Detroit Tigers: Can the Tigers Survive Jim Leyland's Management?
Managing a baseball team is no easy task. You have to manage and massage player egos while dealing with the second guessing of fans, all while trying to get a multimillion dollar team focused and playing well enough for 162 games.
While most managers have their ups and downs the Detroit Tigers have an interesting situation with their manager, Jim Leyland. They seem to be winning despite his continued failures.
Now Leyland has had a long and successful career. He has been a three-time manager of the year and won the 1997 World Series. He has helped to turn around a Tigers organization that spent the better part of 20 years near the bottom of the league. Despite that it he has always had a problem during his Detroit stay with the second half of seasons. In each of his five seasons with the team, they have had a losing record in the second half of the season.
This year the team has managed to take over first place, in what many believe is the weakest division in baseball. Leyland has mismanaged so many steps along the way that it is truly a wonder that they have the record that they do.
Make no mistake, this team is far from perfect. While a different manager should easily have more wins they would not all of a sudden become a runaway power house with someone else at the helm.
He has forgotten more about baseball then most will ever know; however the concern is that he has forgotten so many basics of the game that he really does need to know.
Here is a review of the case against Leyland
Pitch to Win
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Justin Verlander is by far the top pitcher on the team. He is the leading Cy Young candidate and with his stellar season, has even worked his way into the MVP discussion. He leads the league in wins, innings, strikeouts and whip and is second in ERA.
19 times this season he has pitched after a Tiger’s loss, he has only lost three of those games. That has greatly helped the Tigers from falling into any type of long losing streak. He has pitched in big games, including a Cy Young showdown with Jered Weaver in which he only gave up one run and even had a no hitter into the eighth inning.
In a recent in a battle with Cleveland, who is chasing Detroit in the standings, Verlander stopped a two game skid by pitching a three hit win against them. The win kept the Indians from getting to within one game to Tigers.
So what is the Leyland complaint with Verlander?
On Sunday, August 21st, the Indians and Tigers will be finishing up another three game series inDetroit. That game would fall on Verlander’s normally scheduled day to pitch however Leyland refuses to pitch him. The Tigers have a day off between Verlander’s two starts. This means that rotation wise another starter would need to be skipped in order to start Verlander.
This isn’t a situation where the Tigers are loaded with great starting pitching. After Verlander they are very much a roller coaster group. In place of Verlander Sunday, Leyland is opting to go with Rick Porcello as his 4.98 ERA, over 2.5 runs worse than Verlander.
In Porcello’s last two starts he has given up 12 runs while not making it past the sixth inning in either game. It would seem like a no brainer to pitch the league’s best pitcher in such an important game.
The Indians understand the importance of this game as they will send Ubaldo Jimenez to the mound. Jimenez also pitched on August 16th, the same as Verlander. Winning a game against Cleveland is a two game swing in the standings. The team needs Verlander to pitch that game.
Leyland wants to give Verlander a break and he already has his rotation set for the rest of the season. Currently Verlander would pitch against Cleveland in the final series of the year. Pitching him now would not change that. In fact it could help Verlander. Ideally you should want to put away a team as soon as possible. Now one game now will not win the division now. But if enough games are won early enough, then Verlander would not be needed in that final series and that is key.
That is where this decision is extra foolish. At this point you want to make sure you are set for a playoff run. If Verlander finishes the season against the Indians then he would not be available for the first game of the playoffs. For the Tigers to have any chance in a playoff series, Verlander must lead them off.
Leyland has already blown one season by bad pitching choices. In 2009 the Tigers had a seven game lead with a month to go. They even went into the final four games with a three game lead but ended up falling apart and losing the tiebreaker game to Minnesota. Part of that epic failure was his decision to play with the rotation, anybody remember Alfredo Figaro? Instead of going for the kill he played with fire and got burned….yet again. It was one of the worst late season collapses in baseball history.
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In Baseball 101 we all learned that your best batters should be towards the top of the lineup. Ideally your first two batters hit for a high average and have speed. Your 3-5 batters combine more power and hopefully still hit for a good average. The bottom of the lineup generally is for the guys who may be relied on more for defense then offense or are just mediocre hitters.
This allows your best hitters to come up to bat more often during a game which ideally gets more runs to score. Leyland however is too smart for this. He instead has spent most of the season having Magglio Ordonez hitting in the third spot.
