The Washington Nationals are first in scouting, first in player development and first in the National League East. Mike Rizzo deserves much of the credit. The former scouting director became the Nats’ assistant GM in 2006 and he has been the general manager since 2010. Highly respected as a talent evaluator, Rizzo has helped build one of the most exciting young teams in baseball.
Rizzo on the impact of the new CBA on the draft: “The strategy and the philosophy are very important. You have to have a clear thought process as to what your end goal is before the draft has started. It takes some creativity and some foresight to really put your master plan in place. The [changes] impacted us. They impacted the strategy we employed in putting together our draft board, and in putting together our top-10-round picks.”
On scouting and player development: “To me, it’s a two-headed monster. It’s never just player development, and it’s never just scouting. The two go hand in hand. It’s a hand-in-glove type of thing, and I think the state of our scouting and player development systems has never been stronger here in Washington.
“Our philosophy is that we take the best player available, at all times. We also take [the type of] players that we’ve had success developing in the past. The higher you take the player in the draft, the more secure I like to feel that he’s a developable player in our player-development system.
“We’ve been fortunate in the fact that we’ve taken players who have a great work ethic, have great character and makeup, and have great ability. That’s the package we’re looking for in scouting. It makes them developable for our player development department.
“We’re constantly evaluating ourselves. Self-evaluation is the most important evaluation that you make. The most important team that you cover is your own. You need to know what your own strengths and weaknesses are — not only on a player level, but on a personnel level — the people who are in positions to affect your players.”
On Davey Johnson and the Nationals Way: “We employ the Nationals Way, if you will — the way that we like to see things done. And the most important thing there is being consistent, from the Dominican Summer League teams to the major leagues. We like to be all-encompassing and do things the same way at each and every level of our system. That way, when the players do get to Washington, they know the way Davey Johnson wants it to be done.
“Davey has had input in this since I’ve been the GM. He’s been a consultant with me since I’ve been here and his opinion really matters to me. Not only because he’s the manager, but even before that, because he’s one of the best baseball guys I’ve ever been associated with. His opinion is heard.
“Davey is less old-school than you might think. He is a modern-thinking manager, even though his age may not convey that. He’s very open-minded and very new wave in the way he thinks. He relates to 19-year-old rookies and to 37-year-old veterans.
“He was using data before data was in vogue. He was using data when he was a rookie player. When Davey was thinking about his raises — as a young major-league player — he brought out that his on-base percentage was better than that of Player X, who was making X. He’s used numbers for a long time. As you may know, he was a mathematics major, so he’s into numbers and he uses them. He always has.”
On lineup construction and metrics: “We talk strategy — we talk about match-ups and that type of thing — but I need to make clear that Davey makes out the lineup. I give him the roster and he makes out the lineup. We have open discussions, both ways, on roster construction and lineups. We have a great dialogue and a great rapport. He’s the manager, so he makes out the lineup, but we discuss it.
“We use all sorts of metrics. I’d rather not [go into detail] — we like to keep that information close to us, but suffice to say, we utilize it. We have a staff in the front office that is extremely talented at that. I lean heavily on them in the player-acquisition side, and we use them quite a bit on the construction of the lineup side.”
On using data in player development and scouting: “We use it quite a bit. We’ve made up our own metrics for it — we’ve made up our own formulas. There is obviously the league, the park, all sorts of characteristics. We have a very inventive sabermetrics staff, led by our director of baseball operations, Adam Cromie. We feel very comfortable with our information.
“It extends to [amateur scouting]. We put a weight, if you will, on certain conferences in certain years. We even do it at the high school and junior college levels. We use [predictive stats] at every level. We use sabermetrics quite a bit.”