Sunday, October 6, 2013

Both "Good Leyland" and "Bad Leyland" on Display in the ALDS

Like many fans of the Tigers, I have a love/hate relationship with manager Jim Leyland. As I’ve said many times, I don’t think there’s a better guy in the league in running his clubhouse. His players love him and would run through a brick wall for the man. At the same time, I think many of his methods and in-game decision making ideas are outdated and foolish.

I look at how fans view Leyland in the same manner that I do people and their political beliefs.

I shake my head in disgust when a person defends a Democrat or Republican, no matter what they do, just because they belong to that party. Myself, I have personal beliefs in which some match the common description of a Liberal Democrat and others that fall in line with more of a Conservative Republican. I’m a firm believer in “shades of grey” over the stubborn “black or white” mindset.

With Leyland, I have a similar viewpoint. Some people will defend anything the guy does, no matter how illogical it may seem. Others call him a senile fool that is ruining the Tigers’ chances at a World Championship. Again, both sides are wrong. Leyland is human and not perfect. He’ll make poor choices while on the job. At the same time, he’s seen more baseball in his life than any of us likely will and has reasons for what he does.

My point is, in two games so far in this ALCS, we’ve seen both “Good Leyland” in Game One and “Bad Leyland” in Game Two. Regardless of what decisions Leyland makes, the Tigers aren’t going to win if they don’t start scoring runs. But Leyland plays a part in that, too. He needs to give his team its best chance of winning. I don’t think he did that in Game Two as well as he did in Game One.

Game One: Good Leyland

*Leyland started as close to the Tigers have to an “everyday lineup” that they can muster, considering the team’s personnel. This includes Jose Iglesias over Jhonny Peralta at shortstop to pick up the slack of a hobbled Miguel Cabrera on defense and Andy Dirks over Peralta in LF to deal with the large amount of foul territory in Oakland. (No one could have seen Dirks’ awful day at the plate and in the field coming. Leyland made the right call in starting him.)

*The Skipper went with 2013 results instead of loyalty in choosing Max Scherzer as the Game One starter over Justin Verlander. While this was probably a win-win decision, Max deserved the nod and was amazing against the A’s.

*Leyland changed around his normal batting order in moving Alex Avila up to sixth, a spot he has often given to hitters not deserving to bat so high in the past. Alex has hit well in the second half and deserved to be moved up. Avila responded with two hits and the game winning RBI.

*In the 8th, Leyland pulled his ailing superstar Miguel Cabrera for Ramon Santiago’s much better defense in an attempt to help preserve the lead. This could have been disastrous if the game went to extra innings, but it worked out in the end.

*Jimbo did something he hates, yet is the proper move, in bringing in his best reliever in the game’s most important spot. With two outs in the eighth, he brought in Joaquin Benoit to face Josh Donaldson with the tying run on base. Benoit did his job and helped preserve the Tiger victory.

The Tigers won, 3-2.

Leyland managed as close to a perfect game as we can expect from a manager. The only bad move was made by Third Base Coach Tom Brookens in sending the uber-slow Victor Martinez home on shallow single to right field by Omar Infante. Brookens, as he has done so many times, made V-Mart a dead duck at the plate as the former Gold Glover with a cannon for an arm, Josh Reddick, gunned him down easily at the plate. My only problem with Leyland after this game was not immediately shooting Brookens in the head when it was finished.

Game Two: Bad Leyland

*Leyland chose to start Don Kelly over Andy Dirks or Jhonny Peralta in left field. If you’ve ever read my work, you know of my distaste of Don Kelly’s ability with the bat. He is a career .229/.290/.344 hitter and while a good late inning defensive sub, he has no business starting a playoff game. I know Donnie Duzzitall Baseball has his share of defenders, but let me further explain my thoughts on this decision.

-I agree with not starting Jhonny Peralta in LF while in Oakland. He can’t be expected to cover that ridiculous amount of foul territory the way Dirks or Kelly can.

-Despite his awful Game One, Dirks was still the better start over Kelly. His career slash line of .276/.332/.413 is miles ahead of Kelly’s listed above. This year, he wasn’t as good, posting a .256/.323/.363 line. That’s still better than DK’s .222/.309/.343 numbers in 2013. In pretty much any number you look at, Dirks is better than Kelly.

