On October 13th, the baseball world had nothing but praise for Dave Roberts. In game 5 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals, Roberts didn’t follow the blueprint that had been laid down by hundreds of managers before him; instead, he followed the blueprint set by Terry Francona just days before.
In the 7th inning, Roberts brought in his vaunted closer Kenley Jansen, to “save” the game. It was a brilliant move, and one that signaled a changing landscape for relievers. No longer would the most dominant pitcher in the bullpen be left for a save opportunity that might come along. Now they were being used for when the game was on the line, regardless of the inning.
If there had been any doubt about what kind of manager Roberts was, those questions were answered. He was a member of baseball’s new guard, and one who was ready to throw convention out the window for sound strategy.
But on October 15th, Roberts reignited those doubts. In a tie game in the 8th inning, with one out and Jason Heyward at the plate, Roberts chose to issue an intentional walk.
Heyward’s struggles at the plate this season have been no secret. He didn’t simply have one terrible month that dragged down his yearly averages; Heyward was just an awful hitter. In 592 plate appearances, he hit .230/.306/.325 with a wRC+ of 72, and a wOBA of .282. In other words, there was no reason to intentionally put Heyward on base.
The chances of him getting a hit, or a walk on his own were unlikely, yet Roberts wasted no time in putting an extra runner on base.
“Obviously, in that situation you’ve got to walk Heyward with the open base.”
After the game, Roberts said that he “trusted Joe [Blanton]” and that he’d “trusted him all year long”.
Yet when it came time for Roberts to truly place his trust in Blanton, he couldn’t do it.
In one of the most important games of the Dodgers’ season, Roberts didn’t trust Blanton to retire a batter who only reached base 30.6 percent of the time. Roberts didn’t trust Blanton to retire a batter that made soft contact (27 percent) more often than he made hard contact (26.4 percent). Roberts didn’t trust Blanton to retire a batter than ranked fourth worst among qualified hitters by wRC+. If there had ever been a time to trust a pitcher to retire anyone, it was that moment.
Blanton ultimately threw the pitch that lost the game, but it was Roberts who put him in the position to fail. On Thursday, it was clear that Roberts was a progressive manager ready to buck tradition for logical strategy; but on Saturday, he reminded us that he still has a ways to go.