Inside Look at The Dodger’s In-Game Decisions Over The Last Week

Dave Roberts

Just one week after falling behind the Arizona Diamondbacks by 4 ½ games in the National League West, all is right in Dodgerland once again. Kenley Jansen has had three straight scoreless appearances, collecting two saves, and a win. Walker Buehler looks like the ace of the future, or maybe even the present. Matt Kemp has returned from his second half swoon to save the Dodgers in consecutive days, propelling them to a ½ game lead over the Rockies in the West. There were two decisions Dave Roberts had this week that really stuck out. Let’s take a look.

Friday, August 31 vs Arizona

D-Backs 2   Dodgers 1   Bottom 7th

With the bases empty, two out, and the pitcher’s spot due up, Dave Roberts had a decision to make. Hyun-Jin Ryu was through seven innings, allowing only two hits since the 1st inning, while retiring the last 10 batters he faced. He had only thrown 86 pitches to this point, well within the framework to go back out there for the 8th inning to keep the game within reach. However, with the Dodgers trailing it seemed like the obvious choice was to pinch-hit for Ryu for a shot at a two-out rally. Not so fast…

When you look at the numbers it’s not as obvious of a decision as it may seem. By sending up a pinch-hitter for Ryu, who is a lifetime .176 hitter, Roberts would be refusing to essentially concede the inning to the Diamondbacks. But what equity is he gaining exactly? The run expectancy of a bases empty, 2 outs situation is just .095, and the probability of scoring a run is only about 6%. Let’s assume that if Ryu hits, the probability of scoring a run in the inning is 0%, which it is not, Roberts is only giving the Dodgers a 1 in 20 shot at scoring at least one run. Is this worth taking out your starting pitcher who has essentially dominated a lineup for the last six innings? Well, contrary to what he has chosen to do in similar situations all season, he thought so.

What Happened: Kike Hernandez pinch-hit for Ryu, and homered to tie the game. Dodgers won 3-2.

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Sunday, September 2 vs Arizona

Dodgers 1   D-Backs 1   Top 9th

After the Dodgers failed to score in the bottom of the 8th with Kenley Jansen warming up in the bullpen, the Diamondbacks were due to send up left-handed hitting Daniel Descalso, switch-hitter Ketel Marte, and left-handed Alex Avila. Caleb Ferguson pitched a dicey 8th inning, allowing a leadoff walk and a hit, before striking out Escobar to end the inning. Ferguson’s spot in the order did not come up in the bottom half of the 8th, so he was still able to start the 9th inning if that’s what Roberts chose to do. The standard play in this situation is to bring in the closer Jansen in a tie game in the 9th inning at home to give your offense the best chance to win it in the bottom half. Does Roberts leave Ferguson in for the 9th or go to Jansen?

The Case for/against Caleb Ferguson: Caleb is a lefty, so Roberts can at least start the inning playing the matchup with left-handed Descalso leading off. However, Ferguson isn’t exactly a matchup guy. He appears to be as effective against righties as he is against lefties, with almost identical OPS marks of .665 vs .660. Also, Descalso is hitting 34 points higher against lefties than righties this year, and with more power. Not to mention he’s 1-12 with 7 strikeouts against Kenley Jansen in his career. The next batter, switch-hitting Ketel Marte hits 97 points higher from the right side against lefties with more extra base hits in almost half as many plate appearances.

Clearly, it would seem that Jansen is the no-brainer choice for Roberts to go to here. The only reason Ferguson could be used to start this 9th inning is workload, perhaps. Jansen is only a little over a week from returning from the DL, and has only recently started to look like himself. This would be his third day of work in a row, and it’s possible Roberts would want to steal an out with the lefty/lefty matchup to limit Kenley’s pitches in this appearance, otherwise, there’s no clear advantage to not having the closer start and finish the inning.

What Happened: Descalso homered off Ferguson. Dodgers still won 3-2.

The Dodgers were absolutely rolling into September last season when they entered Players Weekend, and subsequently lost 16 of 17 games. This year, they were at their lowest point of the season after getting swept by the Cardinals and falling 4 ½ games out of first place when Players Weekend arrived. It seemed to have come at the perfect time to change the mood in the clubhouse, as they swept the Padres, and have rolled off 8 wins in their last 9 games to retake first place. Maybe it was Players weekend, maybe it was the Padres coming into town, or maybe it was Clayton Kershaw’s Ping Pong tournament that turned it all around, but no matter what it was, it came at the right time setting up the city for one fun month.

Chad Clarke

I grew up in San Diego a lifelong Dodger fan. The only nosebleed I’ve ever had was minutes before Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. I used to dress up as Steve Sax every Halloween, and Mike Piazza is my all-time favorite player. I patterned my windup in Little League after Orel Hershiser, and called my own baseball video games as if I was Vin Scully. I used to work in basketball, but have been drawn back to baseball in recent years. I’m fascinated with the strategy and decision-making involved in the game, and glad I can write about it here. I love to discuss opposing viewpoints, so feel free to comment and I’ll try to respond.

