It’s time for Dave Roberts to think outside the box regarding bullpen usage

Photo: Stacie Wheeler

I like Dave Roberts. I really do. He’s in just his second season as Dodgers’ manager, but he’s probably among the most liked and respected of any person to be the captain of this proverbial ship. And, he’s one of the better tacticians they’ve had at the helm.

BUT (you knew that was coming)…

Roberts’ bullpen management is still a little stuck in the “conventional,” which is the overwhelmingly norm among baseball managers. It’s hard to truly fault him for that. But, if he wants to get to the next level of managing, he’s going to have to venture outside his comfort zone.

In the top of eighth inning last night, the Giants had their best hitters coming up in the form of Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Christian Arroyo. Ross Stripling, after throwing an impressive seventh inning that saw him strike out the side, ran out there for the eighth again as Roberts pushed his luck.

Pence led off with a single that should have fielded by Adrian Gonzalez. A healthy Gonzalez (or Cody Bellinger) would have done so. A wild pitch that Yasmani Grandal couldn’t find allowed Pence to advance to third and scored on a Posey ground ball to Chase Utley at second base. Chad touched on the fact the Dodgers were playing the infield back with a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning.

“That boner proved costly as Buster Posey ended up driving him in with a grounder right to second, which would’ve cut off the run at the plate, but the Dodgers choose to play the infield back in the eighth inning of a one-run game for some reason. I get wanting to prevent a big inning, but at that point you have to take your chances to actually try and get a win.”

He also said this on Twitter.

I didn’t understand it, either. But back to the management.

Stripling needed 13 pitches to get through the seventh inning. Despite getting BABIP’d to death (.413 on the season), he has still been the Dodgers’ most effective non-Kenley Jansen reliever. Normally, I’d be OK with him going back out for another inning, but he had been tasked with throwing multiple innings in three of the previous four games. Only once did he make it through two innings (Saturday against Philadelphia). In two of the remaining three outings, and he was tagged with a loss (in Arizona during that nightmare eighth inning and in San Francisco in extra innings on April 26).

What I’m getting at is Stripling could have benefited from a bit of a confidence booster. He went two scoreless innings against the Phillies his last time out, but he also gave up three hits and issued a walk — i.e. it wasn’t a clean outing.

Instead of gambling getting another inning out of Stripling against the heart of the Giants’ order, why not bring in the big man? I bring that up because of something Roberts said in the post-game (courtesy of Dodger Talk):

“Obviously early, Julio goes five innings, and … you’ve got (Buster) Posey — the heart of the order coming up — so I wanted to use Petey (Pedro Baez) at that point in time. I felt that — you look at the lineup and to shorten the game and I felt we were going to get runs off Samardzija — and so you get through a clean sixth (inning) and then at that point in time, where if you have Stripling go one inning and (Josh Fields) go the eighth … or (Grant Dayton), then you’ve only got one other person behind Kenley. And so if the game goes to extras, you’ve gotta use Strip, who’s a multi-inning guy, you’ve gotta get two innings out of him.”

OK, so Urias struggled to get through the fifth inning, but he did so without allowing a run. If he hadn’t struggled, he probably would have been allowed to start the sixth inning. Instead, Roberts (correctly) brought in Baez to face Posey, Arroyo, and Eduardo Nunez. It wasn’t a clean inning (one double, one intentional walk), but Baez got through it unscathed. This was unconventional and progressive on Roberts’ part. He should be applauded for it.

But my question is: Why would Roberts not employ the same strategy in the eighth inning? The game was, technically, lost in the 11th inning, but it was really lost in the eighth.

I know using Jansen in a “fireman” situation in the regular isn’t going to happen terribly frequently (and it shouldn’t), but this was a winnable game against a division rival. These games mean a little more than the others, and there really isn’t a better time to call Jansen to protect a one-run lead in early May. It would be risky to not have that safety net in the ninth inning, but it’s also far more likely the Dodgers are protecting a 1-run lead instead of nursing a tie score.

Let’s assume Jansen gets through the eighth without allowing a run and faces the same four batters Stripling did. That would mean the combination of Dayton and/or Fields would be set up to face Joe Panik, Kelby Tomlinson and a pinch-hitter — likely Conor Gillaspie, especially if Dayton starts the inning against Panik, in the ninth inning. I’ll take my chances with that scenario rather than forcing Stripling to pitch a second inning and to the Giants’ best hitters in the eighth because “he’s a multi-inning guy.”

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Baseball managers have a long way to go when it comes to using their bullpens in the most effective way that puts the team in the best position to win a game. Roberts might, eventually, get there, but he’s not there quite yet. He needs to think even further outside the box. Bringing Jansen in for a 4-out save isn’t that unconventional anymore. Push the envelope, Dave. I promise it’ll be OK.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He does contracts and depth charts for FanGraphs and is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a one-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, California, and has yet to be shot.