Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sabermetrics and Mattingly - "Buy In" Will Require Drastic Changes on His Part

As the 2015 MLB season is on the cusp of beginning, this Dodger 40-man roster has had a 40% turnover.   That's significant and I think it's safe to say that had Ned Colleti remained in charge, the likes of Kemp, Wilson, Federowicz, Butera, Gordon, Wright and others might still be around.

As two time defending division champions, the turnover in Los Angeles may seem by many to be an over-reaction.  It certainly is unprecedented, but with the Giants as reigning World Series Champions again, it's tough for the Dodgers to even view 2014 as a success.  The mind set in the front office is changing.  It's a "WS of bust" mentality.

All indications seem to aim towards Don Mattingly buying in to the new management's vision with a heavy emphasis in sabermetrics.    He certainly has said all the right things about the off-season changes.  The true question that needs to be asked  is: will his management style buy into that vision?  Mattingly has managed in old school style, straight out of the Joe Torre handbook.  His usage of the sacrifice bunt was about as asinine as that of any manager in the game.  More than once he took the bat out of his best hitter's hands only to leave a weak hitting player such as Andre Ether or worse yet, Drew Butera, to try to get  a key hit with two outs.

On several occasions he'd use up two players in double switches in inopportune times, or he'd burn up three pitchers in his bullpen to get three outs in the seventh or eighth inning.  It's fairly safe to say that Mattingly's bullpen management was not helpful to his lackluster middle relief and as a result, his decisions in that area cost the Dodgers in the NLDS.  

It's also quite clear that his decision to bench Yasiel Puig in the NLDS and utilize him up as a pinch runner (and not as a hitter) in their final loss was about as controversial a move as could be made.

It is this writer's opinion that Mattingly must change his style and make managerial adjustments in step with sabermetric analysis, or he's toast.  Gone needs to be the bunting.  Outs need to be valued at all costs. Mattingly has relied on the bunt all too often without looking at the game beyond one or two batters in his lineup.  Additionally, he needs a bench coach that is able to point out those particular facts to him and be influential enough to put a stop to it.  I haven't a clue if Wallach is doing this but all signs seem to point that is is not happening.

Mattingly's decisions in high pressure post season games have left a lot to be desired.  It has led many Dodger fans to wonder if he can't handle the high pressure situations.  Let this serve as a few painful reminders:

His failure to recognize that Kershaw was spent after six innings in game one and game four of the NLDS cost the Dodgers the series.  And it wasn't as if those moves (or lack of them) were unprecedented.  The same can be said for 2013 too as Kershaw coughed up an eight inning lead against Atlanta (in a game eventually won by Juan Uribe---who succeeded because he homered after failing to execute Mattingly's call for a BUNT!).  Even when the Cards had obviously figured out each Kershaw pitch that was coming in game one of the 2014 NLDS (7th inning), Mattingly left him out there to die.

Mattingly failed to think outside of the box, with his tunnel vision showing him that in his mind his only option was that uncomfortable middle relief corps.  I think it's safe to say that he never even considered stuffing out the rally with his closer, i.e. Jansen.  It's fairly obvious that Mattingly's mistrust of his middle relief forced his hand to leave his ace out on the mound to die.  

My apologies for diverting from the original points being made in this piece, (which are that Mattingly needs to adjust his managing style and decisions to analytics or perish), but it's tough to not start venting when thinking of the terrible on field decisions that were made the past two Dodger post seasons.

The Freidman/Zaidi team has removed some decisions from Mattingly by putting a vastly improved defensive team in his hands,  The losses of Kemp and Hanley Ramirez will be felt, but It can be argued that offensively the ballclub may be improved as well as the on base percentage will up-tick in the positive direction.  The new F/Z administrative team has agreed to give Donnie Ballgame a shot, but behind the scenes, one has to wonder if lengthy discussions have occurred discussing what in game strategy is acceptable and what is not.  It'll be interesting if Mattingly will adjust and has bought in to the changes.

The saying is "a leopard doesn't change his spots."  Hopefully Mattingly is able to prove that wrong.  For his sake, he better be willing to do so.  Based on this administration's willingness to cut bait with players they view as unproductive, regardless of how much money they are owed, I wouldn't doubt them doing the same with Mattingly if there isn't a meeting of the minds on baseball philosophy early on this year.  If that doesn't happen it would be no shock to see Mattingly packing his bags and returning home to Evansville, IN before the 2015 season is over.