Every first-year manager has the arduous task of grooming his team’s image to match his vision, and rookie manager Dave Roberts certainly has his work cut out for him in Los Angeles. In one of his first major breaks away from the “Mattingly Way”, Roberts has declared the era of personal catchers for starting pitchers has come to an end.
Make no mistake, the idea of a personal catcher was very important for previous manager Don Mattingly, Clayton Kershaw and A.J. Ellis. Since 2012, Ellis has sat behind the dish for 80% (102) of Kershaw’s starts. The only other duo with more coupled starts (109) is Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey up in the bay.
Mattingly had used Yasmani Grandal in place of Ellis on occasion last season, but Roberts has tossed the entire idea in no uncertain terms. Roberts said,
"“…the idea of a personal catcher, I don’t see that happening.”"
This move was big enough that Roberts wisely sat down with Kershaw and Ellis and informed them of his decision before saying anything to the press. It was a mature gesture that showed respect to the players, while establishing his authority.
When a new skipper comes in, he will inevitably face some opposition to changing things from how they were done in the past. He’ll have to choose upon which hills he wants to plant his flag and not budge. This could be one of those times. However, it’s also a very good move for Roberts.
He will end a connection to the previous regime, and it’s a sound baseball decision. Kershaw and Ellis may very well have ESP when it comes to being a battery, but when A.J. Ellis is a hole in the lineup (as he was for at least half of 2015), his presence actually hurts his pitcher.
Last season Kershaw showed that he can pitch well enough with Grandal behind the plate, so there is no reason to sit Grandal automatically just because it’s Kershaw’s turn in the rotation. Eliminating personal catching days also gives Roberts more flexibility in managing lineups as the season progresses. He can sit or play catchers based on matchups, injuries, or hot streaks without regard to who’s personal day is coming up.
Although I’m as optimistic about the Dodgers’ players as everyone else is in Spring Training, I’m hoping to see Roberts take things a step further and really open up the opportunities for Austin Barnes to break into the lineup if Ellis can’t get things started this April and May.
This was no small step for the rookie manager, and I like the direction in which he’s headed.