The Dodgers have definitely underperformed under manager Dave Roberts, but overall he has done an admirable job in the first half of his rookie season.
Coming into spring training, expectations were high for this year’s Dodgers, as they always are in a big sports market like Los Angeles, and maybe even more so with Roberts being handed the keys to the highest salaried roster in MLB (north of $227 million). With the first 81 games behind them, the 44-37 team is desperately chasing their rivals up north for the division, and it is looking like they may have to grind it out with no fewer than six or seven teams to earn a wild card playoff spot. While many are not satisfied with the team’s position, let’s take a closer look at the ups and downs of Roberts’ first half as their field general.
Motivation: I start here because this is one of the main reasons Roberts locked down the job. Dodger players and upper management alike literally gush about the positivity that pours out of Roberts no matter the situation. Former manager Don Mattingly, while liked by most of his players (Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier were apparently not in this camp), could never seem to motivate the group or foster any team chemistry–aside from the home run bubble machine of 2015. Though the results haven’t always been there this season, the players LOVE playing for Roberts. For better or worse, he sticks by them through their slumps. Case in point: pretty much nobody in the western world believed Justin Turner would hit again, but Roberts hung with J.T. and sure enough, the red-haired wonder has rebounded and made his manager look like a genius. Roberts has earned his team’s trust, and this can’t be underestimated, especially as the playoff race heats up this summer. They will want to win for him and they will want to win for each other because of the leadership, confidence, and camaraderie Roberts has brought to the club. Let’s just say that the below A-Gon festive wardrobe day wouldn’t have happened under Mattingly.
Lineups: Given the crazy number of injuries (now add Clayton Kershaw to this long list) and D.L. visits the team has endured this season, Roberts has done a great job of filling out his lineup card each night. Most players never knew where they stood with Mattingly last year and came to the ballpark without knowing if they were even playing that night. Some games, Roberts does go off the reservation and seems to be taking notes from the nerds upstairs (the all righty lineup against the Pirates in the last game of the recent series is an example), but, for the most part, he has stuck with a core group and a fairly consistent lineup, while also working in bench players to keep them fresh. He seems to know when a guy needs a breather and when to ride him a little longer. Getting the right combination of players on the field for 162 games is a balancing act, and Roberts seems to know how to work with the injury-plagued hand he has been dealt.
On-Field Decisions: Okay, here is where there are some head-scratchers, but let’s keep in mind that Roberts is a rookie. The first big double-take of Roberts’ career was pulling rookie Ross Stripling from a potential no-hitter in his first MLB start (I think we can all agree that his arm wasn’t going to fall off). Calling the bullpen at the right time has continued to be one of Roberts’ weaknesses all season. Granted, he is working with an inconsistent set of relievers, but anybody following the team knows the outcome will not be good if you bring in Pedro Baez with runners on base and the game on the line. Baez has proven time and again that he works best starting a clean inning, and yet he still sees a fair amount of high-leverage work. In the final game of the recent series against the Pirates, Roberts brought in Baez to start the eighth (good idea), and even though he began by blowing away two of the their best hitters, Jung Ho Kang and Starling Marte, he had closer Kenley Jansen come in for a four-out save that nearly backfired in the ninth (Jansen is still “new” at working more than one inning). It would be understandable if Josh Harrison was a true threat, but with only three home runs on the season, why not let Baez finish out a strong inning?
Another big disappointment with Roberts’ decision making on the field is the lack of a running game. Coming into the season, it seemed like a no-brainer that a former base-stealing machine like Roberts would bring that element of the game to his team. Obviously, the Dodgers don’t have a ton of speed, but even old dude Howie Kendrick has proven with his seven steals (leads the team!) that it can be done. Why not send the fresh legs of Joc Pederson, Trayce Thompson, Corey Seager, Puig, etc. more often? Winning teams run, it’s that simple. Finally, for some reason, Roberts is in love with the double-switch. We get that you know how to use it, Dave, but really, you don’t need to prove it by employing it every game! The bench has run short in some games because of his overuse of the double-switch and his propensity to sub in guys for no real reason.
Good Karma: This final category is mainly for fun. Last season, it seemed like usually when Mattingly contested a call, he lost the instant replay review (he had 43% of calls overturned). Conversely, Roberts’ positive energy and vibes seems to be translating into some good karma with the MLB crew in New York, as he has had 64% of calls overturned. You never know, in a tight playoff race, one key play going in his favor could be the difference between Roberts’ first season being deemed a success or a failure. Well, maybe everything doesn’t ride on one play, but it certainly will be exciting to see how the second half of Roberts’ inaugural season plays out.