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11 thoughts on “Inside Look at The Dodger’s In-Game Decisions Over The Last Week

  1. A couple of good decisions and they won the games. You look back over the entire year and Dave has made some bad ones. Usually it will even out over the course of the season. This year has been one of huge ups and downs and some disappointments. Nobody expected Taylor to repeat last season, neither did they expect him to become the whiff machine he is. Kemp was not even going to make the team. Muncy came from no where. Turner and Seager went down early as did the big off season free agent signing, Tom Koehler, who will end up spending the entire year on the DL. Kershaw was injured again, so the big starting rotation shuffle started. Here we are in September and they do not have one single pitcher with double digit wins. Stripling with 8 is the leader. Who would have believed that in the year he can opt out, Kershaw would be having one of his worst seasons win wise. FAZ shocked everybody and went after the biggest gun at the deadline. Machado has been decent. But he has not been the same guy he was in Baltimore. And he as of yet, is still to have that defining moment in Dodger blue. Without Kemp and Muncy, Grandal’s monster first 6 weeks, they are no where near where they are now. It is hard to believe when you look back, that their bullpen is rated by MLB.COM as the #4 bullpen among the contenders. As many late inning leads as they have blown, wow, to be in that spot is just a bit mind boggling. Their RISP has to be the worst it has been in years. Kemp’s heroics the last few games notwithstanding, they suck in the clutch. They have had 1 walk off homer all year, Grandal hit that what seems like ages ago. The back up catcher can’t hit after being a .280 hitter and very clutch last year. 24 games left. Every in game decision from now until the game that someone clinches the division is going to be huge. I give the Rockies manager, Bud Black, the lead in making those kinds of decisions. Roberts is going to have to up his game and be smarter.

  2. Puig starting his 2 day suspension. Doc going with his all righty lineup. Bad news is that Barnes is playing. Rather see Gale or Farmer in there….they are after all on the roster.

    1. Bear
      Looks like the Dodgers got on their hittin shoes tonight. They have 11 runs and 13 hits so far. Wow! Gotta keep it going.

  3. Seems like Badger and MJ have taken it easy these days.

    Anyways, Chad with another excellent article on the decision making. Some may not like the second guessing, but I for one thinks Chad is doing a great job. He’s looking behind the decisions under SABR circumstances, this is what I really like about his approach.

    Now what do I think about this? I think there is a real problem when there are conflicting stats. For example Descaldo has bad luck (stats) against Jansen on limited samples. Do you go with the limited samples stats, or go with his handedness, or do you go with the pseudo-reverse-splits of Ferguson? These conflicting stats is what “old school” is all about. You look at how the batter is playing that evening, you look at how the pitcher has been warming up, and you make a decision that may be justified by one set of stats but not supported by other stats. That is why some managers are better than others – being able to read the situation. Now you’ve got stats to back up most controversial situations – that is precisely why they are controversial in the first place, but that doesn’t mean the manager is old school vs. new school, sometimes it just means whether the manager is a good one, or not, over time. I think Roberts has earned some trust with his (relatively brief but very successful) history, but I also think he’s eaten up most of the buffer this year. This team is under-performing, even with the win today, and they need to pull it together in the next couple of weeks. And don’t give me that cop-out crap about the post-season being a crap shoot.

  4. Another solid post Chad.

    First place Colorado run differential -10. Second place LA run differential +133. I’d like to hear Chad’s explanation on why the Pythagorean record of these two teams is so askew. He gets it. I’d ask the group here that question but I’d just get some blubbering prattle blaming Dummy.

    1. Oh what I wouldn’t give for a respite from the inane “dummy” talk. But it isn’t happening…

      I really hope Chad knows more about Pythagorean than I do, but my take is simply that the Dodgers have a better team, but the record doesn’t correspond. The hitting with runners in scoring position definitely is in play (pun), but it’s hard to even come up with a reason for that being so amiss this year.

      McCullough nailed it in a recent article:
      http://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/la-sp-dodgers-state-of-team-20180823-story.html

      1. Hey Scott. Thanks for asking.

        I’ve been busy trying to learn and fully understand many of today’s issues. On baseball – I’ve been reading stat pages, articles by sabermetrics gurus, and op ed’s on a variety of topics. I’d post what I’ve found to be interesting here but it would likely be ignored or put into moderation.

        On the world I’ve been doing a lot of back reading of Chris Hedges, William Rivers Pitt, Noam Chomsky, and others, listening to podcasts, making notes of how accurate themes and predictions are. And, I’ve been devouring articles from professional journals on climate change and clean energy investments, all ideas – good and bad, the 25th Amendment, and the price of being wrong. I’ve been busy.

        I do see here this morning that a few voices are backing off blaming Roberts for poor on field performances – by players FAZ have put into his dugout. That’s encouraging. But I have nothing to offer. Minds are made up. Everywhere I look, minds are made up.

        I remain hopeful the Dodgers get hot at the right time this year, though I am not holding my breath with this group.

        Good luck to all. I have a feeling we are going to need it.

    2. That’s a difficult question to answer without getting too involved. My simple answer is, I think baseball is just random.

      The purist in me doesn’t want to believe in run differential, although historically it is a good indicator of who the better teams are. However, it would only make sense that the teams with better records are scoring more runs than they’re allowing, right? Also, it is essentially proven that winning one-run games is not an ability. If that’s the case then I would tend to believe that teams don’t necessarily have a say in when they score runs. Over the course of a season teams get hits, and score runs; when they get them is out of their control. The more runs a team scores over the course of a season, the better the chances are that they will score more runs when they need them, but it’s not necessarily going to happen at those times, which seems to be the case for the Dodgers in 2018. There’s always going to be outliers to every event, and it just so happens that the Dodgers and Rockies are on opposite ends of the spectrum for this event, and are meeting right in the middle.

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