On Fan Psychology, Management, Relief Pitching and Slumps

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(Getty Images photo)

Nearly a full day after contemplation, so many thoughts and insights still exist over the Dodgers‘ loss to the Nationals that there’s plenty of varied perception, at least on my own end.

The way our minds are wired is extraordinary—even as fans who probably know very little about what actually transpires inside the typical MLB clubhouse. Normally, after a shocking defeat such as this, the blame phase exists for several days before the acceptance phase eventually sinks in. That’s just the way things work. It’s human nature.

Regardless, fans are indeed the driving force of the team. They fill the stands. Ultimately, they pay the bills. Fans also have the ability to speak loudly. I remember back in 2011 at the peak of the Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce when there were huge boycotts in attendance. That year, the Dodgers finished 11th in the MLB in attendance, which was incredibly low for a franchise that was perennially in the Top 3.

It was ugly.

Thankfully, team ownership will never be in that bad of a position again.

Even though I write this during the afternoon following the defeat, there is still some lingering fan fallout from the loss, although the acceptance phase is starting to sink in gradually. As such, most of the blame has been placed on skipper Dave Roberts. This morning, I heard a fan of reasonable knowledge and demeanor proclaim that a six-year-old tee ball player could have managed the Los Angeles bullpen better.

Last year, there was even a certain resident of the White House who publicly criticized Doc for yanking Rich Hill after allowing just one hit and one earned run over 6-1/3 innings in Game 4 of the 2018 World Series. In the 2-2/3 innings that followed of that particular game, the Los Angeles relief crew gave up a whopping eight runs to lose 9-6 after the team led almost the entire affair. Stories like these over the past few years are beginning to add up.

No wonder fans are heartbroken.

Consequently, there are an overwhelming number of fans that believe Roberts, who has a deal in place through the 2022 season, should not return as the team’s manager.

I think there are a few things to consider before jumping to conclusions so quickly. First, if you are not aware, Andrew Friedman’s contract has ran its full course, and there have been no indications of a renewal. At least not yet, anyway. Nobody has any knowledge of a prospective return. In that light, only a few people really know to what degree Friedman runs the team or how he instructs Roberts to manage.

What we do know is that planning for a 162-game regular season—something that Friedman has proven he’s masterful at doing—is much different than managing a five-game playoff series. Perhaps Friedman should take notes on the recent success of the Cardinals and Nationals. Regardless, one would think that five games is enough time for the better team to show its worthiness to advance.

Maybe, like some fans are insinuating, it’s all about business and money. When fans learned about the organization’s intentions of staying under the Luxury Tax Threshold this season, there was tremendous fallout. In 2019 (much unlike 2011), the Dodgers finished first in the MLB in attendance, almost a half-million more paid tickets than the Cardinals. With the payroll decreasing and attendance up, margins are conceivably higher than they’ve been since Guggenheim bought the franchise in 2012.

Anyway, without Friedman and his army of analytical tacticians, it’s tough to say how Roberts fares in the future. If Friedman does return, though, fans can probably forget the idea of Joe Maddon coming to Los Angeles to manage. There simply isn’t enough freedom under Friedman’s reigns for someone like Maddon to thrive.

Some say that Friedman made mistakes by not making significant bullpen upgrades during the trade deadline, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. The Braves gobbled up almost every reputable reliever on the market, and it got them nowhere. In retrospect, maybe there wasn’t anyone out there who could have helped the Los Angeles relief crew. Perhaps Washington was on the right track when they made an under-the-radar trade for Daniel Hudson. Relief pitching is such a crapshoot in the modern game—just ask Friedman.

And that leads us in to Roberts’ management of the dreaded NLDS Game 5. Starting Enrique Hernandez appeared to be a smart move, but the lineup proved to be ineffective overall, regardless of the batting order. The Dodgers had players galore who were slumping tremendously during this series. A.J. Pollock was 0-for-13 with 11 strikeouts. Corey Seager was 3-for-20 with eight punchouts. Cody Bellinger, who is a leading candidate for NL MVP, was 4-for-19 with seven Ks. Will Smith was 1-for-13. Chris Taylor was 1-for-8. The list goes on.

