Justin Sun-ho Kim

2020-01-29

This is the third post

Some playoff narratives that need to be dispelled.

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The Dodgers are about to embark on their 7th straight NLDS without a World Series title. Going that long without winning it all conjures repetitive narratives around the team, and nothing can be more frustrating the drudgery kept alive by coach-dad fans high from Dunning–Kruger.

1. This bullpen is not the bullpen you think it is

The bad bullpen narrative has been the most pervasive in spite of the iterative improvements Friedman and co. have made to the team each year.

Although quick and dirty (and ignoring the inherited runners charged to starters), the postseason bullpen ERA has improved year over year, coinciding with deeper postseason runs. The Dodgers have largely found ways of building better postseason bullpens each year through a mix of personnel, preparation, and luck.

Postseason ERA
2013 (NLCS) 3.06
2014 (NLDS) 6.48
2015 (NLDS) 4.61
2016 (NLCS) 4.00
2017 (WS) 2.39
2018 (WS) 2.78

All of this isn't even looking at the current state of the Dodgers bullpen. Yes, the regular season stats aren't sterling (93 ERA-/ 94 FIP-), but the postseason crew should be much stronger.

Possible reinforcements from the starting rotation like Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, and Julio Urias all have spent time in the postseason bullpen and have looked strong in the months long tune up. Flamethrowing rookies, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin have shown off stunning stuff and have learnt from previous mistakes in the lead up to October.

Unfortunately, the above statement goes both ways, and Kenley Jansen (despite small flashes of brilliance in the last month) and Joe Kelly (strong middle of the season) don't exactly inspire confidence they once did.

2. Kershaw is not a choke artist

This is probably the most frustrating narrative surrounding this run of postseason appearances. We know Kershaw is amazing. We've seen him be amazing in the post season. We want to blame the bullpen for letting his runners score, but there's no way around it, Kershaw hasn't been great in the postseason.

But let's make one thing clear: Kershaw is not a choke artist.

So much has already been written about this subject that this idea is beyond played out.

Dodger fans only have to look to the last World Series and David Price to know that players choke until... they don't?

3. Dave Roberts is a great manager

Dave Roberts will make some bad decisions. He will make some great decisions. Ultimately, he will most likely not be why the Dodgers do or don't win a World Series. This is the hardest narrative to dispel because we evaluate 90% of his managerial competency on the highly concentrated 15% of his actual work.

He might 'over-manage' in game, and those decisions do matter (just not as much as you'd think they do), but this isn't even to say that Dave isn't great tactician. He's just a better personnel manager. How else do you get a team where everyone happily plays multiple positions or happily transitions in and out of the starting rotation?

Plus, is it really Dave's fault if his otherworldly closer can't lock down Game 2 of the 2017 WS? or if his players decide to just stop hitting against a weak Boston bullpen?

The playoffs always provide emotionally exhausting moments. It's so easy to let confirmation bias take hold whenever Kershaw gives up one more single or when Kenley gives up the fattest dong.

Being right is often only thing we feel like when bad guy do bad bad to ball. One powerful stroke can seemingly invalidate the 30 seconds of concentration we gave to the last pitch, the 3 hours of watching yet another beer commercial, or even entire years devoted to a team that just can't get it done. I'm writing this so that we can learn to not let old narratives take hold of our brains, to appreciate the players and coaches we've spent so long building para-social relationships with, and to ultimately hope that maybe this is the year the Dodgers can finally clean this slate by winning it all.

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