Will Don Mattingly make it back to Yankee Stadium as Dodger manager?

Seven thoughts about Don Mattingly, 13-19 this season, 181-174 in his career:

1) Setting up a homecoming for the longtime Yankee great, the Dodgers are scheduled to make their first regular-season visit ever to Yankee Stadium on June 18. However, if the Dodgers continue to flounder – this is the earliest they have had two six-game losing streaks since, of all things, the sinking of the Titanic, notes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com – you can expect to see a rising chorus calling for Mattingly to attend that game only as a fan.

2) At the outset, let’s stipulate that there are reasons to fire Mattingly and reasons not to – just as there are reasons one might expect the Dodgers to and reasons not to.

3) Mattingly has always made some confounding things decisions as manager, from bullpen management to strategic choices on offense. That distinguishes him from … practically no one. Few managers in history have ever been immune from fans thinking they could do better. That doesn’t mean you can’t do better, but until the Dodgers are ready to hire one of those fans, there’s probably not a huge potential for improvement here.

4) Mattingly deserves at least something of a mulligan for the state of his roster. For all the talk about how the Dodgers had more pitching than they could handle at the start of the season, the facts are these. He has only had 2 1/2 effective starting pitchers (Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and the four starts provided by Chad Billingsley and Zack Greinke). On top of that, he has had only 4 1/2 effective position players: Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, A.J. Ellis and Mark Ellis, with Nick Punto off the bench.

I suppose one could blame Mattingly for the underperformance of the other 18 of 25 slots on the squad – and it’s not like any manager gets great work from his entire team – but this seems like way too much to lay at Mattingly’s door. You can’t win with seven good players. You certainly can’t win with half a starting rotation.

Digression: At a minimum, Ned Colletti, who last year received the contract extension that has avoided Mattingly, holds some responsibility for the effectiveness of the Dodgers, good or bad.

5) From Day 1 … from before Day 1 … Mattingly’s relationship with his players has been considered one of his virtues. It’s neither clear how much true value there was to that relationship in previous seasons, nor clear now much there is now. The idea, of course, is that those intangibles are the thing that will make a bad team good and a good team great, and there’s no better time like the present to prove that. But looking at the Dodgers’ roster, you can argue that you should get more than a third of the season to find out.

6) Mattingly’s postgame comments this past weekend in San Francisco, in which he went out of his way to find the positive amid a sweep at the hands of the Giants, seemed like they might be a turning point in his fate, a “Remain calm, all is well” in the face of the Deathmobile. At the same time, Mattingly hasn’t been afraid to point out when his team has been truly playing badly, as was the case Monday against Arizona. Some losses are worse than others. Mattingly shouldn’t be punished for knowing the difference, even if the comments didn’t play well.

7) What will the Dodgers do? There are tea leaves for every vision. You have a squad for which expectations are high and for which, if you pay attention to Magic Johnson, failure is not an option. You have a team president, Stan Kasten, who has espoused a long-term vision for the future of the Dodgers. You have the mixed signals of the team not extending Mattingly’s contract but Kasten calling that fact meaningless. In general, you have a management team that has been unafraid to make bold – even radical – moves, while preaching the virtues of stability.

It’s hard to deny that the value of a manager is one of the most difficult things to judge in baseball. If it’s true the Dodgers can do better with their manager, it’s also true that it won’t matter, at all, if they don’t get better performances from virtually everyone else.

  • Anonymous

    Dodger managers fired midseason in franchise history:

    Charlie Hackett in 1885

    Billy Barnie in 1898

    Bill Russell in 1997

    Leo Durocher left early in the 1948 season by mutual agreement.

    Walter Alston left with a few games left in the 1976 season because he didn’t want to stick around to see Lasorda manage.

    Lasorda retired midseason in 1996 because of health reasons.

    • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

      Billy Barnie was just the worst. I hated that guy, was glad they canned him! /dribbles into spittoon

      • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

        Yeah, did you ever see the film of that guy? He couldn’t even wear SUITS well.

    • Anonymous

      Russell was a terrible choice from the beginning, and letting Scioscia go before giving him a chance was unforgivable (Yes, I’m aware the Anaheimers are playing worse than the Dodgers so far this year).

      • Anonymous

        Wow, you got a thumbs down! I may have missed it, but that is the first one that I have seen. I was kinda not even aware that it could be done. So, I guess congratulations might be in order.

    • Anonymous

      Was their discord between Alston and Lasorda? I was not aware of that.