It’s a shame Alex Verdugo was unavailable to contribute.

In total, the Dodgers struck out a total of 64 times over the five games in the NLDS. That’s an average of roughly 13 per game.

Was this simply due to poor performance, or was there a specific approach in the batters box to be faulted? Apparently, only a select few people have the knowledge to know.

One of the biggest arguments still gaining momentum among fans was the team’s use of lefty Clayton Kershaw. Why was there an obsession to use him even at all? Roberts stated that before the game that “all hands were on deck,” which meant a total of 10 pitchers were available in relief aside from Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Yet, Roberts decided to use Kershaw and Joe Kelly for multiple innings.

Were his decisions directed by Friedman? Or, were these strategies based on the mathematical matchups we know that Roberts has grown to heavily rely upon?

Coincidentally, Kelly finished the NLDS throwing a total of 2-1/3 innings over three appearances. He surrendered six earned runs on five his and a whopping five walks, calculating to a monstrous 23.14 ERA. All this after the 31-year-old righty had a regular season WHIP of almost 1.40 and an ERA north of 4.50. Yet he was still asked to throw multiple innings with the season on the line.

Furthermore, it wasn’t difficult to detect the disgust on the face of Kenley Jansen after he was inserted to mop up the mess that Kelly created—a storyline that we’re certain to revisit multiple times over the coming winter months.

Realistically, things may move quickly for the Dodgers during the offseason, starting with the decision surrounding Friedman’s prospective return. There are lots of arbitration cases, and there are plenty of scenarios surrounding the team’s free agents. Thoughts and opinions about Kershaw, Jansen, Bellinger, Seager and Pollock are bound to crop up, too.

The winter meetings are less than 10 weeks away.

Pitchers and catchers report in roughly four months.

 

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30 thoughts on “On Fan Psychology, Management, Relief Pitching and Slumps

  1. For some reason, my acceptance phase settled in just about the time Howie’s slam landed on the other side of the wall. As has already been pointed out elsewhere, if the right field wall is 5 feet closer to home plate, we’re all celebrating Smith’s walk off homer today. Here’s one you’ve never heard before: “Baseball is a game of inches”.
    No way I see Kenley opting out. He’d be crazy to do that. But I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see him ask to be traded. That, of course, would be difficult since he’s being dramatically overpaid. Would AF or his successor be willing to pay to get rid of him? I doubt it, but stranger things have happened.
    Looks like my salute to you and Andy yesterday Dennis wasn’t all that premature after all. Maybe I’m the cause of this mess.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think they’ll keep both. Friedman is smart enough to realize he needs to make new approaches in regards to the postseason, unless all he’s worried about is making the team money. If that’s all the team is worried about, they’ll definitely keep him.

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      1. How much backlash to you expect from the fan base if they do retain both, especially with the huge amount of vitriol that is being slung at Roberts right now. I do not think that is going to calm down anytime soon.

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      2. I think there will be a huge amount of backlash, especially among those who don’t understand the game as well as we do. My gut wants to say that they need to stop relying strictly on analytics and use some of their gut, feeling types of instincts, but what do i know? I just have the feeling there’s too much number-crunching happening right now. That seems to be where the game is heading, though.

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      3. I think they keep both too. But holding Roberts feet to the fire for his futile faceplant f*** ups must be done. Can he learn from this?

        And this just in from the analyze the analysis department – baseball analytics will soon go back to the “hit it hard” not “launch it to the moon” approach. This will is good news to Bear and those of us raised in the line drive era. All or nothing is fine in hot air but it just hasn’t worked for this team in the cooler air of October.

        Friedman doesn’t have a contract. Who’s gonna tell him what?

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      4. Yeah, about that. I saw something that didn’t make sense to me. When we had the shift on, Buehler was continuing to pitch cutters and sliders to the outer quadrant. Why pitch outside when all your infielders are on the other side of second base?

