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Dodgers: Bad Decisions, Not Analytics, Are to Blame for NLDS Loss

Weighing in on a popular misconception.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Dodger President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman talks about the baseball season and the future of the team and players during a press conference at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. (Photo by Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)

It feels like an entire off-season since the end of the NLDS, yet in reality it’s only been a week. Some are moving onto a hot stove mindset, but for most (myself included), the devastation of the loss still weighs heavily. 

While it would make more sense to shift gears and focus on off-season moves, the truth is this first-round loss is one that should be discussed and evaluated for a long time. It is a paramount disaster for the franchise, one that justly calls into question everything about how they operate. 

As I’ve made clear, I agree with most of the narratives. The first is Clayton Kershaw’s label as a postseason failure. Look…he’s still the regular season GOAT, and I hope those fans who threw his jersey onto the field and ran it over in the Dodger Stadium parking lot never set foot in Elysian Park again. 

I’ll be honest with you, though: I gave up defending Kershaw in the playoffs immediately after game 5 of the 2017 World Series. I maintain (and always will) that performance is the central source of blame for not winning that series (a blame shared with others, of course). Game 5 of this NLDS unfortunately only adds to that. 

The next is Dave Roberts’ playoff managing, which is the main reason for this particular loss. I won’t elaborate here, as I already did that. Another is Andrew Friedman’s unwillingness to trade prospects for relief help or other big acquisitions. This one is debatable, but whether by trade or free agency, it is indeed time for the front office to get more creative

There is another prevailing narrative, however, that is dubious and frankly nonsubstantive. That is that the Dodgers lost to the Nationals due to over-reliance on analytics, apparently made true by dint of Roberts’ terrible decision-making. It’s a belief even Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez shares.

Except, his moves were not tied to analytics. Quite the opposite, they failed because they weren’t anywhere near that. They were, by his own admission, “gut” moves completely divorced from statistics. 

Let’s start with the move that set the game spiraling off course, letting Kershaw pitch the 8th. By every measure, this was not an analytically-driven decision. In addition to Kershaw’s checkered October past, he is evidently not the same pitcher he was in his prime. His fastball velocity is down, thus taking the bite off his once famous slider. 

Another damning statistic is that of Kershaw’s performance in the first inning throughout 2019. With an ERA that got as high as 6.00 in the first frame, often due to surrendering home runs, having him pitch a veritable first inning with the season on the line in the 8th makes even less sense. 

Put it all together, and it’s highly unlikely anyone in the analytics department advocated for a full inning from Kershaw in this scenario. Yet Roberts’ defense of his indefensible decision showed he threw out all of those verifiable factors in favor of reeky sentimentality.

“He’s probably the best pitcher of our generation,” he blandly stated afterwards. “It just didn’t work out. There’s always going to be second-guessing. But I’ll take my chances any day on Clayton.” 

Right there is an admission that he didn’t follow any predetermined playbook. He plainly stated that he did it out of reverence for Kershaw’s cumulative track record, rather than any merit in the present.  

If he were more statistical, he likely would have used Kenta Maeda from the start, who has a far better playoff track record and had absolutely dealt throughout this NLDS. Roberts had reservations about him facing Juan Soto, which is understandable, but that leads into another head-scratcher. 

If Roberts were sticking to analytics for that concern, he likely would have summoned Adam Kolarek in either the 8th or 10th to face Soto. In three match-ups, Kolarek had tamed Soto each time, two by strikeout. That’s a case where playing by the book had worked perfectly, and deviating from it proved disastrous. 

Finally, another move that clearly wasn’t analytical was sending Joe Kelly out for the 10th inning. This was the first time Kelly had worked multiple innings since August 24, with viable options like Dustin May, Julio Urias and Kenley Jansen available to lock down the 10th. No algorithms could possibly justify that. 

After Kelly surrendered the grand slam to Howie Kendrick, Roberts showed his lack of logic even further by letting him face two more batters before finally summoning Jansen. This, to me, showed carelessness on his part.  

Of course, I could be wrong on some (or all) of this. It’s no secret that most managers today are basically figureheads for analytical FOs that call the shots. Maybe every move Roberts executed was handed down from the top. 

Yet I have a hard time believing that. I am not putting Friedman and company beyond reproach, but what transpired in the last game of the season is the result of plainly incompetent managing, not the cutting-edge approach that has led many teams (the Dodgers included) to great success. 

