LOS ANGELES — Dave Roberts is a finalist for National League Manager of the Year, and later Tuesday we will find out if he won the award. But whether he takes home the hardware or not, Roberts’ first year as Dodgers manager was an overwhelming success.
He won the National League West with a franchise that also won the NL West in each of the previous three seasons, but that’s too simplistic.
Roberts guided a team that lost ace Clayton Kershaw for over 10 weeks with a herniated disc in his back, and still won 91 games. The Dodgers set a record with 28 different players placed on the major league disabled list, an unfathomable number, really.
The DL record the Dodgers broke was held by the 2012 Red Sox, a team that lost 93 games and finished in last place in the American League East.
The Dodgers in 2016 used 15 different starting pitchers, tied for second-most in MLB. The other teams that used 15 starters were the 88-loss Angels and the 94-loss Reds. The Braves, who used an MLB-high 16 starting pitchers, lost 93 games.
Again, the Dodgers won 91 games.
But this goes beyond numbers.
"A great byproduct of the cultural change and shift that we saw on the major league side with Doc and his coaches was to be able to provide that soft landing spot [for rookies],” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “That environment where guys could come up and thrive and not be afraid to compete, and were put in positions to succeed. It could not have worked out any better this year, and I think that's a cultural environment that's going to continue and grow off of itself and be furthered.”
Roberts explained his success in his first season.
"I was given the autonomy and flexibility to stay micro-focused with our guys,” Roberts said in October. With Andrew and his guys to be forward thinking about things out of my control, it just allowed me to stay focused on the day-to-day, how to manage the pen, the pitching staff, the players. I don't know how many players came through that clubhouse.”
There were 57 players to come through the Dodgers clubhouse in 2016, 55 of them who played.
"For us on the field to stay focused on the day-to-day, that helped me not get ahead of myself. When you get out to far ahead, distractions, pressure and stress can come into play,” Roberts said.
The term “players’ manager” gets used a lot, and we have seen two of them in Roberts and Don Mattingly, his predecessor. Mattingly was a positive person, seemingly always optimistic, but Roberts exudes that positive energy to a maniacal degree.
We’ve seen it in Roberts’ various dugout celebrations when things fell the Dodgers’ way. We’ve seen it in his open communication with the players, as described by Justin Turner to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times in August:
“His ability to address things immediately is what sets him apart from most guys,” Turner said. “When issues come up, he addresses it right away. He nips it in the bud and doesn’t let it linger. When you do that, it kind of eliminates the small groups and cliques talking about this and that.”
What stood out to me with Roberts was a conversation with Jamey Wright in March at Camelback Ranch. Wright, 41, was trying to come back after not pitching in 2015, on a minor league deal with the Dodgers. But, knowing he would not make the team, Wright decided to retire at the end of camp.
Wright played 19 major league seasons for 10 different teams and 16 different managers. He was in the spring clubhouse with Roberts, a man just 2½ years his senior, for all of six weeks, but on the day he retired Wright made a point to mention the rookie manager.
"I'll be sad that I don't get to play for him this year, because he is a class act," Wright said. "I've known since the first day he addressed this team they've got something to look forward to this summer in LA because he's as good as they get."