehicles with near zero-defects. That led General Motors and Ford to step-up technology, quality controls, and the use of robotics to cut down on the manufacturing errors.

Ford Motor Company hired Robert Cox, an outspoken New York advertising executive, who was behind the slogan, “Quality is Job 1” in the 1980s. It worked, and the Ford Taurus became the best selling vehicle. American-made cars had cut their error rates down to where their competitors were. What does any of this have to do with baseball? Cox learned as a left-handed pitcher in the Queens Alliance, a borough semi-pro league, that winning required great defense, and you had to limit the mistakes and errors. Reaching zero-defect from fewer mistakes would lead to higher sales, lowered expenses — and more profit which is the baseball equivalent of more wins.

The Washington Nationals could learn a lesson from Quality is Job 1. At times, it seems like this team has forgotten what it means to play the game without mistakes. As a team, they have 24 charged defensive errors, that ranks the team at seventh in the NL. They were the best at one point in April. The errors are stacking up, and maybe worse than that is mental mistakes, and at times a lack of hustle. Quality of play is about every part of the game not just when the official scorer assesses an error. Not all mistakes are weighted the same. We have all seen a fatal mistake in sports that turns a win to a loss.

The Nats played sloppy baseball on both Saturday and Sunday. It was defensive errors, not making routine players, and horrific baserunning. Victor Robles was the star on Friday by cutting down a runner at the plate, and manager Dave Martinez pushed all of the right buttons in that game. Robles was playing his first game on Friday since returning from a long IL stint. On Saturday and Sunday, he was back to making mind-blowing mistakes. On Saturday, it was his 14th career pick-off where he took too large of a lead and could not get back to the base. On Sunday, it was a drop of a routine flyball that opened up the scoring and eventually led to the front of all 3-runs for the Red Sox in that meltdown second inning. Then the Nats were going to be set-up for a huge offensive inning with bases loaded and one-out, but Robles ran with his head down and headed to third base where Riley Adams was standing for another Robles’ TOOTBLAN. For those who already forgot, the Nats lost a winnable game by a final score of 3-2.

Far from zero-defect would describe many Nationals’ games recently. Beyond Robles’ mistakes on Sunday was a pickoff of Nick Senzel to lead-off the 7th inning. But let’s look beyond that. Why was Senzel still in the game? You have two speedsters on the bench in Nasim Nunez and Jacob Young. It was the perfect spot to pinch-run for Senzel with the speedy Nunez. You know the 9th inning was Kenley Jansen time. You need to score there in the 7th with the lead-off runner on-base. And Senzel was the designated hitter. A minute after I made the suggestion in the TalkNats comments section to pinch-run, Senzel was picked-off. Just know I am not saying this with foresight, I said this long before the pick-off.

By the way, what are you saving the bench players for, extra innings? You have to shoot your bullets for sure, late in the game. Some teams do it in the sixth inning as we just saw on Sunday Night Baseball. Without pitchers batting for themselves, what are you saving the bench for? Okay, Trey Lipscomb did replace Jesse Winker who tweaked his back. So the bench was down to Nunez, Young, and Keibert Ruiz. Again, they are there to be used.

“I wanted to take [Robles] out of the game. That can’t happen. That can’t happen. It changed the game a little bit there. We could’ve been out of that inning.”

— Martinez said about the Robles’ error. But Martinez did not do it because of Winker’s back

Again, Robles has a history of mistakes, and many times his gaffes don’t show up as errors. Three huge mistakes in two consecutive losses. You could say Robles was not responsible for the losses because it is a team game. Sure, nobody is saying he lost the game for the team — but he sure did contribute to the losses — just like Friday night when he was the star of the game, and he helped the team win. The difference a day makes.

Below is a chart we prepared for the Top-11 stolen base leaders in Nationals’ history, and what we know is that if you are going to steal bases — pick-offs are part of the game. No risk, no reward. But anything more than 10 percent is not good. Not a surprise that Nyjer Morgan ranks the worst, and Bryce Harper wasn’t a good baserunner. But there’s Robles right in that Top-3. Also remember, video replay reviews were not allowed on pick-offs or stolen bases until the 2014 season. Also, there is no official TOOTBLAN counter to track how many times Robles and others have pulled a Nook Logan to get Charlie Slowes on the WHERE WAS HE GOING??? type of rant.

After Robles’ fielding error that loaded the bases with no outs, starting pitcher MacKenzie Gore induced a weak contact dribbler for the first out. The next batter, Ceddanne Rafaela, hit a lazy fly ball down the right field line that had an expected-batting-average (xBA) of just .140, and the right fielder, Eddie Rosario, slow jogged to the ball. WHAT?!? Damage done as Rafaela’s ball found outfield grass and made a right-turn into the stands for a 2-run ground-rule double.

Some might say that Rosario made up for it later with a 2-run homer. Some might say that Rosario wasn’t going to get the flyball. Why not? It just needed hustle. You can see that this easily could have been a scoreless outing for Gore with a low pitch count. But nope. He went 6.0 full innings — but a laborious pitch count of 111 that set a career high for him. Gore threw 26 pitches in that mistake-filled second inning.

The Nationals have now lost 6-of-10 games in one-run affairs. Potential playoff teams find ways to win one-run games. Great teams find ways to overcome mistakes. Mediocre teams usually aren’t capable of finding ways to overcome mistakes. Remember, baseball is a tough game. Good teams put pressure on the opponent to make mistakes. The Nats have to be better than this. This 2024 team has been in almost every game — but the smallest margins for error(s) that can sway the needle from a win to a loss.

“We made some mistakes. The dropped flyball, and ran into some outs on the bases. It might have cost us the game. … But when you make those kinds of mistakes, it’s definitely going to hamper the way you finish the game.”

— Martinez said after today’s game

General Manager Mike Rizzo knew that Robles is a flawed player, and yet he gave him a new contract and a raise to $2.65 million instead of saving that money, and spending it elsewhere. The team had Young who plays smart baseball. They have three top prospect outfielders — all capable of playing center field. James Wood, Dylan Crews, and Robert Hassell III are all on course to make this team by the end of the year or early in 2025.

This team just is not good enough right now to overcome numerous substantial mistakes. They need zero-defect where Quality is Job 1.

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