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In defense of the Manfred Man

Or “How I learned to stop worrying and love the Manfred Man.”

Cleveland Guardians v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Manfred Man - noun - the TrueBlueLA unofficial term for the ghost or free runner awarded in extra innings that usually the Dodgers will do absolutely nothing with. Synonym: cardboard cutout, signal to go to bed or do something else.

Stop me if you have heard this one. On Friday night, the Dodgers lost in extra innings - again. The Dodgers had Trea Turner on second base as the Manfred Man, arguably the fastest player in the league, with Freddie Freeman to start the inning. In a vacuum, you would expect the Dodgers to easily tie the score and possibly win. However, in our reality, Trea Turner could have been replaced with a cardboard cutout or he could have decided to sit on second base, it would have yielded the same result.

The Dodgers lost. And, seemingly on cue, everyone started whining about the Manfred Man. Arguably, the Manfred Man is probably the one thing that the Commissioner has done right.

Considering that I have not traveled to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago this year, I have unexpectedly hit a lull as to writing topics that are not Trevor Bauer. So allow me to point out that if you are in that category of Dodger fan who hates the Manfred Man, allow this essay to serve as an argument that you are really raging about something else.

You are not angry that the Dodgers have been abysmal in extra innings the past two seasons. You are upset because the Dodgers have underachieved as to situational hitting the past two seasons.

Life with the Manfred Man

The Manfred Man is stupid. - You, probably.

Why is the rule stupid? Because the Dodgers seem to go meekly with runners in scoring position. It’s not as if both teams do not benefit from the rule. Honestly, if the road team wins under the Manfred Man rule, then my first indication is that the home team is doing something terribly wrong.

Now, there’s always the possibility of the road team going off in their half of the tenth inning, but that scenario is not what I am talking about. Assume the road team is kept scoreless - I’m surprised we haven’t seen sacrifice bunt/ground ball to the right side to move the runner second, opening the door for a sacrifice fly to end it. In my view, if a team cannot score a runner from second with anybody out on a regular basis against the not-closer of the other team, then that team has no business winning.

The Manfred Man has been in existence since the year of the COVID Cup in 2020. Ironically enough, the Dodgers went 5-1 in extra inning games that year. In 2021 though? 6-13, which is pretty bad.

But remember, that final result is actually an improvement because the 2021 Dodgers were 1-11 in extra innings to start the campaign through July 31, 2021. Eric wrote about it unless you forgot:

TrueBlueLA, Eric Stephen, July 31, 2021:

The Dodgers lost another game in extra innings on Friday night. It happened in familiar fashion for a team that seems to be perplexed by the free runner on second base.

In the top of the 10th inning, AJ Pollock, Cody Bellinger, and Billy McKinney all flew out harmlessly. It only took nine pitches, six of them to McKinney. Will Smith began the inning on second base, and ended it there, too....

...Generally — despite fan complaints from all corners — the Dodgers have actually thrived in such situations this year. With runners in scoring position, the Dodgers are hitting .266/.375/.449, fifth in the majors in batting average and tied for second in wRC+ (123).

In extra innings, the Dodgers are 9-for-59 with runners in scoring position, hitting .153/.292/.305. Their opponents are hitting .283/.441/.522. That’s a recipe for 11 losses in 12 games.

From that point on, the Dodgers went 5-2 in extra frames to finish the year. The Manfred Man rule is not why the Dodgers did not advance past the NLCS last year, it was a combination of injuries, poor (unavoidable) rotation management, and poor situational hitting.

Fickle Situational Hitting

And remember, it’s not as if this ongoing issue with runners in scoring position did not persist in the playoffs.

From AJ Cassavell at last October:

Again, Los Angeles managed only one hit with runners in scoring position in a 5-4 loss to the Braves on Eddie Rosario’s walk-off single in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. They went 1-for-8 on Saturday night. Then 1-for-10 on Sunday.

On the whole, the offense hasn’t been particularly poor in this series. But in the biggest spots, it has gone missing. After the game, manager Dave Roberts had an idea why.

“It’s an approach thing,” Roberts said. “I think that at certain times, in scoring position we’re expanding too much.

No adjustments were seemingly made, and the Dodgers lost to an inferior opponent who went on to win the title. It would be one thing if Atlanta was playing out of their minds, ala the 1988 Dodgers against the 1988 Mets. Atlanta gave the Dodgers plenty of opportunities in that series; the Dodgers did not cash any of them in.

The Manfred Man and the Dodgers today

As of this essay, the Dodgers are sitting on a goose egg for extra inning victories this year out of five attempts. Moreover, the Dodgers only have a single walk-off victory. Granted, walk-off victories are not necessarily indicative of a title (the 2019 Dodgers say hello - but that is another essay for another time).

Considering the offensive firepower on the roster, and the fact that seemingly only Freddie Freeman can hit with runners in scoring position, the offense appears to be overly reliant on the home run ball. Having a one-dimensional offense only serves as a weakness that a clever manager or opponent can exploit when the stakes are higher.

Cleveland Guardians v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

On Saturday, the Dodgers won 7-1, while going 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position, while leaving 11 runners on base. Eric Karros stated on that game’s broadcast that he believed that fans wanted the Dodgers to win the division by thirty games. Only in video games or historic seasons that end in cheating by a team in Houston does that outcome occur. And I am not one to say “whelp, time to fire Dave Roberts / the hitting coaches” - nor would I agree with that action at this time. What my eyes tell me is that the Giants, aka our cousins to the north, seem to be able to do more with less, and I have previously argued that if the coaching staffs were to switch, you would likely see a bump in production here and a dip up north. The point I am trying to emphasize is that you can be good at your job and still underachieve at the same time.

The Dodgers do not need to win 7-1 every night. I argue that if the Dodgers look at the box score from Saturday’s game as something to emulate, I would argue that conclusion is faulty. What I see from that box score is an offense that is misfiring and requires a home run or the other team to screw up to generate offense.

At the risk of mixing sports metaphors, it would be neat if there was a Dodger equivalent to the 1997 Chicago Bulls, that just romped through the regular season, never taking a day off, and using their talent to bully the league. Frankly, the Dodgers do not have anything to prove to me during the regular season, barring games I physically attend.

It would be nice if they won, but frankly, a competitive, entertaining game is the goal.

If anyone should hate the Manfred Man, it’s me.

Adric: This picture demeans us both. MJE: Hush - free baseball! Oracle Park. April 7, 2018.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, the trip that started all of this nonsense contained four extra-inning losses (out of eight total games in four cities). Three of these losses were on the road, one of these losses was in Los Angeles, in fact, it was the first game I went to on the trip. Kenley Jansen had the audacity to give up a go-ahead homer, so I booed him, and then he did not give up a base hit in my presence for the rest of the year. I have been trapped at the ballpark in extra-inning games that seemingly neither side wants to win.

The most famous example was on April 7, 2018, in San Francisco. On this Saturday, I ate a light snack at the ballpark in the second inning (after eating before the game) and proceeded to watch an entertaining game until it went into extra innings. And then it just kept going...and going...and going. The Dodgers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as Wilmer Font gave up a walk-off home run to Andrew McCutchen to end the night.

Lengthy games are still possible with the Manfred Man, as we saw last year, but, in my view, unless it’s the fall, there’s no reason for a regular season game to drag out. But that’s just my defense of this rule, which I acknowledge that most fans seemingly dislike.