Will Leyland’s player-friendly decisions cost the Tigers in the postseason?

Players respect Jim Leyland very much, but is the Tiger manager too concerned with being well liked?

Players respect Jim Leyland very much, but is the Tiger manager too concerned with being well liked?

In a post-game interview after the Tigers lost 1-0 to Kansas City on Saturday in a game that ended with a spectacular play at the plate, Jim Leyland again insisted: “I will never take Prince out of a game. Or Miggy either if he’s healthy.”

If you already have a red flag, hoist it higher. As we approach the postseason, I dread that once again Detroit will fall short of the world championship that its owner is spending so much to try to get and his players are all dreaming about and striving for.

Mike Ilitch and Dave Dombrowski have assembled a very good team. However, it’s built more solidly for the long haul of the regular season than it is for the playoffs.

I’m one of those old-school types who liked when there was no “postseason” and the best teams in each league simply met in the World Series. Quite obviously, those days are never to return, and now every October is a potential nightmare in Detroit in this current era.

With a strong starting rotation and a bunch of bashers in the lineup, the Tigers are a dominant team over the long season. You can be sure the homers will come, the runs will score, and the pitchers will rack up strikeouts. But if you’re a power pitching and hitting squad, you’re inevitably going to have power outages. There will be days when the lumber short out and those fastballs get turned around by the opposition.

One unintended by-product of the extended postseason is that “small ball” has been reinstated to prominence. Despite the sabermetric proof that bunting and stealing don’t pay off over the long run, we’re not talking the long run in October. We’re talking a series of short series.

And here’s where the worries pile up for Detroit. Take their likely first opponent, Oakland. The As have plenty of bash, but they also have speed and savvy. Coco Crisp is a lot older than Austin Jackson, but he can cover almost as much ground in center field, and he can steal bases. Yoenis Cespedes can do it all. If you look at their lineup, it doesn’t scare you that much. If you look at their starting rotation, it’s obvious the Tigers’ is superior. The As know how to win games, though, using their multiple weapons.

And if they get past the As, the Red Sox loom — another team that is so much better on the field than they look on paper. It’s not an easy path to the World Series, but even if the Tigers navigate it, they will have to face the likes of the Dodgers, or the Cardinals, or the Braves, or the Pirates. Any of these teams could capitalize on the Tigers’ soft spots: that bullpen, the lack of speed on the base paths, the inability to stop the opponents’ running game — it’s not necessary to list them all.

With Iglesias instead of Peralta, the club has become more versatile, and Torii Hunter tends to come up big on the bases, in the outfield, and at the plate when the game is on the line. So the Tigers look a lot stronger than in postseasons of recent years.

But there’s still Leyland’s stubborn refusal to consider options. It’s no wonder the players love him, but Leyland’s job isn’t to make the players happy: it’s to maximize the team’s chances of winning games. And ruling out even the possibility of ever taking Fielder or Cabrera out for a pinch-runner? That’s foolish.

Say it’s game seven of a postseason series, and it ends as the game against Kansas City did. Prince, hustling all he can, sliding as best he can, getting thrown out with the tying run to end the game and the season while faster runners are sitting on the bench. Didn’t that disastrous image flash in your mind last weekend? And wouldn’t every other manager in MLB, or, really, any league, have pinch-run in that situation?

Maybe the Tigers will be lucky and the World Series won’t come down to something like that, where the team’s soft underbelly is shown to the world. On paper and even statistically speaking, the Tigers match up well against anyone, even the Dodgers. But the post-season is a crapshoot, and those managers willing to take risks have an advantage. Those teams who can adapt, who can mix in a little small ball and some daring and inventiveness, have an intangible edge. So, despite their cast of very good, very likeable, and very successful players, I’m not sure I’d bet it all on the Tigers.

9 replies on “Will Leyland’s player-friendly decisions cost the Tigers in the postseason?

  • Marty Cosgriff

    He should have pulled Prince for a pinch runner – period, If you don’t at least tie, extra frames don’t matter. If Prince and Miggy and all are true team players, they understand that. Apparently their manger does not.

  • DaveK

    Leyland’s refusal to consider options could be their downfall. And his stubborn loyalty. We all know, based on this year, who should be the starting pitcher in game one of any series…. Max Scherzer. But I’ll bet Leyland sticks with Verlander. JV should probably be third after Max and Sanchez.

  • Leigh Smith

    They won’t go far, Leland’s mis-use of his pitching staff is just too glaring. Sad to see such a talented team being led down the drain by such a Horses ARS…

  • Steve

    Well written accurate article. Remember the last series with Oakland when the Tigers only won the last game with a late inning come from behind effort. The way the current starters are pitching I’d consider making Verlander my long relief guy and Scanchez as my first starter followed by Scherzer, Fister and Porcello.

  • Rick

    Hey people I have said from the beginning of the year with that idiot manager and DUMBrowski allowing him to mismanage this incredibly talented there is no way they will win the world series. I don’t even believe they will get there. He is the MOST over rated manager in the HISTORY of the game! He is terrible and a pompous arrogant ass who should be rode out of town on a hot rail and if DUMBrowski stands by him let him go too! I’m not sold on him either. I’m guessing a lot of us could build a team with all the freedom and money he has from Mr. Illitch. Brace yourselves folks it’s gonna be a loggggg winter. I’m guessing the Tiger’s have about 2 weeks left to play. I hope I’m wrong but with Jim “genius” at the helm I doubt it. Hey Leyland if by chance your read this why don’t you do the honorable thing and do us all a favor and QUIT!!!!

  • Randy

    Who remembers Prince Fielder being thrown out at the plate in the World Series? If you don’t want to pull your stars out of the game, why risk injuring them by sending them home on a close play? Leyland looks good statistically because anybody could manage this talent. But when it comes to truly managing a game including handling a pitching staff and base running substitutions Leyland is grossly inadequate. Makes you wonder what Buck Showalter or Tito Francona could do with this team. They seem to continually get a lot more results with a lot less talent.

  • J.D.

    Leyland violated a “cardinal” rule of the “baseball book” old school managers like him live by in that KC game: You play for the lead on the road and the tie at home. That said, I guarantee you he knows his team better than you, I or commenter Rick. He has a flawed squad of too many one- dimensional players who lack speed and/or athleticism and a suspect bullpen. For this reason, I do not expect the Tigers to return to the World Series this year. Sure hope I’m wrong!!!!

  • Rick

    Hey J.D. just one thing please check out Leyland’s CAREER record. It is a JOKE! A 500 manager who up to a few years ago was BELOW 500! He IS one of the worst manager’s and the biggest scam artist in the history of baseball. How he ever managed 3,000 games is way beyond me. As he himself likes to say “check the back of the baseball card” Hey Jim check your’s! Like you I hope I’m wrong but no way do I see them winning it all and sorry I don’t buy the flawed team comment. He has the best starting pitching and starting line-up in ALL of baseball what they lack is a manager with know how.

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