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    Good stuff, Jon. I hope people in the Twitter-sphere read this. I’d feel really sad for Don if he’s axed in next month or two. If team misses playoffs after the season, I think it would be fair to at least consider replacing him–and frankly even more fair to can Ned Colletti. But right now, so much that has gone wrong is clearly out of his hands that he’s just the easiest person to scapegoat. I get it, it’s what happens every year–managers are always the first target. Sometimes a change is indeed necessary. But right now, as you point out so well, there are countless things that have hurt this team that no manager outside of Gandalf the Grey could’ve fixed.

    And I have to laugh at fans who want to replace him with Trey Hillman, Tim Wallach, Lorenzo Bundy, whomever… I mean the former wasn’t really a good manager in KC at all, for one thing. And I’m not sure what’s different or better about the other guys. Other than someone truly progressive, clever, highly regarded like Joe Maddon–who is not available except perhaps at a very high cost–I can’t name someone who’d be a clear upgrade.

    I think Donnie should be judged after the team is healthier, playing together a bit, when they have Greinke back, etc. (Maybe he should share some of the blame with Ned for how they’ve managed the roster moves during the season so far–holding on to guys like Cruz too long, replacing FedEx with Hernandez, etc., not sure how much input he has on such things…) But til they have an actually mostly intact team it’s really unfair to be asking for his ouster right now.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with all of this.

      • Anonymous

        the conclusion I also agree with but to imply any of us know anything about Tim Wallach as a ML manager is absurd

  • Anonymous

    Even Ned can’t be blamed for the rash of injuries. Still…I think the discussion should be more on Ned than Don. In my mind, one of Ned’s greatest deals was landing Ethier and losing Bradley. Given Ethier’s rough start to 2013 and his ongoing struggle with southpaws that’s not looking so great. Schmidt, Uribe, Dotel…

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      That deal is more than 7 years old. Even I, a longtime Bradley defender, wouldn’t remotely be able to argue that it’s not looking so great.

      • Anonymous

        The way I read that comment, he’s saying the fact the Ethier trade is Ned’s shining moment after 7 years is not looking great.

  • Anonymous

    I realize that Mattingly, if fired, would simply be a scapegoat, but I’m OK with that. The issue is finding a suitable replacement for a team that, even at this point, has to be considered a serious contender. I’m fine with dumping Colletti as well.

  • Anonymous

    If Donnie’s job is in jeopardy, who replaces him?. Do you let the potential lame duck GM who built the team hire a new manager? Go over Ned’s head and broadcast his powerlessness? Let Ned appoint an interim but no more, which again would show he’s a glorified clerk? This is a can of worms, and I don’t see how Ned survives if Don doesn’t.

  • Anonymous

    When in doubt, I prefer continuity, so I would just as soon keep Mattingly. That said, I don’t typically get to follow the games very closely, so I don’t have a good sense for his particular management choices.

    Does the front office give Mattingly feedback on his in-game decision making? If a hitter keeps swinging at balls out of the zone, he’s got coaches to review tape and explain what’s going wrong. I presume the Dodgers have somebody who can figure out optimal bullpen usage, bunting etiquette, etc., and can “coach” Mattingly accordingly. Has anyone heard of that happening (not just with the Dodgers)?

  • Anonymous

    I tend to fall in the camp that believes the impact of a manager on wins is small. Based on that, I don’t think you can blame Mattingly for the poor performance to this point. The flip side to that, though, is that I’m not very concerned with the quality of his replacement–I doubt they’ll find anyone better, but I also doubt the replacement would be any worse.

    If Mattingly gets fired, I would take that as simply a symbolic move.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Kevin Gregg, released by the #Dodgers last month, has become the Cubs’ closer. http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/05/08/kevin-gregg-is-officially-the-cubs-closer/

    • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

      so does this move reflect on the state of the Cubs bullpen or how great Gregg has become

      • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

        The Cubs pen has been truly abysmal, so it’s more that. But he’s also pitched well.

    • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

      While I wouldn’t want him as closer either it does seem like our wobbly pen could’ve used him somewhere. Oh well. I recall many of us didn’t exactly trust him so I wasn’t heartbroken he opted out.

      • Anonymous

        Wasn’t it kinda him or Paco?

        • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

          yes

    • Adam Luther

      22 saves two years ago with a sub-par Orioles team, 37 saves the season prior. Now he rejoins the Cubs and is on pace to surpass his save total from his 2009 Cubs season no less.

