In the weeks ahead as the season winds down, I’ll be analyzing some of the most critical decisions that Dave Roberts and his staff encounter on the road to the playoffs, and perhaps their sixth consecutive National League West Division title. Each decision will be broken down from an analytical, as well as from a “baseball” perspective, offering different possible solutions and alternatives, as opposed to only being critical of decisions that didn’t work. We’re not a results oriented space here, so there may be some critical analysis on a decision that worked, and positivity surrounding a move that didn’t materialize. No matter the case, this past week has been a difficult one for the Dodgers and their fans, and after some questionable moves made by Dave Roberts, he definitely has some explaining to do. Or does he?
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Dodgers 3 A’s 2 Bottom 6th
Rich Hill took a shutout into the 6th when things started to get shaky for him. Chapman led off the inning with a line drive into the left field corner for a double, then he had a long at-bat with Lowrie before striking him out looking. Khris Davis is due up next, and it’s at this point, leading in a close game that Dave Roberts must decide how to get 8 outs from Hill, Alexander, Floro/Chargois to get the ball to Kenley. Roberts already had Dylan Floro up in the bullpen, ultimately deciding that if he were to be used this inning that it would essentially be the high-leverage situation that Floro has earned to this point.
Now, there are two possible scenarios stemming from this Davis at-bat that alter the makeup of the bullpen usage in this game going forward:
Scenario 1: Hill retires Davis…At which point Hill will be given the opportunity to finish the inning against the next hitter, Canha.
Scenario 2: Davis reaches, forcing the tying run to the plate…At which point Roberts replaces Hill with Floro, to face Canha.
What happened: Davis homered, of course, clearing the bases with one out.
This was an unlikely scenario where the tying run is still coming to the plate, however, now it’s essentially a clean inning for Floro. It’s at this point that Dave Roberts must adjust his thinking from how to get out of this inning with the lead, and create a long-term plan to get these 8 outs. He can plan to split these 8 outs between your two most reliable relievers Floro, Alexander, and make the adjustment if one of them gets in trouble. He must also keep in mind that the heart of the A’s order is likely going to hit in the 8th, so he’s going to want to go with your best guy in that spot. Or so, you would think…
Back to the game: Floro strikes out Canha, and is replaced with Scott Alexander.
Replacing Floro after one batter, now drastically thins your bullpen with 7 outs to get to Jansen. Alexander, who has essentially become their main setup man is now going to face the bottom of the order with the heart of it still looming in the 8th. Who else is he trusting here?
As it turns out it was JT Chargois. Now, he has had good results since returning from the minors:
9.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, BB, 12 K
But keep in mind, he recently returned from the minors, as opposed to Dylan Floro who has been good all year in Cincinnati, and nearly unhittable since coming to LA. Removing Floro’s first appearance after the All-Star break where he hadn’t pitched in six days, and was asked to close the game for the first time, his numbers are astounding:
12 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, BB, 13 K
It seemed he’d earned the trust from Roberts to become their main setup right-hander, however, by removing him after just one batter, and replacing him with Alexander, he somehow made it impossible to finish a one-run game on the road with only using your three best relievers. So, Alexander is facing lefty Matt Olson, then all righties after him, which is fine, as Alexander is just as tough against righties as he is lefties. More on that later…
Alexander got 4 of the next 5 batters to get the Dodgers into the 8th where Roberts went with Chargois. Apparently that was the plan all along, to use your best two guys to get 5 outs between them, bridging to someone that hasn’t been trusted in big spots since early in the season, to face 2-3-4 in the order. If Chargois is going to be used for an inning, would it have been better to use him in the 7th against all righties at the bottom of the order, and saving Alexander (who Roberts said himself is their best option in the pen outside of Kenley) for the heart of the order, and turning Jed Lowrie around to the right side where he has no power?
If this was Roberts’ plan, he’s ultimately making the statement that JT Chargois has already earned his trust for the highest of high-leverage opportunities. If that’s not the case then this was a botched attempt at creating that bridge to Kenley Jansen, as somehow Roberts gave the A’s an opportunity to go through the heart of their order in a one-run game against the Dodgers fourth best option in the pen when everyone was readily available after an off day.
What happened: Chargois pitched a masterful 8th and retired the side in order before Kenley came on in the 9th to close it out. Dodgers win 4-2!
