Can Don Mattingly Effectively Construct the Dodgers Lineup?
By Matt Muncie
Let me start by saying that I love the Dodgers. And I like Donnie Baseball. I never have been and never will be overly fond of the Yankees (at least they’re not the Giants, right?), but I was always OK with Don Mattingly. So maybe when I say I ‘like’ him, I’m using the word like’ a little loosely. But I am not looking to start a witch-hunt here, unless of course by ‘witch’ you mean ‘win’. Let’s call this a win-hunt instead.
Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports
Spoiler alert. The answer to the title of this article is… Drum roll please… NO. No, he cannot effectively construct the Dodgers lineup. I started this article realizing that there were plenty of Dodger fans that do believe in Mattingly, and for that reason I wanted to tread lightly. But the more I looked into it, the more perplexing and infuriating it became. Before you think me bias, let me start by defending him – at least as much as I can. The team that Colletti gave us last year was a below average offensive team. Obviously a lot of that is because of the restrictions bestowed upon us by McCourt. And the Dodgers never dropped below .500. I am not trying to downplay that – see this as a victory. The Dodgers offense was roughly 9% below average, after adjusting for park effects, and yet they were a winning ball club all year long and in fact spent 88 games in first place.
Now the flip side. For starters, the head scratching decision to bat Dee Gordon 1st. Just because a player is fast does not mean he should bat first. Dee Gordon has potential. Dee Gordon I like, and I do not say that sarcastically. But Dee Gordon cannot hit and never demonstrated ideal lead-off capabilities even in the minors. The LA Times questioned Mattingly on April 28. Mattingly responded “We’ll keep riding this thing… For me, with Dee, it’s all part of it. You didn’t think he was going to come up and tear it up.” Dee was batting .224 with a .268 OBP at the time, while also leading the majors in caught-stealing. And even Mattingly stated he did not expect great success from Gordon. Which begs the question, why on earth bat him lead-off? This is not a knock against Gordon – this is a knock against his manager for continuing to put him in the spot, which as I would surmise caused the inexperienced youngster to struggle. Besides the bizarre decision to hit Gordon cleanup on May 2 and an 11 game stint batting 8th in late May/early June, Gordon was our full time lead-off hitter until the fourth of July. For those that don’t remember, that’s when he hit the DL. Dee had an abysmal year with a .280 OBP and registered 42% worse than your average NL hitter. The ONLY time Dee hit decently was – you guessed it, in the 11 game stint hitting 8th.
Next let’s tackle Juan Uribe. I mean literally. Tell me where he is and I will wait in the shadows until he walks by and then tackle him. I wouldn’t be concerned about him turning around and hitting me – he would be sure to swing and miss. How Uribe, with his .191 AVG and .258 OBP found his way into our lineup in 62 different games is beyond me. It’s beyond anyone. I can’t even stand typing about him anymore. Moving on.
AJ Ellis got on base at the 7th highest rate in the entire national league last year! He spent all of 5 games hitting second in the lineup. From July 16 through the rest of the year, every time his name was on that card in the dugout he was slotted in the 8 spot. The Dodgers were in first place by a half game as late as August 19th last year only to see that fall to 10 games behind by September 20. Ellis remained in that last spot in the lineup, even though no other team in the national league had a better top of the order hitter available except for the Rockies. I say that because although there were others with a better OBP than him, you’re not going to bat the likes of a Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen in a top slot. No. Only the Rockies Dexter Fowler, who admittedly profiles as a more traditional top-of-the-order type, was a more obvious candidate. And yet Ellis remained at the bottom, and the Dodgers continued to lose. And lose. And lose. And we had to endure Loney batting two spots ahead of him. But hey, let’s stick with what’s not working, right?
The poor lineup decisions don’t end there. As I edit this article I’ve decided to delete the other sections. Sections that rant about Guerra starting the season as the closer and a very effective Jerry Hairston losing playing time to the aforementioned big bats of Juan Uribe and James Loney. And not bringing in Abreu to pinch hit for Gordon when our season was on the line in our elimination game. I wanted to keep this piece as a win-hunt and that seems to be bordering on witch-hunt.
2013 is going to be an exciting year, but it’s also a year where Mattingly is on the hot seat. You’ve been given all the tools, Donnie. Now let’s show the world you have at least the slightest idea how to use them. In 2013, losing is not an option.