Is Dodger manager Don Mattingly on the hot seat? That’s the question Bill Plaschke asks in his latest article over at the L.A. Times. Last winter Mattingly asked the Dodger brass about picking up his option year of his contract. Mattingly is entering his third year with the Dodgers, and final season on his contract. He does have an option year that the club could pick up for 2014, but when Mattingly asked they declined, putting his future past the 2013 season up in the air.
But what does that mean exactly for the well respected skipper? Nobody knows, and no other team will have as much pressure to win this year then Mattingly’s boys in blue. After the new ownership spent millions of dollars on high priced free agents like Zack Greinke, all eyes will be on the Dodgers to get results. The new owners want to win now, the fans want to win now, and everyone will feel the high expectations this year. Our new writer Matt Muncie just recently explored Mattingly’s abilities to construct the lineups, and do some of the other daily lineup and roster machinations that most managers must task themselves with before each game.
Mattingly was the Dodger’s hitting coach for three seasons, before taking over for Joe Torre as Dodger manager. Torre had flown the coop to MLB headquarters, and Donnie Baseball was the next logical choice. However, Mattingly had never managed before at a professional level, save for a short season in the Arizona Fall League.
Mattingly got off to a terrible start in 2011, before turning the club around and finishing with a winning record, but last season was a different story altogether. During the 2011 season, the McCourt ownership bankruptcy drama hung over the team like a black cloud. But in 2012, the Dodgers got off to a blazing hot start, with the new ownership already in place, and the McCourt mess long behind them. The Dodgers finished 82-79 in 2011, and after getting off to their best start to a regular season since 1981, the Dodgers faltered during the summer months, and collapsed down the stretch. They finished second place with an 86-76 record last season, and missed the playoffs for the third straight season.
I have been pretty hard on Mattingly over the last couple of seasons, but only on his in game moves. Mattingly is more of an old school manager. The players like and respect him, and he runs a tight clubhouse. Unfortunately he isn’t a very strategy centric manager. As our other writer Dustin pointed out before, Mattingly led the league in sacrifice bunts, and gave away the most outs of any team in Baseball in 2012. The bunting, strange lineup creations, and inconsistent pitching staff management, have led some people to wonder whether Mattingly has the stones to lead the team into the postseason.
Mattingly’s real strength lies in his coaching ability. That’s because Mattingly knows hitting, and his skill of relaying his hitting knowledge onto his payers can greatly benefit the entire roster, For example, last season, Andre Ethier was playing with a humongous blister on his left hand. When he had trouble adjusting his batting grip to accommodate for the blister, Mattingly suggested he try choking up on the bat instead. What Ethier was doing wasn’t working, but once he tried Mattingly’s approach, he began to drive the ball much better. Ethier hit nine home runs in the final two months of the season. Part of the improved power came from his chocking up on the bat to counter the blister.
That’s just one example of Mattingly’s strength which lies in coaching and player development. But his weakness lies in his strategies, which aren’t very good sometimes. Case in point, last season during game number 161, Mattingly committed his worst calls, during one of the most poorly managed games I’ve ever seen from Donnie. The biggest blunders were his walking of Angel Pagan to get to Marco Scutaro. With the Dodgers down 2-1 in the fifth inning and runners on base, Mattingly chose to walk Pagan to get to Scutaro based on a 2 for 19 match-up against Jamey Wright. Scutaro was one of the hottest hitters in Baseball at the time, going on to bat .362 in his short stint with the Giants. I don’t care if Buster Posey was hitting behind him or not. You walk that guy with runners on base. Scutaro of course got a hit, driving in two runs, which were the difference in the game, since the Dodgers eventually lost 4-3. Another terrible move was taking the bat out of A.J. Ellis’s hands after he had just hit a home run three innings prior. Mattingly blindly forced Ellis to bunt. All so Dee Gordon could move up 90 feet, and not score.
Not scoring has been the problem for poor Donnie. He has been plagued by poor hitting teams with the Dodgers. But the real story has really been all of the injuries that Mattingly has had to deal with over the last two plus years. No manager should have to put up with as many injuries as Mattingly had. Making sure everyone stays healthy is probably the most important task for Donnie Baseball. The Dodgers are going to have to find some way to keep all of their players healthy.
How he handles pressure situations may be the most important of all. The pressure to win next season is going to be sky high. But how can we find out how Mattingly preforms under pressure? Maybe if we look at his record in one-run games? Perhaps that can give us an indicator. In 100 one-run games between 2011-2012, Mattingly has a 52-48 record. Food for thought I guess. Plaschke opines that it may not be wise to spend 62 million dollars on a pitcher like Hyun-jin Ryu that you have never seen before, but not make a commitment to the guys leading the clubhouse, the manager of the club? What do you think?
Mattingly went on to say that no matter the uncertainty beyond this season, and the pressure on him to win, he won’t change the way he manages. He won’t manage scared. He says he’s not worried, even though the Dodgers had already locked up general manager Ned Colletti to a long term contract this fall. It makes you wonder, why the Dodgers refused to pick up Mattingly’s option, even though it would save them money in the long term?
Even though he isn’t the greatest in-game strategist, Mattingly does have other strengths which can make him valuable as a manager and mentor. I still think the Dodger brass really like Mattingly and I doubt he goes anywhere, unless next season is a total disaster for some reason. But who knows right? In a day and age when Managers and coaches are fired at the snap of a finger, does the team’s ability to win or lose fall squarely on the manager’s shoulders? It’s an old question that may never be answered. Either way, there will be immense pressure on Mattingly and the Dodgers to win in 2013.
Mattingly’s future may depend on the health of several key players. Regardless, there will be no more excuses. No more lip service or making excuses to the media (which Mattingly has become very good at), and no more mediocrity will be accepted any longer. The time to win is now. I really like you Donnie, and I hope you succeed. But if you don’t heads might roll. We’ve reached a peak here. The heat is on Donnie B.