WAR: 1.7 vs 0.0
wOBA: .306 vs .292
wRC: 50 vs 23
wRC+: 89 vs 79
September: .261/.311/.362 vs .154/.195/.231
Second Half: .278/.354/.395 vs .190/.273/.267

I could do stats here for hours, but basic common sense should tell anyone that’s ever watched baseball that nearly anyone alive is a better starting option than Don Kelly.

-“But Rogo! Kelly got two hits! He was the Tigers bestest player last night! Leyland rulz!”

I saw countless people trumpeting Leyland as a genius last night for starting Kelly. They conveniently ignore that neither of Kelly’s hits left the infield and that competent defensive plays would have turned both into outs. Kelly’s first single was a ground ball that outfielder-playing-first Brandon Moss had clang off the frying pan he uses for a glove. The second hit was going straight for the second baseman, but pitcher Sonny Gray foolishly went after it and it bounced off of him. Eric Sogard, the second baseman, then slipped and fell going after it and Kelly was safe.

So yeah, genius stuff there. Don Kelly being blessed by the BABIP Gods last night is not a sign of Leyland’s greatness. It was dumb luck. (I do give Kelly credit for at least making contact last night, unlike his fellow outfielders.)

Would Dirks have done better? No one knows. The point is, you give your team the best chance of winning, even if that better chance is minimal. Starting Don Kelly doesn’t give you the best chance of anything.

*With Detroit’s human strikeout machine Austin Jackson at the plate, Leyland put the hit-and-run on with runners at first and third, one out, and a 3-2 count on A-Jax. Predictably, Jackson struck out and Iglesias was thrown out at second for a crushing inning-ending double play. The odds of Austin striking out were much higher than that of a double play. There’s no excuse for that call, especially with Jackson struggling to make contact right now.

*In the eighth, with a runner on first and outs at a premium, Leyland chose to give one up with a sacrifice bunt. As many of you know, I consider bunting to be a crime worse than murder. Iglesias was the batter and is quickest Tiger batter out of the box making a double play ball an unlikely outcome. In 46 games with the Tigers, Iggy only hit into 3 DPs. Plus, the whole point of bringing Jhonny Peralta along was for his bat. Leyland left him on the bench, Iglesias bunted, the completely lost Jackson and Hunter followed, and the runner was stranded. Sonny Gray was doing fine recording outs against the Tigers. He didn’t need any additional help. Beyond stupid.

*With runners at first and second in the bottom of the eighth with one out, Drew Smyly was in trouble. The double play inducing machine Rick Porcello seemed to be the smart move. Instead, Leyland went with the wild and inconsistent Al Alburquerque who struck out the next two men before dancing off the mound. This move worked out for Leyland, but left me scratching my head. Bullet dodged. Just because something works, it doesn't make it the smart call.

*In the bottom of the ninth, Leyland inexplicably left Alburquerque in to start the ninth. I can’t think of a person alive, other than JL, that thought this was a good move. Porcello, the MIA Jose Veras, or Joaquin Benoit should have been the call, as a second inning of AlAl is just foolish. After two singles and an intentional walk to load the bases, this is when you needed a strikeout. Instead, Leyland went to the least likely to K a batter, Porcello, in a low percentage attempt at getting a ground ball and an out at home. Rick gave up the winning single instead and the Tigers lost.

The Tigers lost 1-0.

So the series is tied at one game apiece. No one can expect a team to go undefeated in their run through the playoffs. The offense has disappeared again, but you have to give credit to Bartolo Colon and Sonny Gray for some of that. They’ve both been outstanding this year. No offense is going to light up either of them when they’re on their game just like no one’s going to do that to Scherzer and Verlander.

Game Three is tomorrow at (ugh) 1pm at the CoPa. I’ll be in attendance putting my 4-0 career record in playoff games on the line. The crowd should be electric and I’m sure it’ll be fun.

I can only hope that the Good Leyland outweighs the Bad Leyland. You never know when that could be the difference maker in a close game. The players are the ones that actually do the work. But the manager needs to do everything he can to ensure they have the best chance possible to get the win. Otherwise, the smallest decisions can help lead to a loss.

Like in Game Two.

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