COMMENTARY | With the Los Angeles Dodgers' struggles thus far in 2013, many fans have voiced their displeasure with the club via social media, and, not surprisingly, the calls for manager Don Mattingly's head have been raining down with regularity.
The team sits in the cellar of the NL West with a record of 18-26, a full seven games behind the San Francisco Giants. There's still a lot of season left to be played and the Dodgers have dealt with a plethora of injuries, but fans are rarely patient, especially when their favorite team has the second highest payroll in baseball at over $200 million. Logic and rational solutions should be prevalent in these times so with that in mind, let's look at what is and is not Don Mattingly's fault.
The roster is littered with utility players who can't hit, but it was GM Ned Colletti who constructed said roster, not Don Mattingly. Colletti built a team with no power off the bench, injury-prone players around the diamond, and the same type of player occupying numerous roster spots (Luis Cruz, Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, Juan Uribe).
Injuries have torn through the Dodgers' roster this season, which, of course, can't be placed on the shoulders of Donnie Baseball, with one exception. Mattingly and the entire Dodgers' staff should be held accountable for allowing Matt Kemp to play through his severe shoulder injury as 2012 wound down, as I wrote about recently. Players want to play through injury but it is the job of the organization, manager included, to have the player's long-term interests in mind, particularly when that player is an offensive juggernaut in the midst of one of the greatest year-long offensive binges in recent memory.
In addition to Kemp's slow start coming back from injury, Zack Greinke has made only four starts; Hanley Ramirez has played in four games; Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have been dinged up; Mark Ellis, Josh Beckett and Chris Capuano have had DL stints; and Chad Billingsley is done for the year. Injuries are most often fluky things, and the Dodgers have been hit by a ton of them this season.
While Mattingly can't and shouldn't be faulted for the roster and injuries beyond Kemp's, he has hindered the team with his insistence on bunting so often. The run expectancy when bunting does not always favor the bunt, but Mattingly relies on it seemingly every chance he gets. There are only 27 outs in a game and giving one up on a meaningless bunt is wasteful and poor from a strategic standpoint. Mike Petriello, in his review of Mattingly's 2012 performance, touches upon his bunting fetish.
Mattingly falls short in lineup configuration as well, and it is most obvious in his placement of A.J. Ellis. Ellis has batted higher than fifth in just seven games since the start of the 2012 campaign. A.J. Ellis, he of the career .372 on-base percentage. The name of the game is to score runs, and you can't score without guys getting on base.
A.J. does it exceptionally well, and he'd be a perfect guy to bat in front of the likes of Kemp, Gonzalez, Ramirez and Andre Ethier. Instead, Mattingly has gone with Dee Gordon (career .297 OBP), Mark Ellis (career .331 OBP), and a host of others. There is no rule that catchers have to bat in the lower half of the lineup and middle infielders have to bat first or second.
Finally, Mattingly's bullpen management leaves much to be desired, though in fairness this is one of those areas most managers struggle in. One example of many is a recent game against the Atlanta Braves that saw the Dodgers' skipper leave in lefty Paco Rodriguez to face righty Justin Upton. Upton crushed the ball, as you'd expect. Mattingly has allowed Brandon League to pitch in high-leverage situations over Kenley Jansen, overworked and under-utilized his elite relievers, and generally struggled to competently run his pen.
While I have always preferred Tim Wallach to Don Mattingly as Dodgers' skipper, Mattingly has not done anything drastically different in 2013 that would warrant him getting a pink slip. His flaws are the same as they always were, as chronicled here by Chad Moriyama, and I see nothing that is worthy of a canning that wasn't already present in his game management. The Dodgers have been fine with his decision-making thus far, and I don't foresee that changing as long as Colletti remains general manager.
That's the real change that needs to be made, and it's been that way for almost a decade.
You can find and follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke. A graduate of UCLA in 2011 with a Bachelor's in History, he's been a follower of the Dodgers since birth and still mourns the loss of both Mike Piazza and Carlos Santana.
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