Unfortunately, this won’t be the last we hear of JT Chargois this week…
Friday, August 10 @Colorado
Dodgers 4 Rockies 3 Top 6th
Muncy on 3rd, 1 Out.
Here, we have an obvious scoring situation with Muncy at 3rd and one out in a 1-run game. The problem is Kenta Maeda is due up. Seems like a clear pinch-hit situation, but first, let’s see where Maeda is at in the game. He’s given up 3 runs in 5 innings, and had 8 baserunners. Not exactly mowing ‘em down tonight. Here’s the key factor…He’s thrown 88 pitches. He only has one more inning max, and that’s if no one reaches in the bottom half, otherwise he’ll likely be pulled anyway. Roberts must now decide if one run now is worth giving up a possible 3 outs from Maeda in a best case scenario. In Roberts’ defense, Maeda only strikes out 20% of the time, however, he often only makes soft contact which may not score a run in that case. Let’s look at options off the bench and their strikeout rate, as a K here is disaster.
Matt Kemp– 23%
The probability of scoring a run with a runner on 3rd and 1 out is 65% with an average hitter at bat. With Maeda hitting, it’s likely the run probability drops below 50% making it less likely that they’re scoring a run this inning by not pinch hitting. So if Roberts is going to hit for Maeda, who does he choose?
Machado looks like the obvious choice. He has the lowest K rate, and the highest average, however, it’s only the 6th inning and there could be a spot later in the game where the situation is demanding a hit or extra-base hit, as opposed to this spot where a simple ground ball or fly ball will do. He could also serve as a defensive replacement later in the game if they’re ahead, or stay in the game defensively after pinch-hitting. Since he was given an off day, if they use him here it’s likely he’s done for the game, as an off day usually doesn’t constitute playing nearly half the game.
Kemp is the most logical choice considering the situation and possible later situations. Yes, he has the highest K rate of all bench options, however, the Dodgers are already leading, so Kemp is unlikely to see time in the outfield, as he sits late in games when they’re ahead. It should be noted he is mired in a slump, but this could be a spot for him to come through for the team in a high probability scenario, and head into the weekend with something positive behind him for the first time in a while.
Hernandez is limited in this scenario for much of the same reasons as Machado. Kike can be used later in the outfield for defensive purposes when leading. He is also the first choice for pinch-hitting duties for Joc Pederson when the opposition goes to a lefty out of the bullpen.
A strong case could be made for letting Maeda hit if this was the 5th inning, and Kenta was likely going to go 2+ innings, or if he had lower pitch count that indicates he has 2+ innings left in the tank. Maybe even if they’re playing at home where runs are at a premium and it’s more likely a 4-3 lead is going to hold up for 12 more outs. When playing in Coors Field, it’s not expected that a one-run lead is going to hold up for 4 innings, so when there’s opportunities to score, teams better capitalize on those chances, because the opponent will. After evaluating the situation, it still seems like a clear pinch-hit spot. Let’s see what they did:
What happened: Maeda hits and pops up to 3rd. Pederson flies out. Maeda gets one more out, and is replaced with a runner on 2nd. Dodgers lose 5-4.
Saturday, August 11 @Colorado
Dodgers 2 Rockies 0 Bottom 9th
With Kenley Jansen reportedly out for a month, all signs were pointing to Scott Alexander taking over as closer the majority of the time, although, Dave Roberts stated it may be closer by committee in some situations. This was apparently one of those situations.
Scott Alexander starts the 9th with 3-4-5 due up for the Rockies. Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story, and Gerardo Parra. Keep in mind Nolan Arenado is available to pinch-hit after sitting with right shoulder soreness.
Alexander strikes out Gonzalez, then Story doubles. Nolan Arenado was on deck to pinch-hit for Parra, and comes up to face Alexander as the tying run. This is where it gets interesting.
The last two years Nolan Arenado has destroyed left-handed pitching, hitting over .400 with 1.300 OPS. Against right-handed pitching he’s human with over a .800 OPS. Ordinarily, a manager would never let Arenado hit in this situation late in the game against a lefty. Remember historically, Scott Alexander is just as tough against righties as he his lefties, so he’s not your typically lefty. He’s also a ground ball pitcher in a spot where only a homerun beats him. Arenado is 1-3 with a HR lifetime off Alexander, so not a lot of history there. On deck is Ian Desmond who typically hits lefties a little better than he does righties, but as mentioned, Alexander does not have the typical splits.
