TOP 10 MLB BUSTS

Top 10 MLB Bust: Manager Dave Roberts

Synopsis: Despite the importance of coaching in team sports, the athletes on the field usually have the biggest impact on determining the outcome of any game. The 2018 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers proved why the previous sentence needs a qualifier. Of note, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had the most significant role in his team’s 4-1 series loss after continually making bad decisions. By micro-managing each and every game as if instructed by a computer, the skipper lost a feel for the game. In that regard, Roberts has earned Top10Bust recognition for his ill-advised managerial decisions. 


TOP 10 MLB BUST: MANAGER DAVE ROBERTS

I got into a spirited conversation with a friend in the late 1990s about the effectiveness of Indians manager Mike Hargrove. Specifically, my friend (I’ll call him “Scott”) argued that anyone with a reasonable knowledge of baseball could have managed the stacked Indians team as well as Hargrove did during the team’s failed playoff runs from 1995-1999. Appealing to my ego, Scott claimed that even I could have equaled, or surpassed, Hargrove’s success.

Unlike my verbal sparring partner, I gave Hargrove credit for getting the most out of his team by managing the egos of great players like Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome. I argued that players with tremendous individual talent still need to be managed to get the most of the them. I agreed that the Indians should have won at least one title (especially in 1997), but I respected Hargrove for winning five straight division titles and two AL pennants.

Due to the lack of World Series titles, however, the Indians fired Hargrove after the 1999 season. Based on the team’s absence from the playoffs for the next 13 years, I took solace in my assessment of the former Tribe manager.

INDIANS MANAGERS – POST CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL STADIUM
Seasons Wins Losses Winning % Manager(s) Post-Season
1994-99 537 366 59.5% Mike Hargrove 5 Playoffs / 2 Pennants
2000-02 255 231 52.5% Charlie Manuel / Joel Skinner None
2003-12 778 842 48.0% Eric Wedge /  Manny Acta / Sandy Alomar None
2013-18 545 425 56.2% Terry Francona 4 Playoffs / 1 Pennant

As indicated in the above table, the Indians did not return to the playoffs until Terry Francona became the manager in 2013. In between, Cleveland had great players for many of those years (e.g. Manny Ramirez in 2000, Jim Thome from 2000-02, Roberto Alomar from 2000-01, C.C. Sabathia from 2001-07, and Cliff Lee from 2002-09). Still, the Tribe missed the playoffs until a worthy skipper with two World Series titles showed up in Cleveland. Point being, the manager matters.

IMPACT OF HEAD COACHES IN OTHER SPORTS

Given the success of Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, no one can doubt the importance of coaching in professional or college football. Both men likely will finish their careers as the greatest all-time coaches in their respective sports. However, neither coach deserved any special mention in the fall of 1999 when I engaged in the debate regarding Mike Hargrove. Belichick had a career record of 36-44 as an NFL head coach while Saban had a career record of 34-24-1 as a college football head coach at the time. Furthermore, Belichick had a 1-1 record in the playoffs and Saban had a 0-3 record in bowl games.

Since taking over the head coaching job with the New England Patriots in 2000, Belichick has a 224-79 regular-season record and a 27-10 playoff record en route to winning 5 Super Bowls. Over the same time frame, Saban has a 193-36 regular season record and 13-6 bowl record en route to winning 6 National Titles as the head coach for LSU and Alabama. The Patriots don’t seem like the same dominant team this year, but Alabama seems poised to give Saban his 7th title within the next two weeks. Regardless of how their teams do in their respective playoffs, the coaches have cemented their legacies as all-time greats.

Back in the fall of 1999, Phil Jackson had just left the Chicago Bulls after winning six NBA titles in the previous eight years. The Bulls only missed out on going eight-for-eight because Michael Jordan “retired” from basketball for a couple seasons to pursue his dream of playing professional baseball. I used the quotation marks because I contend that MJ might have taken a sabbatical in order to avoid a suspension due to his gambling habits and connections. 

The same criticism of Jackson as the coach of the Bulls could be made of Belichick as the coach of the Patriots. Specifically, Belichick has benefited from coaching Tom Brady just like Jackson benefited from coaching Michael Jordan. Then again, I remember watching the last minute of Super Bowl XLIV thinking that the Patriots’ coach should call a timeout and let the Seahawks score quickly to give Brady a final chance for a comeback. Belichick eschewed conventional wisdom and brilliantly let the clock run. Perhaps confused by his adversary’s unconventional strategy, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll questionably called a pass play instead of going “Beast Mode.” When an interception by Malcolm Butler cemented the Pats’ victory with 20 seconds left in the game, Belichick cemented his status as one of the greatest all-time head coaches.