If these moves were the dictate of the analytics department, then simply put, the Dodgers need to clean house in that department. More likely than not, though, they were simply the latest (and worst) moves of a skipper who clearly doesn’t function straight in October.

Written by Marshall Garvey

27 Comments

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  1. I agree with your analysis Marshall. I am not a big analytics guy, but analytics wasn’t the problem. Roberts decision making process (again) and supposedly star players disappearing (again) in the postseason was the problem! Pedro Martinez was completely wrong. So, what is management’s solution? Why, we’re going to bring all the same people back and do the same thing over again!

  2. Roberts has been managing the team poorly since he arrived.
    2019 is no one time exception.
    Yet he’s coming back for 2020. Seriously?

    There is a good reason why a very talented Dodgers team can’t finish. That reason is Roberts.
    2020 will be no different.

  3. Time to be honset and say the truth.. Dave Roberts sucks!!!! PERIOD!!!!! not just in playoff but regular season.. he lost at least 6 games in regular aeason with bone head decisions

    • Concur completely, ken. and since he will return don’t expect ANYTHING to be different in how he manages a game, lineups and pitching. As far as I am concerned we have already been eliminated from the 2020 season before it ever begins!

      • Blind faith against reason and logic will cripple you. Trend with Kersh is that he is shaky and prone to the long ball in the first, so why do you want to put him in a position where that trend might resurface against the best of an opponent’s lineup? Blind, stubborn faith? Hope DR hasn’t ruined what is left of Kerhaws career.

        • Torre created this problem with Kershaw by not once but several times putting him in the fire as a rookie in his first playoff experience back in 09 against the Phillies where he was shelled out of the bullpen each time. He’s had an issue ever since

  4. The Dodgers had 5 games to get it right. Never should have been in the position to lose the last game. Blame goes team, management and admin. wide.

  5. The Dodgers had 5 games to get it right. Never should have been in the position to lose the last game. Blame goes team, management and admin. wide. BY the way I have NOT said this before

  6. I believe the main reason Roberts left Kershaw in is he didn’t want to hurt his feelings. This is only one reason that Roberts stinks as a manager. Been a Dodger fan since before thay came to L.A. but keeping Roberts as manager just about does it for me.

    • Kershaw isn’t a team player he wants to excersise his demons and if it costs his team than so be it. He needs to let go and stand off to the side if he wants his long sought after ring

  7. This has been an issue since 2017. How do you lose to the Astros when you have a rested team and bullpen to a team who just lost to the yankees in a 7 game series. He opts to use his whole bullpen in the firat 2 games…giving the astros all the looks in the world. Pulling rich Hill not once but twice in the Top if the 5th at Home when the guy was dealling with a little trouble. Most people always blame Darvish…people only remember Game 7..Again Roberts has shown hes good in the regular season but not in big games and or in postseason. He even has lost Allstar games. Tired of thos broken record for 3 yrs now.

  8. Yes, the decisions that lost game five were not analytics driven, but analytics did play a role in the roster composition that clearly left the manager feeling he had few good options beyond Kershaw in the eighth or Kelly in the 10th. I’m not saying he didn’t have better options, but clearly he felt he didn’t. On some level analytics played a part in presenting Roberts with what he didn’t think were good options.

  9. Marshall, this as ya say says it all here:
    “While it would make more sense to shift gears and focus on off-season moves, the truth is this first-round loss is one that should be discussed and evaluated for a long time. It is a paramount disaster for the franchise, one that justly calls into question everything about how they operate. ”
    And I will add this..if Freidman does not have a good off season this time around and does nothing to get an impact player and or pitcher, reliever or 2, then please please let’s not see the Dodgers make it into the PS because we will already know of another impending disaster with Roberts and his absolutely unacceptable wrong decisions one way or another.

  10. Denny Rickards 10/17/2019
    There is one area I think we are all overlooking and that is we don’t have a good hitting team. We have a few hitters who were hitting OK when the playoffs arrived, but we are not a good hitting team. We hit a lot of homers but look at the averages. With a few exceptions, this team didn’t hit well in a ton of games and only the starting pitching covered up the lack of hitting with men in scoring position. Just look at what Pollock, Bellinger, Seager, Smith, Lux, and Taylor hit in the series. You can’t win if you don’t score.

    • It was okay the first game because they weren’t chasing pitches out of the strike zone, hell even in the 5th game they started out alright but then it fell apart and they started chasing balls and not making Strassburg throw strikes. All season this has been a issue where the discipline goes away and Roberts doesn’t correct it. Just stands there looking like a dope.