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I blame the hitting approach. Too much about swinging for the fences. But that is alot of mlb, not just dodgers. Team has 2 good hitters, JT and Freese. Pederson, Seager and Bellinger are swinging for the fences and easily attacked by quality/elite pitching. The same approach was used by the Red Sox to beat the dodgers. That’s up to management to adjust. You simply can’t take strikes waiting for the pitcher to wear down, so you can attack the bullpen. The Nationals adjusted and took away the dodgers chance to attack their bullpen. Dodgers should have had a better game plan. I also believe scouting should have made Roberts aware that Baez and Kershaw were tipping pitches. Kersh either became very predictable? or he was tipping? He sure seemed to give up alot of home runs this year (28 in 29 games). I will say, I’ll be disappointed if no changes happen.

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      1. My thoughts have circled back to the hitting approaches/game plans over the last several days. One thing I found very remarkable during the regular season was how quick the offense would shutdown after being very productive. I often wondered if it was how the opposition adjusted their pitching or if it had something to do with the approach. Or, if it was a matter of being just hot or cold.

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  2. I agree, Scoop. 5th inning last night on a 0-2 pitch to Taylor the shift was on & Smith called for a slider away. Pitch was punched about 15 feet to the right of the 2nd base bag. Muncy was about 5 feet to the left of the bag on the shift. Total head scratcher that 1) they gave Taylor anything other than a fastball cuz he was late on Buehler’s heater multiple times & 2) why be in a shift if you’re going to work ANY pitches on the outer half? Makes you wonder…….

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      1. After he walked Strasburg, I wasn’t as surprised to see him missing Smith’s targets. As good as Buehler is, he has occasional lapses of command. That could be the difference of him being just good instead of elite. Or maybe he’ll harness it as he matures.

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  3. Castillo of the Times supposedly has it from two sources that Roberts will be back next year. He’d better wear body armor for opening day……………………and ear plugs.
    I, for one, have no problem with bringing him back.

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  4. Why wouldn’t he be back?

    Good question. Maybe because those seemingly bonehead bullpen moves were made from his gut, not from the stat sheet. And maybe that’s not the first time Roberts has done that.

    I’ve always believed it’s on the players. I read somewhere that the best managers in the game are only worth a couple WAR per season. I’ve made that argument for a few years now. But…. this one feels different.

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    1. That is my main complaint about Roberts, his “bonehead” moves to the pen! I don’t mean just in the playoffs, all season. I was at a game in July where Kershaw had 11 strikeouts, low pitch count and Roberts pulled him in the 6th. Kersh was pissed. If it hadn’t been for a walk off in the 9th, we would have lost. Something has to change.

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  5. Personally I want them both gone. Friedman has had 5 years to get it right, and Guggenheim is just as responsible as he is. They have backed his every move. I am pretty fed up with the lineup two step that has been played out over the last few seasons. Scoop and I are reaching the point where we want to see another banner flying over the stadium before we kick the proverbial bucket. I think it is time for a new voice and some fresh idea’s. Also one really good free agent signing would be nice.

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  6. I’ve found Roberts handling of the pitching staff the last few years absolutely maddening, especially come playoff time. That whole “yank the starter after 90 pitches regardless of how well he’s throwing” infuriates me, but that may be a directive from the front office. Either way, it hasn’t produced any championships, just a bullpen that is totally gassed in October.

    I knew as soon as Kershaw came out of the pen that we were in trouble. He got away with a mistake to Eaton, not so to Rendon or Soto. He is easily the worst playoff performer I have ever seen, and as long as the Dodgers continue to rely on Kershaw in the post-season (along with other playoff duds like Bellinger, Seager and Jansen) the Dodgers won’t be taking home any rings regardless of who is managing. I also questioned the addition of Rich Hill to the playoff roster. He threw like, what, 5 innings in the second half of the season while fighting arm and leg injuries? He’s a curveball specialist who needs to be in a groove to be effective, which of course he wasn’t. Gonsolin would have been the better choice.

    And yet, players do seem to perform for Roberts in the regular season. Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, Max Muncy, Rich Hill and Brandon Morrow all did better under Roberts than under anybody else. Few teams can match the Dodgers for turning scrubs into stars. Maybe what Roberts needs is a strong bench coach who can keep him from over-managing.