I don’t believe Carroll earned a Top10Bust designation for his decision. It is fair, however, to rank his play call as one of the biggest boneheaded coaching decisions in recent history. Unlike Carroll, Roberts earned T10B recognition due to numerous boneheaded decisions across multiple games.

VALUE OF A MANAGER / HEAD COACH

Bill Belichick earns $7.5 million per year as the Pats’ head coach. Given New England’s total 2018-19 payroll of $173 million, he makes 4.2% of the total spent on players. Broadly recognized as the best NBA head coach today, Gregg Popovich earns $11 million per year with the San Antonio Spurs. Given the team’s payroll of $123 million, he makes 8.9% of the total spent on the players. Any economist wouldn’t question the money spent on either coach relative to his contributions.

The 2018 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers involved two major-market teams. For the season, the Red Sox had the 2nd highest payroll of $206 million while the Dodgers had the 11th highest payroll of $157 million. Yet, neither team spent much on their skippers. Boston spent $800,000 for Alex Cora while Los Angeles paid $1 million to Dave Roberts. Their salaries reflect 0.4% and 0.6% of their team payrolls, respectively. On a relative basis, Belichick and Popovich make 10-20x more than they do.

As a point of comparison, Nick Saban makes $11 million/year as the head coach of Alabama’s football team while Mike Krzyzewski makes $9 million/year as the head coach Duke’s basketball team. Based on the value of the scholarships to the players, each coach makes over 100% of his team’s “payroll.” I could digress about this inequity, but I’ve already done it in a previous post. I’ll emphasize instead that 75 of 130 FBS football coaches make as much as Dave Roberts. Said differently, someone can make more money coaching a 3-8 NCAA football team than by managing a team to the World Series.  

Given the money the Red Sox and Dodgers spend on payroll, why would they presumably be cheap paying their managers? Both organizations clearly discount the value of having a non-player in the dugout who can impact the outcome of the game. They simply want someone who can implement the strategy determined by the guys analyzing the data. 

I previously posted an article about the overreliance on sabermetricians who seemingly have taken over baseball. Specifically, I argued against using WAR as a determining factor for MVP. At the time, I questioned the value of invented stats like WAR instead of valuing long-valued stats like batting average, runs, and RBIs. Given that Jacob deGrom won the 2018 NL Cy Young with a 10-9 record, my fears have been confirmed. The Mets pitcher had an impressive 1.70 ERA but had a pedestrian win/loss record due to a lack of run support. Still, he wasn’t worthy of winning the Cy Young given that the most important stat for a pitcher should be winning the game.

RYAN MADSON – AN AVOIDABLE DEFICIENCY

I initially thought about writing this post before the conclusion of the 2018 World Series. To be honest, I waited just in case the Dodgers made a miraculous comeback and absolved their skipper of his questionable decisions. Since then, I had the opportunity to visit a relative (I’ll call him “George”) who watched the Dodgers play over 150 regular-season games and all 16 playoff games this year. His support of my belief that Roberts lost the Series inspired me to complete this post. 

Despite George’s familiarity with the Dodgers, I shared a bit of useful information that he somehow didn’t know. He knew that Ryan Madson had an absolutely abysmal series by letting in a post-season record seven inherited runners. However, he had no idea how avoidable it should have been.

In one of the rare moments that I decided to watch an MLB game during the 2018 regular season, I saw the unbelievable ending of the Nationals / Cubs game on August 12th. I will always remember that game because Cubbie David Bote hit a walk-off grand slam with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth with his team down 3-0. By doing something that hadn’t been done in 150 years, Bote effectively lived the dream that every aspiring baseball player has tried to fabricate countless times. 

How surprised would you be if I told you that Ryan Madson entered the game with a 3-0 lead and gave up the game-winning grand slam to Bote? After hearing the backstory, George was not surprised at all because he didn’t have any confidence in Madson. If only Roberts had the same thought. Then again, he should have.

RYAN MADSON VS. DAVID BOTE
After switching over to the MLB network immediately prior to Bote’s at bat, I saw the most exciting ending to a ballgame possible. Click on the link to see it for yourself.

Prior to that game, I had never heard of Madson. After it, I wondered if the Nats would treat the reliever like any NFL team would treat a journeyman kicker who had missed three field goals and an extra point in a one-point loss. Perhaps needless to say, I wasn’t surprised that Washington used him only one more time before sending him to the Dodgers just before the August 31st trade deadline.

At the time of the trade, ESPN reported that the Dodgers “bolstered their bullpen” by getting a reliever with a 5-5 record, five saves, and a 4.08 ERA in 69 games with the Nationals. Through the remainder of the season, Madson had a 0-0 record, 0 saves, and a 6.48 ERA in 9 games with the Dodgers. What made Roberts think that Madson could perform when it mattered most? Let me guess, he listened to the guys crunching numbers on their computers.