  • Band of Brothers

    “A Whole New Blue” has taken on a new meaning, but the Dodgers were playing .500 baseball before this skid. Kemp has started to raise his average (although the power is missing), and Gonzalez and Crawford are continuing to play well. A few tweaks might be in order, such as putting Kemp in the #2 slot since his power is missing, and moving A.J. Ellis up in the order to make the starter throw more pitches early on. Also, with power lacking, it might be a good time to bring up Yasiel Puig on a platoon (or pinch hitter basis).

    Despite all this, I think that Mattingly is doing a fairly good job (especially with all of the injuries), and that the Dodgers can pull off a good winning streak to put them in the race again.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll hold to my belief that mangers get too much credit in good times and too much blame in bad. The disappointment thus far in this season is a combination of injuries and grandiose expectations.
    If Mattingly goes, who replaces him? Will that guy pitch in Greinke and Billz spots in the rotation? Hit for power in Kemp’s spot? Hit at all while playing third base? Turn a quick pivot at second base while Ellis is out? Work magic on Hanley’s hamstring and thumb?

  • Adam Luther

    Lopes’ time has come.

    • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

      I believe in 2nd chances (Bochy got his) but just for the record Lopes’ first managerial stint of the Brewers, over 2+ years, got him a record of 144-195. Not totally convinced he’d be The Answer.

      • Adam Luther

        Wallach is a better option.

  • Anonymous

    Up until this year, I have been a quiet but steady supporter of Mattingly. I am less enamored of him this year, even factoring in all the injuries, and below par performances. He seems very stuck in particular behaviors – there’s no creative spark. Watching Gibson last night, I sensed, rightly or wrongly, both his connection to his players, and a flexibility to his choices. Donnie has the former. I’m not so sure about the latter. But I totally agree, firing him at this point seems desperate, and we don’t need to be desperate yet. I hope the owners wait and see how the rest of the season goes.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Dodgers are 5.5 games behind Giants. On this date one year ago, Giants were 5 games behind Dodgers.

    • Anonymous

      Speaks very loudly to preseason expectations.

    • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

      I borrowed these facts to post over on MSTI to try to help stem the tide of negativity

  • Anonymous

    We are having a rough time. seems like mostly just ill fortune.
    Though I can say I never gut the appeal of League or that contract.

  • Anonymous

    It seems like before the Guggenheim purchase, Ned Colletti was widely viewed as the worst GM in baseball. Maybe that was just confirmation bias on my part, but it seemed like I saw a number of different national writers say as much as though it were given.
    Has Ned’s stock risen since then? I was surprised he was kept after the ownership change, but the fact they kept him suggests to me they intend to keep him for a while.

    • Anonymous

      Thinking about it now, though, I’d have to say Ruben Amaro is worse than Ned. So, if we’re using relative performance evaluation, you’d have to say that Ned’s performance has improved!

  • Adam Luther

    .255 team batting. Giants .259. Team pitching ERA over 4.00 Giants under 4.00. Mattingly finishes out the year – slow start – injuries. Reassess at the conclusion of the season and then contact Tim Wallach.

  • Anonymous

    Trivia time! Who’s the only yankee since WW1 to have over 370 ABs in a dozen consecutive seasons without a pennant to show for it? (Really, not even an ALCS appearance, but I’m not one to cherry pick.)

    But he’s great at shoulder rubs and pep talks.

    • Anonymous

      He did hit .417 and slug .708 in his one postseason series. THAT was a crushing defeat.

  • Anonymous

    Jon … Very analytical and thought-provoking…. a great posting.

    1. Donny Ballgame : I like him very much. I cannot see a need to move him at this point at all.

    2. Gotta hand it to the club over the weekend in SF for battling back…. However, there wouldn’t be as much a need to battle back if the pitching staff wasn’t giving up all those runs.

    3. “League is anything BUT lights’ out!” – my wife.

    4. If Donny goes….I’d recommend The Skipper, Kevin Kennedy as his replacement.

    • Anonymous

      Kevin Kennedy! Puh-leeze. The only person who thinks he would be a good manager is Kevin Kennedy. Wallach, Scioscia, Lopes, Hershiser would all be better choices.

      Plus if Kennedy were the manager, who would second-guess him on the postgame show?

      • Anonymous

        Ok…. I like your last line, by the way…

        IMHO

        1. Wallach: He was boring as a player, He’d be boring as a manager. “Billy Russell-II”

        2. Scioscia: If he were to be available – this would be great.

        3. Lopes: Well, he’s building his resume….

        4. Hershiser: Dissed Lasorda to the SF fans (I know because I read the SF Chronicle Sporting Green as I was in dental school up there at the time) I’m still bummed out on him just a bit.

