Is Lloyd McClendon The Next Tigers Manager?

Managing in baseball is always a tenuous position. You can go from goat to hero, or from hero to goat, almost as fast as Bill Buckner after allowing a ball to trickle through his legs. In 2006, Tigers Manager Jim Leyland, took a relative band of unknowns all the way to the World Series in his first season at the helm of the Detroit Tigers. It rightfully bought him a lot of meals around the greater Detroit area. But just 2 short years later, Leyland lead a 2008 team that was expected to do great things to a last place finish in the A.L. Central, and had fans wondering if he was the right guy for the job. 2009 got him back in good graces with the fans, up until a late season collapse cost the Tigers a playoff spot. It wasn’t the first bad 2nd half in his tenure with the Tigers, and it made Leyland’s seat a little bit warmer.

2011 was a big year for the Tigers sometimes affable, sometimes grumpy Manager. Leyland fought with the media on several occasions about lineups, and fans grew impatient, as the Tigers struggled to shuck the Cleveland Indians from contention. However, midway through the season, the Tigers still gave Leyland a one year contract extension into 2012, and not long after, they shook the Indians and cruised to a division crown. It was the first since Leyland joined the Tigers, and the first time the 2nd half of the season wasn’t an issue.

When the extension was given out, it was kind of a surprise to many Tigers fans, some of which have been hunting for Leyland’s head for a while. I admit that I was among the group of those individuals who had become frustrated with his style of management, and was hoping for a change. The Tigers strong finish shut me up, much like it did the talk of parting ways with him. For the first time since Leyland arrived in Detroit, his detractors can’t say he is a below average manager anymore, as he has pushed his career record to 3 games above .500.

Heading into 2012, Jim Leyland is 67 years old. While his age probably has very little to do with his ability to manage a baseball team, it might have an affect on his desire to do so. In fact, when the Tigers announced that they were extending Leyland last year for just a season, it appeared that on both sides of the deal, they were satisfied with the idea of doing this on a year by year basis. So from now on, it is going to go one year at a time. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this allows both sides a quick way out without too much damage. Leyland could retire at any point should he feel so, and not cost the Tigers a bunch financially or commitment wise. And if David Dombrowski and the Tigers don’t like the direction the team is going, one year deals work the same for them.

Now, I should say that I am not advocating parting ways with Leyland for 2012, but baseball is a fickle business, and right or wrong, managers often get too much blame if things go badly. The frustrations with him about his lineups aside, he does manage personalities well. Hopefully the Tigers perform well enough that this isn’t even a question unless it’s because the Tigers have gotten to the top of the mountain. A scenario could rise where Leyland could retire if he goes out on top with a World Series win after the season.

Who takes over when Jim Leyland is gone?

The name that comes to mind for most Tigers fans right away is current Arizona Diamondback Manager Kirk Gibson. Tigers fans love the fire he played with here, and you can’t help but notice the success he had in his first full year as their manager. I just don’t see it happening though. There is no reason to leave the situation he has got as the Diamondbacks appear poised to win over the long haul.

Tom Brookens is another name that gets thrown around a lot by Tigers fans. I’m not sure this is the answer either. While he does have some experience managing at the AA level, I don’t know if that qualifies him to get a big league job at this point. It’s great that he is an ex-Tiger player and all, but he isn’t first in the pecking order in the Tigers organization. That man is most likely Lloyd McClendon. McClendon’s name has already come up as a guy that teams should have interest in, brought up by ex-Tigers beat writer Jon Paul Morosi, and covered in November in an article by our own Sam Genson.

With all due respect to Tigers bench coach Gene Lamont, who interviewed with Boston this off-season, it looks like McClendon is next in line for the position of Tigers manager. While Lamont has had some success as a manager, he hasn’t done so for a long time, and he is getting up there in age himself at 65 years old. I just don’t see the Tigers wanting to take on a guy who could be in his late sixties by the time the Tigers move on from Jim Leyland. So that leaves hitting coach Lloyd McClendon at the forefront of the discussion from within the organization.

