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Could Dave Roberts be the next Grady Little? 

October 10, 2019

My favorite quote about baseball managers comes from Leo Durocher: “If you don't win, you're going to be fired. If you do win, you've only put off the day you're going to be fired." The job of every manager is to be fired. It’s in the employment description. Every manager

My favorite quote about baseball managers comes from Leo Durocher: “If you don't win, you're going to be fired. If you do win, you've only put off the day you're going to be fired." The job of every manager is to be fired. It’s in the employment description. Every manager either gets fired or hangs around long enough that they’re able to retire before they get fired. You will get fired even if you break the Curse of the Bambino; you will eventually be let go even if you bring a World Series trophy to Wrigley Field. There’s no escaping it. Eventually your number is going to be up.

Dave Roberts has been an unquestionably successful manager. He has the fifth-highest winning percentage in baseball history, behind two Hall of Famers, a guy named Jim Mutrie who managed from 1883-91 and Aaron Boone. He has won a Manager of the Year Award, reached two World Series and hasn’t missed the Postseason in any of the four seasons he’s been in the dugout. You honestly could not come up with a better record of success, short of winning a World Series. But that’s the thing: He hasn’t won the World Series. And when you haven’t won the World Series, and you keep making questionable decisions in the playoffs, and people are getting dismissed even if they have made the playoffs … well, you’re probably going to be looking over your shoulder.

Roberts, as helpfully pointed out in an amusing thread by HardballTalk writer Craig Calcaterra, has made an extremely questionable decision that has cost his team in every one of the past three postseasons.

2017: Roberts brought in a clearly spent Brandon Morrow in the World Series, a pitcher who had pitched four consecutive games, because Morrow “felt good” and thus Roberts said “you can’t turn him down.” (Morrow then gave up four runs on six pitches.)

2018: After Ryan Madson had been shelled in the first two games of the World Series, Roberts put him back in in Game 4 with the Dodgers up 4-0. He immediately gave up a three-run homer to Mitch Moreland in a game the Red Sox ultimately won. Boston won the World Series the next night.

2019: Joe Kelly has struggled all year when asked to pitch multiple innings; across his eight multi-inning appearances this year, he gave up nine runs.

But Roberts kept him out there after a 1-2-3 ninth inning despite having a full, mostly rested bullpen … and Kelly loaded the bases and then gave up a crushing grand slam to Howie Kendrick.

“My eyes tell me that he should go back out there because he’s throwing the ball really well,” he said postgame. One imagines Dodgers brass, who spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours working out every possible statistical and analytical scenario, not exactly doing backflips that all their effort and investment has been thrown out the window for Roberts’ “eyes.” And we haven’t even talked about bringing in Clayton Kershaw, who gave up two home runs on three pitches, which was a more defensible move but still a questionable one.

Is each of these moves a fireable offense? Can any single move be a fireable offense? The Red Sox famously dismissed Grady Little for keeping Pedro Martinez in so long during the 2003 ALCS, and while that move clearly paid off (Terry Francona and the Sox won the World Series the next season), it has always seemed a little rash to fire a manager because he made one decision that didn’t work out in a high-profile game. The worst decision I’ve ever seen a manager make was when then-Cardinals manager Mike Matheny brought Michael Wacha, who had not pitched in a month, into a tied NLCS game against the Giants in 2014 with the Cardinals facing elimination, despite having his closer and several other pitchers available. Wacha gave up a three-run homer to Travis Ishikawa, and the only good thing that came out of the move was the Giants having a highlight they’ll play on their video board until the end of time. But even I’m not sure you can dismiss a guy for just one move -- even that one.

But when you pile them on top of each other, and add to the mix that the Dodgers have reached the postseason 11 times in the last 15 years -- including the last seven in a row -- and still haven’t won the World Series … it’s no wonder that Roberts is feeling the heat. And this is the sort of heat that’s tough to escape. Dodgers fans were actively booing him in the 10th inning. Andy McCullough of The Athletic, hardly some sort of flame thrower, called Roberts’ decisions in Game 5 “baffling” and “inexplicable.” The “Fire Dave Roberts” Facebook page, which has been around for a while now, is particularly active this morning.

Look: If any of Roberts’ moves work out, even if they weren’t sound decision making, we’re not talking about any of this. Some of Joe Maddon’s decisions during the 2016 World Series were downright flabbergasting, and I still cannot figure out why he kept Aroldis Chapman, who couldn’t even throw a fastball anymore, in for the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7. But Chapman somehow escaped, the Cubs won the World Series and nobody cared about the decision. And the only reason we can focus so much on Roberts’ strange postseason decisions is because the Dodgers are in the postseason in the first place. You only get to make these calls if you’ve skippered the team this far in the first place. Roberts is obviously a better manager than he’s being accused of being this morning.

But all managers exist to eventually get the boot. Roberts may have won enough up to this point, as The Lip put it, to stave off being let go this offseason. But the axe is coming sooner or later. It’s always coming. We’ve all seen managers fired for less. Frankly: A lot less.