When the team first announced this offseason that Dave Roberts was being hired as the newest Dodgers manager, most people seemed pretty excited. It is hard to tell whether that excitement stemmed from the fact Don Mattingly was finally out or if they truly liked the idea of Roberts landing his first managerial gig. But either way, the fans were ready to move forward. Fast-forward to today, 52 games into the season, and much of that excitement has faded.
This isn’t to say that the fans have completely abandoned Dave Roberts. Dodgers fans just have extremely high expectations given that the team has the highest payroll in baseball and the last World Series victory was nearly 30 years ago. Because of that, Roberts doesn’t have the luxury of a learning curve or benefit of the doubt. He is expected to win, and to win now. With the Dodgers currently sitting at a 27-25 record and 4.5 games behind the rival San Francisco Giants, fans are becoming more critical of each and every decision that he makes. Below are a few of the most controversial decisions of his young career.
Overall, Roberts has been a solid manager, making sound decisions and acting as a true leader. However, there have a few calls in Roberts’ young managerial career that really got the fans talking. I decided to take a look at a few of the most scrutinized decisions.
April 8th, 2016 – Roberts Pulls Ross Stripling With No-Hitter on the Line
Anytime the Dodgers and Giants face off, the game seems to matter just a little bit more, even if it is only the first week of the season. So when Ross Stripling took the mound on the day after falling to the Giants 12-6 in their home opener, it was much more than just a major league debut for a former top prospect. Even though Stripling had never even pitched in Triple-A, basically only making the rotation out of necessity due to injuries, the Dodgers fan base was relying on him to even up the series against the team that many favored to win the division.
Stripling was nothing short of brilliant. He pitched 7 1/3 innings of shutout baseball before leaving the game shortly after his 100th pitch. Stripling had just walked Giants speedster, Angel Pagan, and the Dodgers offense hadn’t done much to make the decision any easier. With the Dodgers leading by only 2 runs, Roberts felt it was the right decision to bring in the bullpen to shut out the game. Unfortunately the decision backfired, and Chris Hatcher gave up a 2-run home run to the very next batter, tying the game.
9 times out of 10, this would seem like a no-brainer decision that simply didn’t work out. The Dodgers were in a close game and it looked as though Stripling was running out of steam in his debut. However, what made the decision so tough on that day was that Stripling was looking to become only the second pitcher to ever throw a no-hitter in his major league debut. In fact, the 2-run home run given up by Hatcher was the first hit of the game for the Giants, and this didn’t sit well with the fans.
What people didn’t think about at the time though was the long-term success of the team. It’s easy to get excited about a no-hitter, especially from a pitcher making his major league debut, but Stripling was still recovering from a Tommy John surgery that he underwent in 2014 that limited him to only 71 innings pitched in 2015. With his pitch count already over 100 pitches, the best-case scenario had him finishing the no-hitter at over 120 pitches. Being the first start of the season and with the Dodgers already dealing with a multitude of injuries, Roberts made the best decision he could under the circumstances; he decided to look out for the good of the team rather than individual performance.
May 24th, 2016 – Roberts Benches Yasiel Puig for Lack of Hustle
Ever since joining the league in 2013, Yasiel Puig has gained a reputation for being a showboat. Whether it is warranted or not, Puig is criticized for just about everything he does. He is often criticized for his constant bat flips, not playing hard enough or even, at times, for playing too hard.
Last week against the Cincinnati Reds, Puig clearly thought that he had hit a home run and decided to stand in the box and watch his accomplishment. However, the ball did not leave the park but rather hit off the wall in deep right field. Puig, who should have been standing on second base, was held to a single. Of course, Puig received criticism for his lack of hustle, but this time it wasn’t just from the media. Dave Roberts, who has made it his goal to turn things around with Puig, decided it was time to send him a message. After the inning was over, Puig was removed from the game and even left out of the lineup the next night.
“He needed to be on second base,” Roberts said to the media after the game. “We talk about playing the game the right way.”
One thing is certain with Dave Roberts, he knows how to play the game the right way. He had that reputation when he was a player and he has brought that mentality to managing. If anyone is going to get to Puig and convince him to change his ways, Roberts is the one to do so. And if the Dodgers are going to have any chance of bringing home a championship this season, Puig will have to become a team player instead of only looking out for himself. Roberts’ decision to bench him might have been the first step in that transformation, as Puig had this to say after the game:
“It was [Roberts’] decision to take me out of the game. It was a decision well made, because all my teammates are out on the field working hard, and I should have run out that ball.”
May 29th, 2016 – Dave Roberts Pulls Clayton Kershaw, Pitches Adam Liberatore Instead of Kenley Jansen
The most recent decision that has gone under extreme scrutiny is when Dave Roberts took Clayton Kershaw out of the game in the middle of the eighth inning. Most people would actually back his decision, given that Kershaw was already at 114 pitches and there was a runner on first with two outs. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for elite closer Kenley Jansen to come in and close out another great night for Kershaw. But instead of going to Jansen for the 4-out save, Roberts elected to go with the lefty-lefty matchup and bring in Liberatore to face Curtis Granderson. Much to the dismay of Dodgers fans everywhere, Granderson crushed a game-tying triple to right field just out of reach of Yasiel Puig, who went crashing into the wall. Luckily, the Dodgers managed to score two in the bottom half of the 9th against Mets closer Jeurys Familia and eventually secured the win. But that didn’t stop Dodgers fan from questioning Roberts’ decision once again.
This time, the criticism may be well deserved. Obviously if the decision to go with Liberatore had worked out and he had done his job, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But with Jansen being the lone bright spot in the struggling Dodgers bullpen, it seemed like a no-brainer to bring him in.
The only logical explanation was that Roberts wanted to go with the lefty-lefty matchup. But when you take a look at the numbers, even that reasoning doesn’t make much sense. Jansen and Liberatore have nearly identical numbers against left-handed hitters this season; left-handed hitters are a combined 5-for-33 against Jansen, while they are a combined 4-for-29 against Liberatore. That translates to a .152 batting average against Jansen and a .138 batting average against Liberatore. All things being even between the two in terms of the numbers, it would make much more sense to go with the guy who consistently shuts it down when it matters most.