Dave Roberts can go one of two paths here. Stick with Alexander to try to get 2 outs against two right-handed hitters. If he only gets one, then a rookie lefty is due up with the game on the line and 2 out, and the Dodgers get the matchup they want.
Roberts can take out Alexander, and go with either RHP’s Floro or Chargois to get Arenado and Desmond, risking a reverse matchup with McMahon who beat them the previous night. This seems like the best option if all things work out perfectly. LA gets the matchup they want for two batters, game over. However, Arenado’s OBP is .390, and Desmond’s is just over .300, so over half the time one of those hitters is going to reach base, which makes it most likely that the game is going to be on the line with McMahon representing the winning run. Even Orel Hershiser mentioned on the broadcast that the conversation between Roberts and Chargois on the mound may have been instructions to not give in to Arenado, which makes the chances even higher that he could walk in that situation, almost ensuring a McMahon at-bat. The Dodgers had already used lefty Caleb Ferguson earlier in the game, and their two other lefties Zac Rosscup was taken deep by McMahon the night before, and Pat Venditte, the ambidextrous pitcher is not a high-leverage pitcher.
If Roberts stays with Alexander, again, only a homerun ties the game, so barring that occurrence, the Dodgers are choosing to stay with their best guy in the biggest spot, and will likely end up with the exact matchup they want with the game on the line…Alexander vs McMahon.
What happened: Roberts replaces Alexander for Chargois. Arenado walks. Desmond grounds out into a fielder’s choice on another great play by Dozier. McMahon homers off Chargois. Dodgers lose 3-2.
Sunday, August 12 @Colorado
Dodgers 3 Rockies 3 Bottom 9th
Runners on 2nd & 3rd 2 Outs
Dylan Floro finally gets the high-leverage call in a tie game in the 9th. Dustin LeMahieu leads off the 9th with a single to deep right, as he’s stopping round first, Puig bobbles the ball, and lets LeMahieu reach 2nd. Story strikes out. They choose to walk the lefty Dahl, setting up a double play to get to the right-handed Ian Desmond. He grounds out to Turner at third, and both runners advance, putting them at 2nd and 3rd. Our friend Ryan McMahon is due up again, and Dave Roberts has a decision to make. Pitch to McMahon, presumably bringing in Alexander to face him, or walk him and have Floro face Chris Iannetta with the bases loaded.
Alexander has no history with McMahon, and Iannetta is 0-1 off Floro. There are risks to both choices Roberts could make here. If he pitches to McMahon, any slow hit ball, or something in the hole is going to be trouble with no force anywhere, so an infield single beats you. If they walk McMahon to face Iannetta, they create a force at every base with a slower runner at the plate. The risk is a walk loses the game, so if Floro falls behind, he may be forced to get something over giving Iannetta a better pitch to hit. Iannetta walks at an above league average rate of 11.5%. Floro, however, walks a below average 6.7%, and has only walked 2 out of 47 batters faced since being acquired by the Dodgers. Well, 2 out of 47 up until this at-bat.
With a good control pitcher on the mound, and a slow runner at the plate with a force at every base, and a spot where you don’t have to make a pitching change in a tie game that may be headed to extra innings…All indications are leaning towards walking McMahon to face Iannetta as the correct move.
What happened: Floro walked Iannetta. Dodgers lose 4-3.
In a week that saw the Dodgers go 2-4, when they could’ve gone 6-0, or even 0-6, it could’ve been worse. The biggest loss appears to be Kenley Jansen, who along with Justin Turner, seem to be the most irreplaceable players on the team. However, reinforcements are arriving in the bullpen this week with Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling sacrificing starting roles to assist in closing out some of these close games the Dodgers keep finding themselves in.
As for Dave Roberts, who found himself in quite a few precarious situations this week, may just find himself in a tough spot again this week against the Giants. He can make the seemingly wrong decision and have it work out, or he can make the seemingly right decision and have it not work out. However, there is never a definite “wrong” or “right” choice when it comes to baseball. Even a “wrong” choice is going to have some probability of being right, and vice versa. But no matter what happens it’s always interesting, and we’ll be here to break it all down going forward.