MLB’s Rookie of the Year might be the Dodger manager
By Cary Osborne
Both times Dodger president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman used the word optimism when referring to Dave Roberts, he thought it needed a forceful descriptor in front of it.
What Roberts brought to the Dodger organization in 2016, Friedman said, was “relentless optimism.”
And through the countless adversities of a season so unique, there is a direct correlation between the Dodgers reaching the postseason as National League West champions and the manner in which Roberts skippered the ship.
Yes, it was a world-class, top-of-the-line ship. But 2016 was typhoon season for the Dodgers, with an onslaught of injuries (including losing the best pitcher in baseball for two months), first-half offensive woes, balancing playing time, guiding rookies and falling eight games behind the San Francisco Giants in late June.
“Dave has done an incredible job this year,” Friedman said. “Just his ability to communicate. His relentless optimism and his ability to put guys in a position to succeed have been a huge part of our success this year.”
Fellow coach, player, media member, stadium employee — you were all the same in some respects in Roberts’ eyes. Walk next to a player, and he wouldn’t just greet the player with a big smile and hello. He’d greet both of you that way.
Rookie, veteran — you knew what you were getting from Roberts — respect and honesty.
“Every day you meet him at the door, and he’s as happy as a puppy when you come home,” said rookie Ross Stripling. “It’s like he hadn’t seen you in a year. It’s like, ‘Strip! Great to see you! How you doing today?’ He’s always has that energy, and that’s how he manages. I think that’s something we really used, and it’s brought us together. Rookies, too. To come into an atmosphere like that where it’s not Old School and the manager doesn’t really talk to you and is always serious — Doc can be serious, but he treats you like a friend and eases your nerves a bit.”
There’s a word that gets thrown around often with Roberts — family. His own family was a constant at Dodger Stadium. His son Cole would come by the stadium often and play catch. His wife Tricia and daughter Emmerson waited for him patiently on a leather couch outside of the clubhouse after many Dodger games — good ones and bad ones.
And when a Dodger family member was lost — like when Clayton Kershaw went down with a back injury, or the beloved A.J. Ellis was traded to Philadelphia or Yasiel Puig was sent to Triple-A, someone was taken into the family or another family would come in to pick up the unit.
“He cares,” said Rich Hill, who joined the family from Oakland via a trade on August 1. “A lot of managers care — I shouldn’t say just that — but he really does. He has a vested interest in your family. He genuinely wants to know how every day is going and is consistently the same guy on a daily basis.”
But can that lead to better play? Hill said yes.
“When you have somebody at the helm, the captain of the ship — so to speak — what you want is consistency on an everyday basis of that attitude,” Hill said. “And (Roberts’) attitude is consistent every single day.”
Beyond the positivity, Roberts’ stamp on this Dodger team might be the way he worked with his coaching staff to manage the bullpen. Dodger rookies started a franchise record 70 games. Kershaw and fellow veteran starters Scott Kazmir, Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu all spent time on the disabled list. That combination forced Roberts and Co. to get creative with the bullpen and use it — a lot.
The Dodgers’ 590 2/3 innings from the bullpen didn’t just lead the Majors, they were sixth-most all time. But the Dodgers still managed to have the second-best ERA in the Majors at 3.35.
It was the most unique challenge for Roberts to handle as a rookie manager this year.
“The biggest learning curve for me was managing the pen, in the sense of trying to work with (Rick Honeycutt) to put the players in the right position to have success and also trying to stay ahead of things before they happened,” Roberts said. “With Bob Geren and with Honey, they were great for me in my first season. And I’m constantly learning. Every day I learn something different. So I’m going to continue to grow (and) hopefully get better.”
Now the Dodgers start the postseason after nearly everything imaginable has been thrown at them. The waters are sure to get rough. But the rookie captain is one thing if nothing else — relentlessly optimistic. And that can calm seas.
“I just think taking on the amount of adversity he did in his first year as a Major League manager and never wavering with his relentless optimism is something that really rubbed off on our guys in the clubhouse and is what contributed in a lot of ways to our guys’ ability to maintain that focus through that adversity,” Friedman said. “And I think it has allowed us to be in the position we’re in now.”