Dodgers’ Dave Roberts Faces His Most Challenging Managerial Test Yet

Erase your preconceptions about the Dodgers’ pitching rotation, which has been a cornerstone for the last decade. Get ready for a West Coast version of the Rays’ postseason baseball strategy.

Not since Leo Durocher led a group of 4F draft-classified pitchers to the mound in 1944 have the Dodgers seen a rotation this challenged. In the history of the franchise, Dodgers’ starters have never thrown fewer innings in a full season.

Manager Dave Roberts’ workaround for this situation involves dividing the game among multiple pitchers. While this approach can be risky in October, with more pitching changes, there are more chances for mistakes. However, it may have a better chance of succeeding due to the postseason schedule offering numerous off days.

To understand why this strategy is not a preference but a necessity, consider the substantial investment the Dodgers made in starting pitching this year, with several key pitchers not on the active roster. Trevor Bauer, Julio Urias, Noah Syndergaard, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, and Dustin May collectively represent $63.2 million in starting pitching salary gone to waste.

Consequently, the Dodgers had to piece together a rotation that relied on Clayton Kershaw, young pitchers, and experienced veterans, none of whom have thrown more than 140 innings. The rotation’s ERA stands at 4.61, the fourth-worst in franchise history and the poorest since Hal Gregg led Durocher’s wartime Brooklyn rotation while topping the league in walks, wild pitches, and hit batters.

Remarkably, Los Angeles is one of the 11 teams that have not had a pitcher complete a game this season.

Roberts has managed this challenge by pulling his starters early and depending heavily on his bullpen. In the second half of the season, the Dodgers have boasted the best bullpen in baseball with a 2.28 ERA, surpassing all competitors.

This season, Roberts allowed his starters to throw 100 pitches only 13 times, a tally lower than every team except Colorado and Tampa Bay. Dodgers starters averaged just 80 pitches per start, the lowest among contenders, echoing the short leash approach associated with the Tampa Bay Rays.

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While Roberts’ quick hook with starters is not new, this year has seen an even more extreme version of this strategy. In 86 postseason games managed by Roberts, he has allowed a starter to reach 100 pitches only 14 times.

In the 17 postseason games since Clayton Kershaw won Game 5 of the 2020 World Series, Dodgers starters have posted a 2–5 record with a 4.31 ERA, facing an average of just 16.5 batters per game—less than two times around the lineup. The Dodgers have an 8–9 record in those games.

With stalwarts like Buehler and Urias unavailable, Roberts faces the challenge of not having any pitchers he can rely on for extended outings. His best options include:

  1. Clayton Kershaw: Although he has been impressive, Kershaw’s age and midseason shoulder issues have limited him to five innings per start. He has not thrown 100 pitches in a game since June 20.
  2. Bobby Miller: The 24-year-old right-hander throws the hardest in MLB but faces workload restrictions, having already surpassed his pro high from last year. Expect him to be pulled early in dominating outings.
  3. Lance Lynn: Lynn has an unusual mix of missing bats and allowing barrels, along with a record number of home runs. His performance declines significantly when facing batters a third time or left-handed hitters.
  4. Emmet Sheehan: Another young right-hander with workload limitations, Sheehan relies on a 95 mph fastball and presents a platoon-neutral pitching style.
  5. Ryan Yarbrough: Yarbrough is not known for strikeouts but generates weak contact, making him an interesting contrast when paired with hard-throwing right-handers.
  6. Caleb Ferguson: Often used as an opener, Ferguson is a platoon-neutral left-hander who relies heavily on fastballs and cutters.

Roberts’ plan involves covering the first 18 or so batters with a starter and then dividing the remaining 20 or so among relievers. The bullpen is a strength, with Evan Phillips handling endgame responsibilities and other relievers stepping in to cover different situations.

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This strategy can work thanks to the abundance of off days in the postseason schedule, including one before and one after NLDS Game 2. Even if the Dodgers advance in five games in the NLDS, Roberts will have a well-rested bullpen for six of the first eight postseason games, making short starts viable.

Given the high number of pitching changes required, Roberts will be a focal point of the postseason, a role he is accustomed to. The Dodgers were early adopters of the Third Time Around Theory, consistently removing starters when the lineup turned over a third time.

Roberts comes into this postseason with a streak of 12 consecutive postseason games in which he has pulled his starter after five innings or less, often due to ineffectiveness. This time, he must plan for abbreviated starts and execute them effectively.


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