    Andrew Friedman has done a good job at the helm, keeping the team in contention year after year. He’s drafted well, and pulled off deadline deals for Darvish and Machado, which were bold moves, even if they didn’t exactly work out. Adam Kolarek was a nice pick-up for the Dodgers at the deadline this year. I applaud him for not breaking the bank to sign Harper and Machado to monster contracts. Sometimes the best signings are the ones you don’t make. It’s hard to argue with all those division championships, even without the WS rings. Billy Beane doesn’t have a ring either.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well Rick, Oakland is not Los Angeles. They play in a dilapidated stadium in a city that won’t pony up for a new park with a payroll half of what the Dodgers have. Beane is pretty much a magician at keeping them competitive while keeping his payroll in check. He pretty much bases all he does on analytics, and when he has a solid asset, instead of losing that player to free agency he will turn him at the deadline for talent, case in point, Hill-Reddick to the Dodgers. Friedman has done a good job as you say, but this team was built to contend before he got here. They were coming off back to back division titles, and save Hanley Ramirez getting his ribs broke by Joe Kelly, probably would have made it to the series in 2013. His draft choices are just now making it to the majors. The real contributors from the farm are from Logan White’s leadership and the tenure of Colletti as GM. His deadline trades are iffy at best. Darvish contributed little after the trade and had one really good playoff start and totally melted down in the series. Reddick was a huge bust. Hill contributed little after the trade, but was better in the playoffs. But for the most part, Dodger fans have been forced to watch guys like McCarthy, Kazmir, Anderson and the like. He has struck pay dirt a couple of times, Muncy and Taylor pretty much came from no-where. He values versatility, but that can sometimes be this teams Achilles’s heel. You said Roberts makes the players better, not so. He has little to do with teaching or mentoring, his job is to make the players happy and communicate with them, and at that, he is pretty good. He does not look like a disciplinarian. And except for a couple times with Puig, I have never seen him be that way. But as a strategist and his handling of in game situations, he is pitiful. He may lose the bench coach he now has. Geren is a candidate for some of the managerial openings. But the structure of the team is on Friedman. Any one who believes he is going to stray from the path he has taken building this team has not been watching the last 5 years. As for Machado, he was not an astute pick up. It was a necessity due to the injury to Seager and the fact they were getting little offense out of the position. Though not a total bust, he was very average after the trade. Not the superstar at all they thought they were getting. Plus he is an arrogant ass. We nicknamed him the smirk. He did not in my eyes, play hard. Now it looks like they have already made the decision to keep Roberts at the helm. Being reported on numerous outlets, and I expected that with a deal that runs through 2022. But the thinking around this team needs to change. Hill also noted that he wants to re-sign with LA. I would do it only if he were a bullpen piece. Not a very reliable option in the starting rotation. We will probably know in a week or two if Friedman is going to get a new deal. They are conducting the exit interviews with the players this week. They also might be looking for a GM. They have not had one since Farhan left. Lots of decisions before spring training. I honestly believe that they will not sign a big ticket free agent like Cole. I think if they upgrade anywhere, it is going to be via a trade.

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  7. No shortage of opinion, and outrage, on the blogs. Most of the louder voices want Doc and Friedman to move on. Personally I would be fine if they did but don’t I expect it. Not with current ownership still in place. Speaking of that, I’m not crazy with what is going on in that sphere. Selling parts of this team to people who are only interested in a return of investment doesn’t sit well with me. Personally I think we’d be better off with one wealthy owner interested only in championships.

    This exit doesn’t sit well with anyone for obvious reasons. Doc made moves with his intuition that appeared to go against the data sheet information. Did the Friedman analytics team have any say in those curious moves? Seems obvious to me Doc had no confidence in his bullpen pieces. Frankly neither did I but I would have handled it much differently. His announcement of the “piggyback plan” was ridiculous. “Here’s what we’re going to do, so, prepare for it”. Dumb. And clearly he has no confidence in his closer. You bring in Gas Can Kelly and his 8+ ERA in the second inning of work in instead of Jansen? Is that on Doc or Friedman? We have NO field leader on this team. No Mr October or a Straw to Stir the Drink. It sure as hell isnt Mr MVP, it isn’t Seager or Turner. The pitching staff, leaders on the regular season stat sheets, got out pitched by the Wild Card team. That is at least partly because our all or nothing offense couldn’t lay off pitches spinning down and out of the strike zone. I have no clue of a remedy for that dysfunction.

