“Donnie, DON’T!” Managerial Blunder In Philly Leads to Dodger Loss

You’re not making this easy on me, Don Mattingly.

Already falling back on old bad habits in New York last week, by having Scott Van Slyke sacrifice bunt on a 3-1 count during a tie game on the road, the fifth year Dodger manager managed to one-up himself on Monday night in Philadelphia.   With the Boys in Blue yet again finding themselves in a tie game on the road, only this time with the home team up to bat, it was more critical than ever to keep the bases as cleared up as possible.  However, with the go-ahead runner already on 2nd base in Alex Wood’s Dodger debut, Mattingly elected for him to walk Cesar Hernandez.

CESAR HERNANDEZ?!             

Look, I will readily admit that I don’t know enough about the current Phillies to tell you anything useful Cesar Hernandez, which is exactly the point.  If a player is not easily identifiable outside of his own fanbase, he’s probably not worth a free pass.  Moreover, any time a manager DOES order an intentional walk, it should be in an urgent situation- a franchise player at the plate, or last licks with an open base, or the pitcher on deck with two outs, and so forth.  What it should NOT be is for the SOLE purpose a lefty-lefty matchup, particularly when the guy at the plate is more than capable of getting himself out.

If you think I'm not giving Cesar Hernandez enough credit, take it from those who know him best. (Source: Twitter)

If you think I’m not giving Cesar Hernandez enough credit, take it from those who know him best. (Source: Twitter)

It gets worse.  Not only is Cesar Hernandez a considerably less worthy hitter than Mike Schmidt, he is also a considerably less worthy hitter than the guy batting two spots behind him in Phillies’ CURRENT lineup.  At the time the intentional walk was issued, there was only one out.

A tie game, the lineup’s leadoff hitter just walked intentionally, only one out.  Do you see where I’m going with this?  (If so, that puts you one step ahead of Don Mattingly here!)  Even if the next hitter, Odubel Herrera, batting with two on is somehow preferable to Cesar Hernandez batting with one on, only the improbable double play ensures that the number three hitter, Maikel Franco, does not get an at-bat in this inning.  Franco is a rising star on a team desperately in need of one, and easily a superior hitter to Cesar Hernandez.  Not only did Herrera NOT hit into a double play, he managed to get on base, setting the stage for Franco to do this against reliever Joel Peralta.  (Well, at least that’s ONE WAY to keep the bases as clear as possible!)

In his playing days, Don Mattingly received respect and admiration from fans, players and coaches alike, not just because of his superior play, but also his work ethic, determination, and a seemingly impossible combination of modesty and confidence.  Many of those traits have helped him succeed as a manager, for the most part.  But we’ve also witnessed some troubling things from him that we HADN’T seen as a player- most alarmingly, an inability to learn from some of his worst strategic blunders.  It’s not just his handing out baserunners to the other team, or his handing out outs to his own during close games.  It’s also the surrounding circumstances that have made these moves so head scratching, and quite possibly led directly to Dodger losses.  At certain times, it feels like a time warp, as though we’re reliving those close 2013 playoff losses all over again.  (2014 wasn’t his fault, no matter how differently many Dodger fans feel about it.  But that’s for another discussion.)

The hope here is that because these mistakes are being made in July and August, perhaps they can be prevented in October.  I’m often at odds with self-proclaimed stat gurus, but I do appreciate much of their in-game approach, particularly their aversion to intentionally giving up outs, or intentionally awarding baserunners.  Hopefully, Andrew Freidman’s crew is on it, because someone’s going to need to get through to the man known as Donnie Baseball before the postseason, should the Dodgers be good enough and lucky enough to get that far.

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The Return of DonnieBall- For Dodgers at Citi Field, Bunting Strategy Proves To Be The Wrong Strategy

I really had hoped that I wouldn’t have to write a post like this again.

It had been well over a year since I could recall Don Mattingly ordering a sacrifice bunt in a situation that absolutely didn’t call for it.  Specifically, the last one I could truly remember was Andre Ethier, ordered to move Dee Gordon (DEE GORDON!) over to second base- and in a game that the Dodgers were losing!  These days, sacrifice bunting is a controversial strategy in MOST baseball circles, to put it mildly, especially among the sabermetric community.  While I take issue with that group in many respects- wait until my upcoming Moneyball-related post- I’m pretty much with them on this one.  Even so, there are at least a few situations where I can tolerate a sacrifice bunt from someone with a batting average higher than .180.  For the Dodgers, Sunday’s extra inning heartbreaker in Queens, New York was not one of those times.

