Manny Acta just finished his second season as Washington Nationals manager. The team struggled this year, finishing 59-102, after a surprising 73 wins in 2007. Acta previously managed in the Astros system, and coached for the Montreal Expos and the New York Mets. He is known as one of, if not the most, statistically-progressive Major League managers. We caught up with him last week and discussed the Nationals, sabermetrics, pitch f/x, and the World Baseball Classic, among other things:
Squawking Baseball: How would you evaluate your second season?
Manny Acta: Obviously we didn’t win as many games as we had hoped for. A lot of things happened that nobody could control, especially in terms of injuries. But on the other side, it makes it a challenge to constantly progress, to constantly get better, even when you have setbacks.
SB: Are there any ways that you’ve evolved as a manager?
MA: You always learn things. I’ve been managing and coaching for many years, I managed for a long time in the minor leagues, and every year you run into things you had never experienced before that you learn from. And we’re in a great era now too, since every year there is more to learn from a sabermetrics side. Every piece of knowledge I take in, I try to use it to our advantage, for myself as a manager and for the ballclub.
SB: A number of your coaches were let go at the end of the season. How do you feel about the changes that were made?
MA: When you have a season like the one we had, it’s common practice for changes to be made. It was tough, I was with those guys for two years, had good relationships. But it’s part of the game. We had a sound process finding the new staff, and we are all looking forward to the challenge.
SB: Day-to-day, how do you prepare for the next opponent?
MA: We get a lot of reports for each series. Scouting reports, spray charts, statistical reports. We try to be on top of individual matchups that show a real significant edge to one side, especially for late in games. And in the future I think pitch f/x will play a big part in day-to-day preparation.
SB: How much, if at all, have you used pitch f/x thus far?
MA: I’m still learning. I think it’s going to be a huge part of scouting, especially when it matures and is 100% accurate, and is integrated in the minor leagues and even in college. There are so many things you can learn that we could never know for sure. How good is this guy’s slider, really? Why is it good? All of the conventional wisdom in scouting will be put to the test, and you’ll see a whole new world in terms of data and information.
SB: You’re obviously a very statistically-inclined manager. How do you think that gives you an advantage over managers that aren’t as progressive?
MA: I want to win. More than being statistically-inclined, I’m very open minded. If someone can show me things that I didn’t already know, I am willing to change. I’m not stubborn. If the statistical evidence shows I’m wrong, and it helps me and my team win baseball games, then I would be a fool not to listen.
SB: Looking back, have there been any decisions that you made that perhaps you wouldn’t have if you had not been so aware of sabermetrics?
MA: I would have bunted less when I managed in the minors. I still would have had the minor leaguers run, because winning isn’t the most important thing down there, and most players have the green light to work on their baserunning skills.
SB: The Nats have the number one pick in next year’s draft. How involved are you in that process?
MA: I’m not very involved. I trust the people that make those decisions, and all my energy goes into managing the team on the field.
SB: In 2006, you managed the Dominican team in the World Baseball Classic. Will you be involved at all next spring?
MA: I won’t be managing, but I’ll be a consultant for the Dominican Republic.
SB: What effect does the tournament have on the players that take part? Is it worth it?
MA: It’s a good event, and it helps make our game more global. If you get injured, I don’t believe that’s due to the Classic. Spring training starts a week earlier to help players better prepare for it, and you have the same chance of getting hurt whether you play in the Classic or play in the Grapefruit League.
SB: Do you think the WBC is helping spread baseball around the world?
MA: It has already helped big time. The last classic did a lot for the game. I saw it firsthand in the Dominican. The second one can only continue that and make things better.
SB: Tell us about the ImpACTA Kids Foundation.
MA: Right now we’re building a baseball complex in my hometown, Consuelo, in the Dominican. It will have two Little League fields and a full-sized field. And this will only be the start. There are lots of talented people that only need a chance, and we want to give them that chance.
MA: What’s your favorite blog?
SB: Squawking Baseball. It’s fantastic, really. I like Baseball Prospectus, too. Joe Sheehan, Will Carroll, Nate Silver, PECOTA, the essential stuff.
SB: And what did you think of the presidential election?
MA: Super fantastic. I’ve gotten to live the American dream, and Barack Obama is too. It’s great to see.
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