Enough of doing what the computer tells you to do.
Enough of having a plan determined prior to the game starting.
Just have a feel for the damn game.
The Dodgers’ season came to an end on Saturday night. Instead of facing the Phillies in the NLCS, the team will be figuring out which TV show they should start binging.
There is a lot of blame to go around in regards to the Dodgers being eliminated. The No. 1 reason why they were eliminated was their inability to hit with runners in scoring position. For the series, LA went 5-for-34 with runners in scoring position. There was an 0-for-20 stretch right in the middle of that. If they go, let’s say, 9-for-34 instead, there’s a strong chance the Dodgers win this series, maybe even sweep.
That’s not the only reason the Dodgers lost, though. Another reason were the decisions made when it came to how the bullpens were handled.
Had the Dodgers just made pitching moves based on feel, they likely extend the series. Instead, they entered games with pre-determined plans. They relied on what computers said to do as opposed to basing decisions on what was actually happening on the mound.
It lost the Dodgers the series.
This is just the way baseball is played today, it’s nothing surprising. The amount of information available is truly astonishing. You have data for stats you didn’t even know you needed data for. It’s really helpful and I do think it’s beneficial… to a certain extent.
The Dodgers should have thrown most of that out the window this series and just gone with what they were seeing on the field. What do I mean? Let me explain.
We’ll talk about Game 4, because this is where I really had a problem.
Tyler Anderson had made it through five innings without allowing a run. He had allowed only two hits. Going back to the third inning, the Padres were 0-for-10 against him. Having made only 86 pitches, he should have been sent back out there for the sixth inning. Instead, his night was over and the Dodgers turned things over to the bullpen.
Why? Well, the Dodgers didn’t want him facing the heart of the order a third time. This is where the “analytics” come into play. Yes, usually opposing hitters do much better when they face a starting pitcher for the third time. It’s the case for Anderson, but not by as much as you’d think. Here are the numbers of opponents when facing Anderson in 2022.
1st time: .208 AVG/.596 OPS
2nd time: .237 AVG/.628 OPS
3rd time: .238 AVG/.698 OPS
The OPS is up 100 points compared to the first time around, but the average is almost identical to the second time around. With Anderson looking great out there, I would have let him start the inning. Maybe have a bullpen arm ready if things fall apart, but with the way he was looking he should have been sent back out for the sixth, especially with only 86 pitches.
Joe Musgrove, who started for San Diego, was sent back out for the sixth. He faced the lineup for a third time and made over 100 pitches. Manager Bob Melvin let him empty the tank. The Dodgers should have done the same with Anderson. Following the game, Anderson said he could have thrown 150 pitches if that was needed from him. He could have kept going. Instead, he was pulled while his arm was still fresh.
Pulling a starter early in a postseason game is nothing new for Dave Roberts. We’ve seen it countless times over the years. Hell, we saw it earlier in this series. Julio Urias was pulled after only five innings while making only 79 pitches. Clayton Kershaw was also pulled after five innings while making only 80 pitches.
Both starters had at least another inning left in them. If given a chance, those are two innings in which you save bullpen arms. Instead, the bullpen was asked to go four innings in back-to-back outings.
I get it. The computer says to bring in a fresh arm. But based on how the starters were looking, they should have been allowed to continue pitching. If Anderson tosses a scoreless sixth, then you need only three innings out of your bullpen. Go to Chris Martin in the seventh. Then maybe Yency Almonte in the eighth with Evan Phillips ready for the ninth.
Speaking of Evan Phillips, here is my next problem. Following the game, Dave Roberts said that the plan for Phillips was to throw him in the ninth. Although the Dodgers dropped the closer role, they entered the game with a pre-determined decision that Phillips will close the game.
What the hell?
That makes zero sense. The whole point of the “closer-by-committee” is so every arm is available at any time. You know who could have been really valuable in the seventh inning? Evan Phillips. Instead, he was left in the bullpen and didn’t even warm up.
You absolutely cannot make a decision before the game even starts on when you’re going to deploy certain guys. Let alone your BEST reliever by far. The outcomes could vary, but I like the Dodgers chances with Phillips on the mound as opposed to Tommy Kahnle and Yency Almonte. Instead, Phillips pitched in the eighth when the Dodgers already trailed.
After the Padres tied the game, the Dodgers opted to pull Almonte in favor of Alex Vesia with two outs. Again, this is a decision that the computers say is favorable. Vesia is much tougher against lefties than righties. Once again though, this is when you just need to have a feel for the game.
Almonte just made two huge outs on only six pitches. He should have stayed in to face Jake Cronenworth. It felt like the momentum was on the Dodgers’ side. Instead, Vesia comes in mid at-bat, allowing Cronenworth some time to get ready. As you know, Vesia allowed the game-winning hit.
Could Almonte have allowed a hit as well? Sure. Would he have? We’ll never know. Almonte was dominant all season for LA. He was great in his limited work in the NLDS. He had been one of your top relievers all year. Let him finish the batter.
The bullpen management was an absolute disaster. Even if the Dodgers had somehow won the game, who would have even been available for Game 5? The way the Dodgers went through arms in Games 3 and 4, the only fresh arm would have been Dustin May.
Something I didn’t even touch up on was the way the lineup was constructed. Joey Gallo didn’t see one at bat. I get that his numbers weren’t great in 2022, but it’s not like the players in LA’s lineup were doing much better. There were so many times in this series where the Dodgers needed just one run. Well, with one of the best home run hitters in baseball sitting on the bench, why not use him?
Ah, because the computers don’t like the matchup. Who cares. You need a run. Nobody is doing anything. You have a fresh bat who could change the game with one swing. Instead, he sat there all series.
What about Miguel Vargas? A player who made the roster because of his fantastic at bat quality. A player who was just named Baseball America’s Triple-A Player of the Year. He didn’t get an at bat either.
You know who did? Chris Taylor, who saw seven at bats and struck out in five of them. Trayce Thompson saw 13 at bats. He hit .154 and struck out six times. Justin Turner saw 13 at bats and also hit .154. Cody Bellinger went 1-for-7 and struck out four times.
Those four players looked awful at the plate. They didn’t give any competitive at bats. But hey, the computer said they had to keep seeing playing time. When you needed offense the most, why not turn to guys who could give you a spark? As opposed to players who looked outmatched.
I could tell you the answer why.
Losing a series is tough because you break every little thing down to see where it went wrong. Like I said earlier, the main reason the Dodgers lost was due to their inability to hit with runners in scoring position. With that being said, the management of the pitching staff was horrible.
We’ve seen it year after year. Pulling a starter early. Going with certain bullpen arms over others. It’s too much. It’s the same result year after year. At some point, the Dodgers need to stop listening to what the computers are telling them to do. If that’s the case, why even have a manager?
Baseball is hard. Winning is even harder. I understand it. But the Dodgers have come up short far too many times now. Something has to change. Something has to be done.
Will it? That remains to be seen.