So, if the Dodgers lose tonight, Don Mattingly is fired, right?
Pardon my lack of posts this afternoon. Once I heard that Yasiel Puig was benched I got a case of the vapors and couldn’t arise from my fainting couch for many minutes. I’m still struggling to form words and may break down at any moment.
OK, maybe that’s not true. I had personal business to attend to. While I was attending to the personal business, I checked my phone and saw the news about Puig being benched. I actually dropped an F-bomb when I saw it and then had to explain why I care so much to some people who know nothing about and care little about baseball. Nothing makes you seem sillier than getting all the feels about baseball around such people. But I digress.
What I was thinking on the drive home, though, is that this is a pretty ballsy and, quite possibly, a career-limiting move for Don Mattingly. Let’s walk through the possible outcomes, with the caveat being that, based on overall expectations, it’s possible that Mattingly may be on the hot seat no matter what he does if the Dodgers don’t at least win the pennant:
- Puig sits, the Dodgers lose and Andre Ethier has a bad game: He’s fired, right? Not only did he make a bad tactical call before the fact (it’s clear that Puig is a better player than Ethier, recent slump notwithstanding) but it backfires. He has benched the guy who ownership and marketing have pretty clearly tried to make the face of the franchise and he watched as the Dodgers crumbled. How does he keep his job in that scenario?
- Puig sits, the Dodgers win and Ethier has a great game: This definitely makes Mattingly look smart in the short term. Emphasis on the “look,” because a good outcome doesn’t mean it’s a good decision. If you sell your house and buy $200K worth of lottery tickets tonight and win, it’s still a dumb decision, after all. Plus, if that happens, what does Mattingly do for Game 5? Stick with Ethier? Probably. But it just adds more uncertainty (how long can Ethier carry you?) and adds another big decision to his plate, which makes this more about his own decision making and increases the chances of a bad outcome for which he may have to pay.
- Puig sits, Ethier is a non-factor: Probably doesn’t matter if they win, though he has to decide again on Thursday. If they lose, people will still wonder what Puig might have done.
I don’t know, it’s a minefield for Mattingly here. Maybe a move of this magnitude isn’t made without front office sign-off, but one wonders if ownership will be content to watch Puig sit on the bench in an elimination game. In such instances, someone like Mark Walter may not call in to second guess his baseball ops people in the middle of a series, but he may certainly decide, after the fact, if and when the recriminations come down, that someone needs to be held responsible for the uncertainty and, I assume, acrimony, which comes down this winter should the Dodgers stumble.
If it’s me -- and I put my man-crush on Puig aside -- I ask myself: “which player gives me the best chance to win the game?” If you say Andre Ethier, I think the burden is on you to show your work as to how you got there. Because it’s certainly not based on recent demonstrated baseball ability of any significant sample size.
And when one makes a decision to not play one’s best player? Well, one had better be right.