        • Anonymous

          Personally, I like Kevin Kennedy.
          He has a good handle on the roster as he’s been covering this club for the last number of years. (except for 1 season in Tampa)

          I think he’s a good communicator, and I like what he said the other night on Dodger Talk about what he would do to get this team kick-started…
          Plus, he has Dodger roots and grew up coming to Chavez Ravine.

          ….
          I do think that while there are the Walter Alstons, etc…. there are also the Lasordas, the Martins, and the Guillens…..
          If you’re going to watch a club for half the year, personally, I appreciate some entertainment value in my manager. :-)

  • Anonymous

    If Mattingly gets fired, I can only hope Ned follows him out the door. This team is poorly constructed, with most of its $200 million payroll spent in the wrong places: right field, first base, left field, third base, #4 starter, mediocre reliever, and below-mediocre closer. He spent more for a corner outfielder in the minors than on catcher and second base combined.

  • Anonymous

    Injuries have played a part, but the 2013 version of the Dodgers reminds me a whole lot of the late 2012 Dodgers, who went 11-17 in the first 28 games after the blockbuster deal with Boston. I’m hoping they’ll snap out and resemble the team that won seven of their last eight to tantalize us into believing they could be a wild card team, but I don’t see it.

    My question is, who is the cancer on this team? You could see a noticeable change in the way the team played after Gonzalez and Beckett arrived. The team that played above expectations for the first half of the season all of a sudden seemed to be waiting around for somebody else to drive in runners. The futility at hitting with RISP dates to then.

    Can they just fire the hitting with RISP coach?

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      Do we blame the training staff for the cancer too? :)

      • Anonymous

        Only if they were moonlighting for the Yankees during the 2012 ALCS, when half the infield was lost for the first half of 2013. Injuries happen at the most inopportune times. The Red Sox were forced to play Cody Ross in center field in 2012 because there was nobody better after Ellsbury went down.

      • Anonymous

        :-)

    • Anonymous

      I think that before that everyone upped their game so that the team could afford to carry Weird Game James, who was fun to have around.

      • Anonymous

        He was not fun to have around with runners on base and two outs. Replacing him with Gonzalez was a no-brainer. It’s just that tacking on Josh Beckett and Nick Punto also showed a lack of brains.

        • Anonymous

          I was surprised to see that Punto has the highest WAR among Dodger position players. I wonder if Punto’s WAR will be this high by the end of the season?

    • Anonymous

      The Dodgers collapsed well before the big trades. They lost basically every game in July as I remember it.

      • Anonymous

        We actually still had the Division lead as late as August 16.

  • Anonymous

    He is a bit too Torre-ish for me in his game management, but clearly not “the” problem. A change, assuming that we get your run-of-the-mill manager, might open things up on the margin that Donnie maybe locked into (i.e., how he uses League, approaches bunting, etc.), but this sort of “shake-up” is unlikey to have a positive impact on team performance.

    • Anonymous

      At some point, can League be demoted from the closer role, regardless of his salary? He clearly hasn’t earned the job, whereas Kenley has been much better. And Kenley has clutchiness ever since he got his new heart.

      • Anonymous

        We were pretty lucky with League as closer in the beginning, when he was coming in with leads where he could afford to to give up 1-2 runs, but as you have said his ERA is too high to bring him in with less than a 3 run lead. I think that first and foremost, Mattingly needs to be flexible in using Kenley as a fireman who can close when we need it.

      • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

        As always, I ask if it would have felt any better if League had given up his two runs in the eighth?

        This idea of tying pitchers to specific innings is borderline insanity. Use your best relievers when you need them most.

        • Anonymous

          I’d love to see a manager tinker with using relievers multiple innings. My sense (and I could be way off, since I’ve never been a pitcher) is that there is a high “startup cost” to warming up and pitching at all, but the marginal strain of pitching a second inning is relatively low.

          If it looks like your reliever is effective, send him back out there rather than use up another arm.

          • Anonymous

            I agree. Leave him out there.

        • Anonymous

          Agreed. I wasn’t advocating for League and Jansen to flip flop. Rather, I’d prefer to see Jansen used in the most important situations, Belisario in the next-most important, and beyond that some mix and match of the other guys. League isn’t as good as Guerrier at this point. I have to look at his brief shining moment last season as a new league of hitters getting accustomed to his stuff. now that they’ve seen him a few times, he’s easy to hit.

          • Anonymous

            Yeah, at this point League, if we are three runs behind or three runs ahead, until he works he way back up the reliever rotation.