    A lot of blame to go around. Blow it up? Not likely. All we can do now is watch what happens internally and comment when it does.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Well, Roberts appears to be staying & I believe Friedman will be retained as well. However, both should be gone.Tough to say that after winning a franchise record 106 games, but the product has a perception of staleness. Nobody can knock the success of Dave and Andrew but I don’t want to see the same movie again next year at this time— I know the ending. Honestly, I did not come to this conclusion after the game 5 debacle either. When they announced the NLDS roster with Hill on it and Gonsolin off it that it was it for me. Turn back to Sept 24 @ SD with Hill on the bump going 2 innings– he pitched very well but for those of you watching you saw what was alarming. Hill grimacing and limping around after several pitches. it was not a good sight. Fast forward to the lead up to game 4 and Dave states Hill is ready for 60-65 pitches? In a game where you can end it and save Buehler from having to go 100 plus pitches in a game 5? Sorry, that was a mickey mouse move by AF if he alone made it or if it was made in conjunction with Dave & Honeycutt. Hill had ZERO, ZIP on Mon night & that is not on him–he was essentially going on 1 leg, imo. Dave wants to talk piggyback starts? would have been better to do that Monday with Gonsolin, May & co. Count me in the group that does not want to see a game 4 starter “be good” for 60-65 pitches. That’s BS.

    Both Dave and AF will stay. Their same line of thinking might need to be tweaked. Maybe they spend big come Dec-Jan and if they do I say break the bank for the local kid (Cole)…..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Can’t disagree with any of that Friddo. As some of you may remember, I had Hill in the pen, ready for some late 1 or 2 inning lh magic. The fact he started and didn’t last can’t possibly surprise anyone but Roberts. As far as we’ve seen this movie before and know how it ends…. uh…. yep. We’ve relied on the McCarthy, Kazmir, Anderson, Hill model long enough. Change it up.

      Kershaw is a 32 year old $31 million #3. If he doesn’t go to Texas to finish it off, then we just let him get his 150 innings of 3 WAR from the middle of the rotation and surround him with stronger ballers. He’s glory days are in the past. He’s a HOFer, but not because of postseason play.

      Gerrit Cole just turned 29. Wish we would had him when he came available. Nope. Houston got it right with Verlander and Cole. Rendon is also 29. If I’m in charge I don’t give 30 year olds $200 million contracts. Those guys are past their prime. Yeah, they have a few good years left, but like Kemp, Pujols, Cabrera et al, they will become anchors. Unless he’s Verlander. Not likely. He’s a freak. The changes we need maybe should be done by trades, Betts, or not done at all, we ride our youth. Gonsolin, May, Urias, Gray, Buehler. Seager, Bellinger, Lux, Muncy, Verdugo, Ruiz, Beaty, Rios. We could probably win the West with those guys, unless San Diego gets Cole, SF rebounds and Arizona continues to improve. I don’t know. But Roberts coming back doesn’t fill me with hope for the future. Not without some roster changes. In my opinion we need a field leader, another horse in the rotation, a closer, a set up guy….

      I’m rambling. Think I’ll eat a late breakfast. Maybe meditate, go to Home Depot….. ramblin man….

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  9. They are not going to break the bank, or go over the luxury tax for anyone. So forget Cole-Rendon et al. MLB.com says the Dodgers biggest off season need is a big dog closer. Duh!

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  10. Managing pitching is certainly not Dave Roberts strong suit. That being said, we had a dreadful playoff series where our top hitters with the exception of a couple of homers by Muncy, Turner and Pederson choked. Roberts will stay, but something has to change. Fans are understandably upset, and I wouldn’t want to be Roberts on opening day! J/S
    #FanSince1962

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