Ranking managers is notoriously difficult. Most give managers a pass/fail grade. It’s either the managers fault that they won, or it’s his fault that the team lost. Teams consider this because it is much easier to get rid of the manager than it is the collective players on the team for which you have invested (in the Dodgers case) hundreds of millions of dollars. Just like statistics for players, we can find tangible evidence of a managers effectiveness, but the intangible are much harder to grasp. For the sake of this study, we’ll consider the tangible and curve up or down based on the overall production of the team for the intangible.
Lets first identify tangible statistics. There are plenty available. Any time a manager has to make a decision to influence the outcome of a game we can find the outcome of that decision. Reliever use, pinch hitter use, batting lineups, base running, and bunting are prime examples of a managers tangible stats. We’ll start with reliever use.
We have a few stats we can cross reference to get a good idea of Mattingly’s use of relievers. As a whole, the group hasn’t been that bad. If you ranked them 15th out of 30, I wouldn’t disagree with that. The question is, has Don made them better by having them pitch in their most useful situation?
A team with a great relief corps should not hesitate to go to the pen early and often to rely on their steady arms. There isn’t much a manager can do with a crappy relief group. In most cases, a bad group of relievers means the team is on the wrong side of 500. For the Dodgers, we have some nice arms to play with. Lets start with pLI : A measure of how important a particular situation is in a baseball game depending on the inning, score, outs, and number of players on base. Player Leverage Index. A score above 1 means the player has appeared in games with a high pLI or very important games and situations. For this case, we want our absolute best relievers. If possible, we want our mop up relievers to handle situations where the pLI is under 1. Sometimes, we have to bite the bullet and throw Todd Coffey and Matt Gurrrier out there in a high level situation.
As a team the Dodger relievers have a 1.15 pLI. Fourth in the league. And looking back at the season, the team has been in a lot of close games. This is mostly due to the poor hitting, but also because of the very steady starting pitching. So, we established that they are about a middle of the group pen against the rest of the league. Maybe if some of those guys are more healthy we are looking at a top 10 group. They are so good mostly because of Kenley Jansen. How often has Donny matched up good relievers in situations that are most difficult?
Our best relievers have been League, Belisario, and Jansen, with Wright and Guerra as solid contributors. Before Todd Coffey was injured he was producing similarly to Wright. Jansen (1.75 pLI), Guerra (1.61 pLI), League (1.37 pLI), and Belisario (1.33 pLI) are the teams leaders in pLI. There is the John Ely outlier, but it was 2 innings. For all Mattingly’s faults, the bull pen really hasn’t been one of them. If there were anything I could change, I suppose I’d rather see Jamey Wright (.75 pLI) get in higher leverage situations and Guerra get in less. Statistically, they are very similar players, yet Wright is getting mop up duty, while Guerra was once the closer. On a scale of 1-100 Mattingly gets a 75 in my book.
Pinch hitters haven’t been all that bad for LA. A .269 average isn’t disgustingly bad, but the group that Mattingly has to work with isn’t really an intimidating group. However, only 54% of the pinch hitters Don has sent up have faced a pitcher with the opposing arm. It was a little infuriating that with Kennedy out, both Gwynn and Abreu were designated for assignment while both have had decent at bats while pinch hitting from the left side. I know its a small sample size of 20’ish at bats, but really, who was going to pinch hit from the left side with all 3 of them out? Now that rosters have expanded, its much easier to find favorable match-ups. While Mattingly hasn’t been that bad with his pinch hitting situations, there are a few things I think he could do better. For one: LESS BUNTING! In the 175 pinch hit appearances this year, the batter has squared around 95 times and executed a bunt 69 times. Pinch hit grade: 70.
Base running. The Dodgers are 24th in stolen base %. 90 for 130. 69%. An acceptable average is about 75%. Once you get below 75% you start costing your team runs. The Dodgers BsR is .-7, good for 16th in the league. Not good, not really bad. The Dodgers have certainly run a muck around the bases lately and it hasn’t worked out as nicely as we would have hoped. It’s easy to give Mattingly a B- or 80 on a scale of 1-100. So, I’ll give him a 75.
There is absolutely no reason to bunt for anyone other than the pitcher when someone else is on base. And Mattingly has almost every time. Any other player that is bunting should be doing so on their own, trying to bunt for a hit. For the most part, it is a worthless attempt at a hit and usually an easy out for the pitcher since you shouldn’t do it with 2 strikes. The Dodgers have 22 bunt hits this year. 6 a piece from Gordon and Gwynn. For Gordon he is successful about 23% of the time. Not very good. The Dodgers have 69 sacrifice bunts. That is 69 times we gave the opposition an out. Not counting pitchers, that is 24 easy outs. Almost an entire game of outs. 24 outs that cost the Dodgers one win! On a scale of 1-100 Mattingly gets a “D” or 65.
Even though batting lineup optimization is tough to understand, its easy to figure that AJ Ellis should not be hitting 8th, or that Nick Punto should not be leading off. This has long been a failure of Donny’s. It doesn’t likely mean much in the long run, but it should be noted, that if there was someone bad at making lineups, it would be Don Mattingly. Grade D: 65.
Overall, it seems like Don Mattingly is a nice guy. There has been some talk that this new team is not “Jelling” together. Concerning intangible abilities, Mattingly seems to be adequate. It was definitely a strength of his predecessor, Joe Torre, and if anything, Donny would have learned to keep the peace in the clubhouse. The one thing that suggests that he still has the clubhouse is the improved play of Hanley Ramirez. Most of the team looks asleep out there over the last month. I can’t say that Mattingly has helped their play this year, but I can say that there have been missed opportunities all year, and there have been questionable moves by Mattingly which usually led to a loss. If there were a way to upgrade on Mattingly next year, I would definitely look into improving on his overall “C-” grade or 70 on a scale of 1-100.
This analysis can not be completed for a few reasons. 1.) This is Donn’y second season. His history of poor decision making dates back to his first game in spring training all of 2 years ago. Small sample sizes make it easier to keep an open mind that one day he might bat AJ Ellis second and not because he is playing second base. 2.) This team has been decimated with injuries. Given the situations Donny has been in, its hard to judge the guy and give him a bad grade because his pencil was broken. At the same time, we still need to be true to the numbers. Many of his moves have been questioned and many more should be asked about. In the end, if he is still with the Dodgers next year, I wont complain. However, if the new owners decide to go in a new direction next year, I wont necessarily complain about that either.