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Sports Medley: Mattingly’s Perplexing Decisions 1 Jun 15

by Tony Medley

Mattingly is the problem: It’s not just that Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly mishandles one of the best starting pitching staffs in baseball. It goes much further than that. This was exemplified, if not amplified, in Sunday’s game against St. Louis, the best team in baseball.

One of the biggest problems with the Dodgers offense this year has been that Mattingly insists on having his two least effective hitters bat in the number one and number two slots. Centerfielder Joc Peterson and shortstop Jimmy Rollins have been ineffectual at the plate all year long. Peterson either strikes out, walks, or hits a home run. He strikes out more than a third of the time. He has more strikeouts (58) than hits (41), projecting to 200 strikeouts for the year, which would be the major league record for a rookie. Those facts are not what you want in the leadoff hitter.

Jimmy Rollins, with a batting average of .200 and an on-base percentage only slightly higher is a rally killer deluxe. As bad, he can’t even bunt. Twice in the same game he laid down sacrifice bunts so poor that the runner was thrown out at third base each time on a tag, not a force play. These are the people Mattingly wants batting at the top of the lineup, the players who get the most at bats in each game. No wonder they can’t score runs. The ideal batting order is to have people in the first two slots who can get on base for the power hitters in spots 3 and 4 to drive in. For example, the ’27 Yankees had Earle Combs, .356, leading off and Mark Koenig, .285, batting second so they could be on base for Babe Ruth (60 home runs, 164 RBI) and Lou Gehrig (47 home runs, 175 RBI) to drive in.

So on Saturday, Mattingly finally inserted Justin Turner in the number two spot. Turner responded by getting the Dodgers first hit of the game  and scoring the first run the Dodgers had scored in 42 innings on the road in a rare road victory. Just when it looked as if Mattingly had finally reached some accommodation with common sense by trading Juan Uribe and awarding Turner the starting third base job, on Sunday Turner was inexplicably benched again for .205 hitting Alberto Callespo, just dumped on the Dodgers by the Braves.

That meant that almost half the lineup (4/9) consisted of batters whose inability to get on base is proven (Rollins, Pederson, Callespo, and the pitcher, although Pederson does walk a lot when he’s not striking out). What does Mattingly have against putting good hitters in the first two spots of the batting order? What does he have against playing Justin Turner every day? Why does he keep good hitters on the bench to play All-American outs in their places? How does he expect to score runs when half of his lineup can’t hit? Here’s my lineup v. Mattingly’s for the rubber game against the best team in the league:

Medley                      Mattingly

Turner ss .303            Pederson cf .258

Ethier rf   .305            Callespo 3b  .205

Kendrick 2b .290         Gonzalez 1b .324

Gonzalez 1b .324         Kendrick 2b  .290

Grandal c      .284       Ethier rf        .305

Guerrero 3b .290         Grandal c      .284

Van Slyke lf   .264       Guerrero lf    .290

Pederson cf   .258       Rollins ss       .202

My lineup has batters in the first two spots who can get on base for the Nos. 3 & 4 hitters to drive in. Mattingly leads off with two guys to whom first base is as unfamiliar as Timbuktu (even though Pederson’s OBP isn’t bad due to his walks; still since he's mostly a home run hitter, he should be batting behind people who can get on base, which is why I have him 8th behind good hitters).

Naturally, Callespo went 0 for 3, consistent with what Rollins does when he’s hitting second. Anybody who would want both of these ineffective hitters in the game against a great team in an important series instead of Turner and Van Slyke is not qualified to be a major league manager.

As postscript, I grant that Rollins is a better fielder than Turner, but Turner does a workmanlike job and needs to be in the lineup every day, as does Guerrero. Defense is not the Dodgers’ problem. Scoring runs is the problem and the Dodgers have the talent to be one of the best offensive teams in the league if only Mattingly would play the players who can hit. And let’s not forget that the Dodgers traded the best leadoff hitter in baseball, MLB’s leading hitter Dee Gordon, .377, who has the most hits in baseball, 78, which is only one less than the total hits of Rollins and Pederson combined.

Sportsnet’s Ineffective Coverage: Not only does Sportsnet LA refuse to show the strike zone box on every pitch, it makes directorial decisions as goofy as Mattingly’s baseball decisions. At the end of Sunday’s game Turner, a pinch hitter, was called out on strikes for the last out of the game. Turner was livid at the last two strike calls, and was engaged in an animated argument with the umpire as Mattingly approached the pair. It was so important that even the LA Times Sports section recognized it and put the argument in its headline. Not to Sportsnet, though, which cut from the argument to show the Cardinals walking off the field congratulating one another and the announcers never again mentioned the argument. Mattingly’s management decisions are agony enough to watch without also being subjected to Sportsnet’s inept directing. The vast number of fans who are precluded by the Dodgers from watching the Dodgers on TV should consider themselves fortunate.