After mounting an inspired comeback in the 9th inning against the Mets to spare Zack Greinke another hard-luck loss, the Dodgers managed to make it to the 10th, where Mets killer Jimmy Rollins managed a leadoff walk.  The next batter, Scott Van Slyke, struck a pose that struck despair into the hearts of Dodger fans- he squared to bunt, as though he was a relief pitcher who hadn’t picked up a bat since Little League.  Almost as though to show Mattingly how bad a strategy sacrifice bunting was in this situation, Rollins was ambitious enough to steal second.  Didn’t matter.  The Mets’ actual relief pitcher had trouble finding the plate.  Didn’t matter.  With a count of 3-1, Mattingly had Van Slyke hand the Mets an out, on a silver platter, applauding from the dugout as though something good had just happened.  Others didn’t feel that way.  “Wow,” Mets’ announcer Keith Hernandez exclaimed in disbelief.  Sadly, Dodger fans did not, as we’ve seen this all too many times before to be surprised.  (Still, many of us managed to exclaim something.)

This wasn’t even the end of it, though.  The next batter up was Joc Pederson, a man who currently specializes in three things- walks, home runs, and especially and unfortunately, strikeouts.  None of these things are conducive to a “productive out”, the only type of outcome that even REMOTELY justifies sacrifice bunting.  Going for a one run inning on the road in extra innings is bad enough.  Doing so on a 3-1 count?  Even worse.  Doing so with a guy who, under the circumstances, is more likely to produce an at-bat which will produce anything BUT one run?  Inexcusable, particularly for a manager who has been given the occasional nickname “Buntingly”, and supposedly improved his strategic acumen (or at least, surrounded himself with better people).

I have defended “Donnie Baseball” many times, holding onto the belief that his skills in dealing with personnel are more important than his occasional head scratching in-game decisions.  He often gets too much of the blame when his star players come up short, or his front office does not give him the best players to work with.  But this is not one of those times.  Joc Pederson exploded onto the seen, showed a lot of promise, and already does some things very impressively.  But it has become increasingly that against good pitching, he is often overmatched.  In this at-bat, Pederson ultimately did what he does more than anything else- he struck out, and the Dodgers would ultimately strand Rollins on third base.  This is not to give the young Dodger centerfielder a lot of grief- just his manager.

Dodger fans would have hoped the presence of Uribe would remind Donnie of the fallacy of sacrifice bunting.  Dodgers fans would have been wrong.  (source: unknown)

Dodger fans would have hoped the presence of Uribe would remind Donnie of the fallacy of sacrifice bunting. Dodgers fans would have been wrong. (source: unknown)

As for the rest of the game, it was all too predictable from that point.  The Mets would win on a walk-off in the bottom of the inning.  Adding insult to injury, the winning hit was delivered by Juan Uribe, of all people.  Dodger fans will always remember Uribe fondly for hitting one of the greatest post-1988 home runs in team history, against the Atlanta Braves, in the 2013 NLDS.  How did it happen? Uribe failed to get the sacrifice bunt down- twice, no less- at which point Mattingly called off the bunt sign in the nick of time, setting the stage for Uribe to play hero.  It seemed that perhaps the Dodger skipper had seen the light, going so far as questioning why he had put the bunt on in the first place.  That self-doubt didn’t last a single game, as he employed it against the Cardinals in extra innings during the next round.  (The Dodgers didn’t score then, either, and ultimately lost the game.)  And here we are now, nearly two years later, having the same scenario play out right in front of us.  It’s all too predictable, and tiring to talk about.  And if Juan Uribe’s presence wasn’t enough to show Mattingly the fallacy of this, chances are that nothing will.  The Dodgers and their fans should just hope that they are not even presented with such a situation in mid-October, should they be so lucky to make it that far.

All is not lost, though, as the Dodgers have managed to hold onto first place, heading back to Los Angeles.  (Barely, but they have.)  The always streaky Giants have streaked the wrong way lately, from a “blue” point of view, thanks in part to the Oakland A’s, waving the green, yellow and white flag of surrender.  And now the Dodgers face that same pitiful team, hopefully with the same results as the archrivals.  The Moneyball post can’t come soon enough.  I’d better get started on it.