Dave Roberts Deserves Manager of the Year Award
Fall is in the air, which can only mean one thing: October baseball. “Black Monday” saw a number of managers part ways with their now-former teams, mutually or otherwise, while other managers were busy finalizing their playoff rosters. Dave Roberts, the first-year manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, fell into the latter category, and for good reason. Roberts helped guide his team through a plethora of injuries, alleviated alpha egos, and instilled a culture of team success over individual accolades from the get-go.
Dealing with Injuries
If one were to go back to Spring Training and tell Roberts all the injuries his team would incur during this season, not even he would believe that his team would go on to win the National League West. Clayton Kershaw spent 75 days on the disabled list and missed 13 starts. Andre Ethier missed almost the entire season due to a leg injury suffered during Spring Training. Rookie pitcher Kenta Maeda was the only starting pitcher not to miss a start, or spend time on the disabled list. Overall, they placed a record 28 players on the disabled list. They used 15 different starting pitchers, many of whom were rookies, and 54 different players.
Despite all these injuries, Roberts was able to change his game plan and help his team win. The bullpen proved to be a great relief. Rather than have his starters go six or seven innings, he would have them go four or five and turn the ball over to the pen.
The lineup varied immensely and daily. Players were asked to play different positions to help out the team. During a stretch in August, Howie Kendrick started at four different positions in four straight games. It made no difference; Roberts had connected with his club and ingrained a “grinder” mentality to get his team to win, and the players jumped on board.
Placing Egos by the Wayside
When Ethier went down prior to the season, the Dodgers were left without a lead off hitter. Roberts summoned veteran Chase Utley, a perennial three or four hitter during his days with the Philadelphia Phillies, to his office and asked him if he would fill the void. Utley immediately accepted. He went on to lead the lineup behind him, setting the example for youngsters Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Trayce Thompson of how to play the game.
Along with upper management, Roberts also made it known that attitude problems would not be tolerated. Outfielder Yasiel Puig was sent down to Triple-A Oklahoma City after the team failed to trade him by the deadline due to clubhouse disturbances. They did so in the hopes that it would humble him, and for the most part, it worked. After a month of riding overnight buses and living the life of a minor leaguer, they called Puig back up to join the 40-man roster in September. Over the final month of the season, Puig’s attitude was noticeably changed. He hit .281 with four home runs and a .900 OPS. Puig was finally on board with the idea of team over individual performance.
Team over Individual Performance
During the first week of the season, pitcher Ross Stripling took a no hitter into the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants in his major league debut. He was coming off Tommy John surgery and the team had already set a maximum 100 pitch count for him. After walking a batter in the eighth inning, Roberts pulled the young right-handed pitcher. The Dodgers ultimately lost the game and Roberts admitted that it was a tough decision, but would make the same call again. Little did he know he would be faced with a similar decision later in the season, but he stuck true to his word.
During the final month of the season, Rich Hill had a perfect game through seven innings against the Miami Marlins. Hill had already missed over a month with blisters on his throwing hand, and they began to flair up during the game. When he stepped into the dugout after retiring the side in the seventh, a mere six outs away from a perfect game, Roberts informed him that he would not be returning for the eighth inning. After the game, Roberts said that they would rather have him in the postseason than allow him to finish the game, potentially injuring himself along the way. Hill will be starting game two of the National League Division Series on Saturday against the Washington Nationals.
The way that Roberts was able to get his team to rally past the injuries, set aside their egos, and embrace the team culture propelled the Dodgers into the playoffs. They won their fourth-straight division title, but don’t want to stop there. It’s time to bring a World Series Championship back to Los Angeles for the first time since 1988.