  • Anonymous

    Why can’t we just trade Mattingly for Girardi, in a friendly way?

  • Csmith

    Tony LaRussa is out there. He’s not a long term answer obviously, but for a team that has a “win now” mentality and an All Star lineup, he’ll demand respect and accountability. The biggest problem with Don is that he seems to be ok with bad at bat after bad at bat. While one game doesn’t reflect a season, last night was all too familiar. Crawford not getting a runner home from 3rd with one out and AGon not getting Kemp over after a lead off double. Their approach is terrible and if you use Mattinlgy’s quote from the sweep at SF as reference, it seems the players know no matter how poor their approach is, he will defend them. There’s obviously some good with a manager that will defend his players, but at what point do you demand accountability? Look at the teams LaRussa has won with. Outside of Pujols, he had no established position player in the prime of their career but they would do whatever it took to win.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think La Russa had a bunch of gritty overachievers when he managed Oakland. He picked up that reputation in St. Louis and that was because of the 2006 team, which may have been one of the worst teams ever to win the World Series.

      But two years earlier, La Russa had a team loaded with stars and they completely fell apart in the World Series against Boston.

      My choice? Kindly Old Burt Shotton.

      • Anonymous

        I will grudgingly admit LaRussa’s talent as a manager. But I so dislike him for his sanctimony and his arrogance in thinking he has reinvented the game of baseball that I’d hate to see him in L.A. I blame him for the three-pitcher inning, which has ruined the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings of baseball games for me. Sadly, it survives because it works. But it ruins the flow of the game.

        The Dodgers should, however, adopt his genius move of batting the pitcher 8th when Clayton is on the mound. But not for LaGenius’s reasons. Kershaw is simply a better hitter than half the Urischuntorreras in the lineup.

      • Anonymous

        Heck of a job he did given the fact he was brought in at the last minute!

    • Anonymous

      You can’t say LaRussa didn’t have talent to work with.

      Yadier Molina? Scott Rolen? Jim Edmonds might have been close to the end by 2006, but he still hit 19 HRs, and OPSed .822.

      Going back to Oakland, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Walt Weiss, Carney Lansford, Rickey Henderson, even Dave Henderson were all in their primes. The knock on LaRussa at the time was that he didn’t win more World Series with that kind of talent. Or at least that kind of artificially enhanced talent.

      • Csmith

        Your right about his A’s teams and I should have clarified, I meant LaRussa with the Cards. At least the A’s won one, however, and were still a force in the AL throughout his tenure. The fact the Cards won in ’06 with probably the worst roster to win the World Series says something about his managing abilities no? And I agree the 2011 team had some talent but not nearly the lineup depth this Dodgers team has. I think we could agree LaRussa is one of the top managers in the history of baseball and for 2 years could maximize the talent the Dodgers have. Much like Phil’s influence with the Bulls and Lakers, just not as long on the job.

    • Anonymous

      Like you say, its one game. Agon has an OPS of 1.297 with RISP and you advocate Mattingly getting on his case because he didn’t move the runner over?

      • Csmith

        You’re missing my point. Clearly AGon is an elite player and the most clutch hitter on the team, but the lack of situational baseball is an epidemic and has been for his 2+ years. And this doesn’t even get into the issues Jon mentioned about his interesting bullpen usage.

        • Anonymous

          I agree with your point, just not your example.

          • Anonymous

            I loved Vinny’s line ” they couldn’t even get Kemp to 3B”. I take that as Vinny-ism for “what an embarrassment”, AGon included.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    As most of you probably know by now…Sellers to AAA, Fed recalled…now after Fed produces more than Ramon they can DFA Hernandez and hopefully due the same for Cruz

    • Anonymous

      I give Hernandez until Ellis returns.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Recently on Twitter:

    J.P. Hoornstra ‏@jphoornstra 10m

    Carl Crawford is day to day with a hamstring injury. Was going to play today instead of Ethier. Mattingly unsure when Crawford tightened up

    • Anonymous

      Here we go again :(

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Casey-Barker/100003908968118 Casey Barker

    I believe Mattingly should take a large portion of the blame for last season’s collapse (after having the best record in baseball in June). He should leave after the year is finished.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1172439252 Michael Green

    I think it’s worth remembering that when the evil previous owner had money, Ned Colletti spent it on Jason Schmidt and Juan Uribe. That doesn’t excuse any mistakes Donnie B. might have made, but it serves as a reminder that when he is given a roster of injured stars to play, it’s really worth asking whose idea that roster was.