RYAN MADSON VS. THE RED SOX

In case you’re reading this post without the benefit of having watched the games, Ryan Madson lost the 2018 World Series more than any other player on the field. After reading the following bullet points, I contend that you’ll agree that Dave Roberts lost the Series most than any person on or off the field.

  1. With Clayton Kershaw on the ropes in the bottom of the 5th with two men on and 0 outs in a 3-3 game, Roberts brought in Madson to face Steve Pearce. After walking Pearce to load the bases, Madson let two inherited runners score before getting out of the inning. The tie game quickly became a 5-3 deficit en route to a 8-4 victory for the BoSox. 
  2. With Jin-Hyun Ryu on the ropes in the bottom of the 5th with bases loaded and two outs in a 2-1 game, Roberts again brought in Madson to face Steve Pearce. After walking Pearce to tie the game, Madson let two more inherited runners score before recording one out. The 4-2 score at the end of the inning also was the final score of the game.
  3. With Rich Hill standing strong after giving up 1 hit and 3 walks in the top of the 7th win one runner on and one out in a 4-0 game, Roberts inconceivably went to the pen. When reliever Scott Alexander walked the next batter, Roberts inconceivably brought in Madson with two runners on base. Of note, Madson had already let five out of five inherited runners score in the Series. After getting Jackie Bradley out on a pop-up, Madson gave up a 3-run home run to Mitch Moreland. In the process, the pitcher set a World Series record by letting 7 (out of 7) inherited runners score. With renewed confidence in a 4-3 game, the Red Sox went on to win the game 9-6.   

Prior to getting removed from the game, Rich Hill seemed dominant. He had only thrown 91 pitches so it wasn’t as if his arm should have been tired. After the game, Roberts contended that Hill gave up the ball as an indication that the pitcher was done. However, Hill argued that he could have continued.   

I’ll let you decide.

HILL GIVING UP THE BALL
Hall presumably gave the ball to Roberts thinking that his manager would only show up if the decision had already been made.
ROBERTS WITH A CHANCE TO CONFIRM THE DECISION
After seeing Hill dominate the game up to that point, Roberts clearly had a chance to confirm that the pitcher couldn’t continue.
CONCLUSION

During the 2018 World Series, Dave Roberts called on Ryan Madson four times in the first four games. The Dodgers went 1-3 in those games with Madson having a pivotal role in each of the losses. The pitcher clearly deserves blame for his team’s defeat. However, I blame Roberts much more for not realizing that he would have been better off avoiding an ineffective reliever. 

  1. Madson was damaged goods after giving up a game-winning grand slam with a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the 9th earlier in the season. Of note, that scenario had not occurred in over 150 years of professional baseball. 
  2. Madson had a 6.48 ERA in 9 games as a reliever for the Dodgers going into the playoffs.
  3. Madson gave up 5 out of 5 inherited in the first two games (both losses) of the 2018 World Series.

The fact that Madson gave up two more inherited runners in midst of a potentially historical performance by Rich Hill makes the Roberts’ blunder more pronounced. Of note, I contend that Jack Morris’ 126-pitch, 10-inning shutout victory in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series led to the pitcher’s induction into the MLB Hall of Fame.

Prior to winning a ring with the Twins in 1991, Morris served at the #1 pitcher for the Detroit Tigers throughout the 1980s. He led the Tigers to a World Series title in 1984 with two complete game victories against the San Diego Padres. Of note, no starting pitcher completed more than two games in the entire 2018 MLB season. 

As Morris’ manager Sparky Anderson remarked that his ace pitcher “never wanted to come out.” The Hall of Fame manager also said of his #1 starter, “any time you went near the mound, you’d have problems.” I’m sure a modern-day analyst with a computer would have pulled Morris from Game 7 of the 1991 World Series well before the 10th inning. If so, I wouldn’t have a memory of a career-defining moment. Instead of watching Rich Hill have his moment on the biggest stage, I’ll instead have to wonder what could have been.  

POSTSCRIPT

Despite my assessment of their manager, the Dodgers extended Roberts’ contract for four more years through the 2022 season. Not surprisingly, the financial terms were not disclosed. As a betting man, I wager that the analytical “gurus” in the front office appreciated that Dave “The Robot” Roberts did as he was told by their models. Perhaps they believe that their analysis will work next time. Call me a skeptic, but I doubt it.

As of now, the Dodgers are the favorites to “win” the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes. If they succeed by overpaying an overvalued player, I’ll make sure to double down on my bet. 

TOP 10 MLB BUST: MANAGER DAVE ROBERTS

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