This offseason, the Los Angeles Dodgers gave manager Don Mattingly a vote of confidence by finally offering him a contract extension. Almost all of the Dodgers coaching staff will return, with the exception of former bench coach Trey Hillman. Replacing Hillman as bench coach is Tim Wallach, who had previously served as the third base coach of the Dodgers.
Before the extension was signed, there was a great deal of speculation that either the Dodgers did not want Mattingly back or Mattingly did not want to be back. While those rumors can now be put to rest, it is interesting that the team chose to let Hillman go as bench coach, especially given how close he and Mattingly reportedly were. Mattingly is very well-liked in the clubhouse, and his players respect him a great deal, but he is certainly not without his shortcomings, especially in matters of in-game strategy, which just so happens to be the bench coach’s main responsibility.
Those shortcomings were magnified during the playoffs, as Mattingly made a number of questionable decisions that hurt the Dodgers as they attempted to advance to the World Series. In the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, Mattingly chose to pitch to Jason Heyward instead of Reed Johnson, with Heyward somewhat predictably delivering a hit that cost the Dodgers the game. He also called for a bunt on two pitches to Juan Uribe in the eighth inning of the fourth game of the series, despite Uribe’s poor bunting skills and obvious power potential. Uribe, of course, failed to lay down the bunt, and instead delivered a home run that ultimately sent the Dodgers to the NLCS. In the first game of the NLCS, Mattingly sent in a pinch-runner for Adrian Gonzalez late in a tie game, a move that backfired when Gonzalez’ spot in the lineup came up two more times in important situations.
Despite these missteps, the Dodgers players were supportive of Mattingly and remained light-hearted throughout the playoffs. Perhaps the greatest evidence of this came when A.J. Ellis spoke with MLB Network’s Intentional Talk to discuss Juan Uribe’s failed bunt attempt, among other topics:
The interview was conducted in the Dodger dugout, with the Dodgers players and coaches ostensibly watching from the clubhouse, as Mattingly eventually sauntered out to jokingly whisper to Ellis he would not be starting the first game of the NLCS. Such instances demonstrate the clear rapport between the players and their manager, yet Dodgers executives clearly thought there was something left to be desired in Mattingly’s abilities.
Now that Hillman is gone, Wallach will fill the role of bench coach and will assume the responsibility of advising Mattingly in matters of strategy. Wallach has previous managing experience at the Triple-A level, where he managed the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Dodgers’ minor league affiliate. He was named Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2009 before being promoted to the Dodgers third base coach, a position he has served in until this season. Wallach is considered by many to be an excellent future managerial option, and he has interviewed for several positions throughout his tenure.
It seems fairly likely that the Dodgers chose to promote Wallach to help make Mattingly a better in-game strategist. Wallach and Mattingly are of the same baseball generation, and Mattingly should have no trouble respecting Wallach’s advice. Wallach, for his part, now has an opportunity to showcase his managerial skills in this role, as he has made it clear that managing at the Major League level is a goal of his. If he can improve upon Mattingly’s in-game management, his stock will certainly continue to soar.
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