Ordonez has batted only .228 this year and has a feeble four home runs. He has been a pretty automatic out. Now that would be troubling enough anywhere in the lineup, but when the spot is batting in front of Miguel Cabrera that is just criminal. Thankfully team GM Dave Dombroski forced his hand by recently trading for Delmon Young who will take over Ordonez spot in the lineup. That still does not excuse blowing most of the season.
The other major area is the leadoff spot. Austin Jackson has the potential to be a very good leadoff hitter. The one key missing element though is that he still has not done it. He has the speed to be the leadoff hitter but his .245 batting average and 128 strikeouts really hurts the team.
It is amazing that Cabrera has 80 RBI’s with the two major holes that hit in front of him. Ideally a manager would want to put as many people on base in front of such a talented hitter. The Tigers have the fourth best batting average in baseball yet drop all the way down to tenth in runs scored. That is a direct result of Leyland’s poor batting order.
While there is no other typical leadoff type of player on the team, putting another batter who would actually get a hit would be a great move. The same goes for the third spot. Leyland has two batters who have spent most of the season at or above .300. All-star Jhonny Peralta is hitting .311 with 17 homeruns while fellow all-star Alex Avila is batting .298 with 13 homers. With those types of numbers why have they spent most of the season near the bottom of the order?
It is pretty simple, bat your best batters.
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The Tigers have had the worst third base play in baseball this year. Brandon Inge has had a horrible season. Before being sent down to the minors he had the worst fielding percentage among starting third baseman. Add to that his anemic offense in which he was hitting only .177 and he was easily one of the worst players in baseball. With those numbers he should have dropped down to a AA minor league team.
Despite the mess, Leyland still continued to play him as he only rested for eight games. By doing this Leyland basically just gave the other team an automatic out. Pitchers have a better chance of getting a hit then Inge has this year.
All looked to be fixed when the Tigers sent Inge down the AAA farm club team and traded for Wilson Betemit. Now nobody is going to mistake Betemit as the second coming of Mike Schmidt but he is worlds better than Inge. Betemit arrived hitting .281, over one hundred points better than Inge.
Since arriving in Detroit, Betemit has been hitting .316. In only 57 at bats he has almost passed Inge’s RBI total. Now one would think that this would be a great sign for the team and that they have finally settled their third base issue.
Not so fast. Betemit has sat nine times while playing in 18 games since the trade. Leyland finally admitted that he does not view Betemit as an everyday player. What makes it even worse is that Leyland fully admitted that once Inge gets called back up when the rosters expand in two weeks he will play regularly.
Huh? Go ahead read that again. Leyland will not play the guy with the .316 average; instead he will play the guy batting .177. The reasoning is that Betemit has never been an everyday player. Well neither had Jhonny Peralta or Alex Avila but that seems to have worked out pretty good this year.
Why trade for Betemit if you didn’t intend to play him, especially when he has done so well. After being benched yet again on the 17th, Betemit came in as a pinch hitter late in the game. He did his job and knocked a run in. One can’t help but wonder if he had played the entire game if he would have done more and if the Tigers would have won, instead of losing to the Twins 6-5
The Rest Rotation
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Leyland is known for the constant rest that he gives his players. He rotates then pretty often. While it is good to rest players he goes overboard and has lost games by doing so.
Other than Verlander the starting pitching has been up and down this year. One has to wonder what effect the batting order and rest rotation have on the pitchers.
Take Rick Porcello, he worst innings of the year are the fourth and fifth inning. If batted in the right order the top hitters should have been up twice by then and hopefully could have some runs on the board. Those runs would give him some breathing room and hopefully help him through those innings. Instead he is looking at an inning with Jackson and Ordonez with little hope of any run support.
The rest went beyond comprehendible in the August 4th game against the Rangers. Leyland sat four starters. FOUR!!!! Two of them were All Stars. What manager sits that many players in one game?
Now imagine you are the pitcher for that game. You can accept knowing a player will rest now and then so you might be down one player for a start, but four. Brad Penny was the poor pitcher that Leyland decided to not support. Penny has had a rough first season in Detroit and it got much rougher when his manager turned his back on him.
Leyland has become so fed up with people questioning his horrible lineups this year that during several press conferences he has offered to let anyone there fill out the lineup. I had assumed that this was just a smug move on his part to shut people up. I now realize that he really has no clue and is asking for help. Mr. Leyland, I am here for you, give me the lineup card and we can get through this season.