Dodgers: Can Dave Roberts Be Elite in Calling Games Again?

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 03: Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts looks on during a spring training game against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch on March 3, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 03: Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts looks on during a spring training game against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch on March 3, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images) /

Look for Dodger fans anywhere you are today and ask them why the team came up short in the World Series last fall. I guarantee you there will immediately be many choice words and lots of expletives with the name Yu Darvish mixed somewhere in there every single time.

The loss still stings, and always will, for everyone from the casual fan to Clayton Kershaw. How about blaming Manager Dave Roberts, the guy who put Darvish there in the first place? Roberts holds the keys to victory on the quest to get back to the World Series for the Dodgers in 2018.

The game within the game

Houston Astros Manager A.J. Hinch and Roberts were playing the same game of chess all series long. Lots of mixing and matching starters and relievers, starting the game and coming out of the bullpen. Many good decisions, and some that didn’t work out. According to the numbers, throwing Darvish for Game 3 on the road in Houston (he did have way more success on the road in 2017), sounded like a good idea at the time. It ended up in a catastrophic blow-up that shifted all the momentum to the Astros.

Darvish pitching Game 7 at home? Another meltdown that highlighted the fact the difference between winning and losing a title, came down to managerial decision-making between two teams with equal talent. Hinch simply had a few more pitching decisions pan out, which made him look like a genius while Roberts has now been perceived by some as the opposite.

Manager = play caller

Gone are the days of asking starting pitchers to go eight or nine innings to preserve the bullpen. A starter only going 5 innings is no longer a disappointment, for some, it is now a goal. No more using the exact same batting lineup every single night. A new way of thinking for approaching the game: matchup-based moves in different scenarios fueled by advanced analytic stats rule baseball now.

Game planning with the numbers guys, communicating with his players and coaches, and using observation gives Doc an immense amount of information. Different ways to attack another team and put his players in the best position to succeed: a playbook so to speak. Roberts is just like an offensive coordinator or play caller in football.

He calls many plays during a game, and the success of them simply comes down to his gut feeling. Roberts is part of that new school mentality and he is one of the best at it. Without his play-calling, the team wouldn’t go as far as they have the last two seasons.

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Build a bridge to Kenley

The front office didn’t spend big money to re-sign Darvish, and I can’t see them going after the other big-priced free agent starter Jake Arrieta for one key reason. They don’t have to. They are confident with the pitching talent already on the team and what they’ve acquired this offseason.

There is so much versatility, youth, and experience to continue dominating the majors in 2018.  We have all seen how good Doc is at getting the most out of his guys. The players want to play for him, the winning culture he has built is based on playing to their strengths and maximizing ability. How well he assembles the bridge to the best closer in the game, Kenley Jansen will be up to him calling the right plays with the stacked playbook at his dispense.

Don’t be surprised to see Kenley or Kershaw come in the game in the seventh inning in crucial moments a few times again this year, Doc isn’t afraid to think outside the box. While many see pitching as the biggest question mark for the team going into the season, I am not worried about it, it will be a strength.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

During a championship run, lots of things have to break right in order to win it all. Some luck is needed, a healthy roster, great decisions, and execution by the players on the field. Being in any decision-making role will always see your choices either second-guessed or praised in different magnitudes depending on the situation.

On the biggest stage of his profession, Doc barely came up short. No matter what, it all comes down to what he feels is the best choice every time. Roberts called what he called in the World Series, so be it. His calls helped get the team there in the first place. He is surrounded by great talent in the dugout, upstairs in the executive offices, and on the field.

Next: Koehler is the first Dodger to go down this spring

Everything is lined up for Roberts to continue building on his managerial and playing experience to keep putting his team in positions to succeed and get back to the World Series. This is his team. Do your thing Doc, you got this.