Dave Roberts has been the manager for three seasons in Los Angeles and in all three, he’s found a way to overcome a patchwork staff and get his team to the postseason. All three years have been marked by October victories To put it in perspective, Los Angeles has won the NL West each of the last six years. In the first three, without Roberts, they won one postseason series. With Roberts in the dugout the last three years, they’ve won five postseason battles. That’s called making a positive difference.
Now, Dave Roberts is under fire. A lot of that just comes with the territory. When you get the keys to one of the big-budget organizations, criticism won’t stop until you win the World Series, at which point the demands for a dynasty kick in. The failure of the relievers against the Boston Red Sox is the cause and Roberts is taking the heat.
The Fox Sports pregame crew—Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Frank Thomas panned Roberts for taking out Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 2 and Rich Hill in Game 4. Dodger fans booed Roberts during the introductions for Game 5. Even President Trump got in the act, tweeting out that it was a “big mistake” to take out Hill after he’d pitched seven scoreless innings.
I understand the criticisms, but feel there is a bigger issue being missed. Given the Dodgers’ season-long bullpen issues, it’s perfectly fair for the Fox crew to insist on riding with the starter. The president’s tweet echoed the feelings millions of casual baseball fans have when they see a pitcher who is rolling come out of a game.
But I think it has to be said, that Dave Roberts did what most managers would do in those situations. Ever since Grady Little stuck with Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and it blew up on him in Yankee Stadium, managers have erred on the side of caution with their starters. I’d love to see a manager challenge the conventional wisdom, but that doesn’t mean we should rush to criticize when one sticks with the conventional playbook.
The simple fact is that the Los Angeles relievers were destined to be the unit that broke the hearts of their fan base. It was during the month of August and into early September, as I watched L.A. Dodger games, that the bullpen problems mounted. Night after night, manager Roberts turned to his relief corps and games kept getting away. Colorado was taking control of the NL West and Los Angeles was at serious risk of missing the playoffs altogether.
So, you might ask yourself, why should one defend Roberts for relying on the very group of players that nearly let the season slip away. Answer: Because there’s no other good alternative.
Let’s go back to the Boston of 2003 for the best example. In April of that year, I was at Fenway Park. The fans were already agitated over the haphazard performance of the bullpen. So much so that when a reliever came out and fell behind the first batter in the count, the boos immediately started. It would have come as no shock to anyone in Fenway that afternoon if we had been told that an issue with decisions relating to the bullpen would become the team’s ultimate undoing.
The simple rule of postseasons in any sport is that your weaknesses will find you. The level of competition is too high. Grady Little ignored his bullpen and pushed a tired starter. Dave Roberts tried to trust the pen in spite of its track record. Neither approach worked.
The bigger question is this—the Los Angeles Dodgers have the third-highest payroll in baseball, nearly $200 million per year. Why, given that, are they unable to find 2-3 quality arms to set up for Kenley Jansen. If you’re going to pin a “win it all or else” expectation on the manger, you better give him the weapons. Los Angeles doesn’t have them and hasn’t for the last several years.
That’s why, the offseason questions in this organization should be pointed toward the front office. Why, when small-to-medium markets like Milwaukee, are putting together deep bullpens, can a team with all the resources at their disposal, not do so? It doesn’t take creative skill to open up the vault and buy talent. It does to fill out the key subordinate spots in a roster. Los Angeles hasn’t done that.
Instead of criticizing Dave Roberts, Los Angeles fans should be thanking him—they might not be winning championships, but they aren’t October chokers like they used to be. And that criticism should be redirected to a front office that hasn’t put enough of a priority on producing a bullpen.