Baker old school, but willing to adapt

Baker old school, but willing to adapt

WASHINGTON -- Some might consider it an insult and others a compliment. Either way, there's no question that Dusty Baker carries with him a reputation as an old-school manager.

But as Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo went through the process of vetting and interviewing Baker for his club's vacant job, he came to view the 66-year-old in a somewhat different light.

Baker introduced as Nationals' new manager

"He's often described as an old-school, dinosaur type of manager," Rizzo said Thursday at a news conference to introduce Baker as the Nats' skipper. "But yet he was 13th in [defensive] shifting in Major League Baseball in his last year [2013 with the Reds].

"He's a guy who's always been a creative thinker. He's always been an outside-the-box thinker. He's certainly not a manage-by-the-numbers type of manager, but he should get far more credit for what he does between the lines and in the dugout, as he does for how he handles the clubhouse, which is impeccably."

Nats introduce Baker as manager

Of course, Baker's reputation for a more traditional brand of strategy doesn't come from nowhere, after 20 seasons of managing in the Majors.

In 2013, Baker's Reds led the Majors in both sacrifice bunt attempts and successful sacrifices. That same year, dominant closer Aroldis Chapman made 68 appearances, but he pitched only three times before the ninth inning, three times with Cincinnati trailing and twice for more than one inning. Over Baker's six seasons with the Reds, his team's leadoff hitters ranked 25th in the Majors in on-base percentage, and his No. 2 hitters ranked 28th, due in part to his lineup choices.

On the other hand, that was then and this is now. Two full seasons have passed since Baker last was at the helm, plenty of time to reflect and possibly evolve.

"I'd like to think that I've done things right, but nobody's perfect," said Baker, who owns a .540 career winning percentage and five division titles. "The hardest thing to do is judge yourself without being too hard on yourself."

Baker counts the late Bill Walsh, the legendary football coach, as a mentor. On Thursday morning, Baker found himself thinking of something that Walsh once told him: "Every once a while, you have to recreate yourself."

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Baker now considers himself to be going through such a process. He said he has friends who call him a chameleon for his ability to adapt to his surroundings, and he went on to compare himself to musicians such as Stevie Wonder and The Doors, whose work can transcend generations. Baker also pointed out the lessons he's learned from having a 16-year-old son, Darren.

"Sometimes you've got to listen to the young, because they have the pulse of things," said Baker, who will be the league's second-oldest manager behind the Mets' Terry Collins.

According to Rizzo, Baker already has spoken with the employees in the Nationals' analytics department, and came away impressed. Rizzo believes Baker will "embrace" the new-age information because of his desire to win.

The way Baker makes out a lineup, deploys his bullpen, sets his defense and otherwise runs a game ultimately will show just how much he is willing to put that data into practice. For now, Rizzo sees a receptive audience.

"The analytical part of it, it's taken a lot of people time to adapt to that, but it's a tool for us," Rizzo said. "It's a weapon for us. [Dusty] is open-minded about it. He's used it in the past and he's used it very effectively. So he's on board."

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.