  11. This quote by Roberts regarding Kershaw is just plain ludicrous when it comes down to it:

    “He’s probably the best pitcher of our generation,” he blandly stated afterwards. “It just didn’t work out. There’s always going to be second-guessing. But I’ll take my chances any day on Clayton.”

  12. Friedman and Roberts both need to go. I heard they wanted Friedman in Boston. He should go and take Roberts with him.

    The Dodgers have needed a new Manager since 2017 when they lost the World Series due to Roberts bad decisions.

    As Dodger fans it’s like we’ve been living “Ground Hog Day” for the last three Post Seasons, the mismanagement and bad decisions keep repeating.

  13. Marshal, having just concluded your article, my opinion about our most recent loss remains the same : Roberts made some poor decisions that even a first year manager would have avoided; the FO let us down in not spending some of our money to acquire a BP arm and maybe a right handed bat; and, Kershaw, as great as he is, has never shown himself to be a big time playoff pitcher. His ERA in his first inning as you correctly point out is at 6. Ludicrous. What pains me more is that I do not think much will change during the Hot Stove season, and that disappoints me. PaulDodgerFan1965 and I both felt this team was not as strong as the 2018 squad, and I think we have been vindicated. Kersh, Turner, Max, and Ryu will all be a year older and their productivity will decline!!!! Why should the fans expect a better performance with the same players? Go Blue!!!!!!

  14. As far as hitting goes the Dodgers scored enough runs to beat the Nats. They were ahead 3-1 in the 8th! If you watched the Cards they didn’t hit the Nats pitching at all…
    Elite pitching is not going to allow a lot of runs. That is why you must have shut down pitching. The failure was not analytics. If that idiot Roberts would have looked at the Numbers instead of using his “GUT” he would have realized Kershaw had an ERA over 5 for the first two innings. He is not the pitcher he was.
    Maeda or May should have been used in my opinion. Roberts is not a good strategic manager he is a nice guy manager who will never win because he will not make the hard but correct choice. Roberts is always worried about hurting a players feelings instead of doing what is best for the team. He should be fired. I vote for Scioscia.

  15. Hey, were Bellinger, Pollock, and Seager on the postseason roster? I mean I saw a lot of them hitting the crap out of the ball during the regular season in games that had as much pressure as a trip to the Dairy Queen. But I didn’t notice any of the three up to bat during the team’s nanosecond in the playoffs. Unless all those guys in Dodger uniforms flailing and gasping over and over and over at the same pitch (slider underneath the hands) might have been them. I’m not sure. Nah, that had to be three guys up from the Ogden Raptors getting a taste of the big leagues, right?

    • Nah the raptors players have more discipline then that I’ve watched them enough to know. Haha

  16. Sometimes I feel as if the front office would be satisfied, even if the Dodgers didn’t make the play-offs, as long as they keep getting nearly 4 million fans into the stadium during the regular season every year to pay the bills. As long as we Dodger fans keep coming through the turnstiles, to the tune of 47,000+ every home game, paying those high prices for tickets, parking, and the food at the Ravine, nothing much is going to change. The attitude of management could easily be “why change anything!” “Those “suckers” will keep coming out to games and hoping for a championship, no matter what we do or whether we win a World Series or not!”
    L.A. loves the Dodgers and will support the team no matter what management does. Too bad the management doesn’t love the fans equally as much, and do what needs to be done: (spend some money, trade some prospects, hire a manager who won’t choke under play-off pressure), so we can finally bring a championship to L.A.

  17. I finally saw Friedman’s post season press conference. I thought it was interesting that there were 3 chairs but only Friedman was there. It appeared that Roberts and Kasten should have been there? Don’t know if that was the case but it was bad optics. A reporter even commented on it. I have never been a Friedman fan but I was impressed with his candor and demeanor. He appeared thoughtful and properly chagrined as opposed to the cocky condescending “I’m the smartest guy in the room” attitude he usually displays. I will be very interested in how he conducts this off season.

  18. Sorry but the bottom line is Roberts is Friedman’s puppet. Joe Kelly should have never been signed and then when the whole world could see he was junk he was added to the playoff rotation. Then he was brought in game 5 replacing Maeda who struck out the side. Why: because Friedman wanted one last for Kelly to make his signing look good. Roberts is now Friedman’s scapegoat. Some of the blame is on Roberts for not being man enough to tell Friedman to go pack sand.

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