Whether you like him or not, McClendon presents an individual who has management experience, is somewhat young at 52 currently, and also knows the current Tigers players, where he makes sense as the eventual replacement for Leyland. I know that probably doesn’t sit well with Tigers fans who think he is bad at his job as a hitting coach. To me, much like the guy who is managing the team, the hitting coach either gets entirely too much credit, or not enough, both good and bad. Despite his under .500 record as a manager over his career, Lloyd McClendon was widely considered a solid manager who was respected by his players. And can we really criticize Lloyd at all for a sub .500 record? It was the Pittsburgh Pirates after all. It’s not like that organization is known for its support of their managers by providing good players.

The Tigers could of course go outside the organization to replace Leyland, whenever that is. The Mike Scoscia management tree appears to be a good one. His last couple of bench coaches in Joe Maddon and Ron Roenicke have gone on to be pretty successful themselves. They also play an aggressive style of baseball that is enjoyable to watch. The problem with that though is continuity throughout the clubhouse, and when you have a pretty good roster, it is probably easiest and most prudent for the Tigers to just promote from within.

A dark horse candidate could be Phil Nevin. Nevin is moving up the ladder quickly, and given his age, he should be able to relate to guys in the clubhouse. I worry that there isn’t enough experience there though, and would hope that he would get strong consideration for McClendon’s bench coach, should he take over the job.

I certainly hope that come June in 2012 the Tigers are announcing another one year extension for Jim Leyland. Not because I love the guy as a manager, but because that means the Tigers are performing well. Regardless of who is driving the ship, that is what we want as Tigers fans. The reality is though, the nature of the one year relationship means it could be broken at any time by either side, and it’s okay for the organization to have a plan in mind.

I guess I am advocating that plan be Lloyd McClendon.

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Tags: Detroit Tigers Jim Leyland Lloyd McClendon Mike Scoscia Phil Nevin Pittsburgh Pirates Tom Brookens

  • timoteus

    puh-freakin-lease!! McClendon? I guess that would at least remove him from a position of “causing damge.” Had hoped that Lamont would have been hired by the RSox, and taken the Legendary one with hij=m, but … alas

    • MCBjohnverburg

      @timoteus I would assume your against McClendon because of the perception he is a bad hitting coach? The Tigers were 3rd in the A.L. with a .277 BA last year, 4th in wOBA, 4th in runs scored. Then I would assume you are going to say that it isn’t because of him, but I would suggest if you count the bad against him, you need to count the good for him. The numbers suggest the Tigers offense is just fine.

      He has experience, he knows the guys, and was well regarded in Pittsburgh despite the losing.

      What do you have against the idea? Or who would you prefer to see and why? Im interested, not trying to be a jerk.

  • garretkc

    I know this has little to do with the topic of this post, and I don’t believe his ability or lack thereof as a hitting coach is all that relevant to success as a manager, but Lloyd McClendon will earn a lot of points with me if Austin Jackson has a good 2012. I think hitting coaches are probably better judged by individual case studies than by measuring the performance of an offense as a whole.

    • MCBjohnverburg

      @garretkc Sure, but then you get into the conversation of who did he make better or who did he make worse. That is something you just cant know. Heck, Victor Martinez hit about as good as he ever has. Did that have to do with McClendon? How about Avila? How about Peralta? How about Boesch? Successes. Now you look at Jackson? Did Lloyd not figure out something he should’ve or not be able to get Jackson to do something he wanted. Maybe? Or is it just that Jackson regressed because of his BABIP and there isn’t much Lloyd can do to fix the holes in his swing. Or how about Inge? Inge is terrible in the box. Lloyd’s inability to make better? Or Brandon’s refusal to take his advice last year about his hands? Or is it just plain lack of ability? I don’t know. These things even when taken individually are too difficult to tell. I guess that was my point down below. Why are some complaining about a guy that had an offense that overall put up good numbers, especially when we can’t tell what real effect he has on the hitters anyway? My assumption was that he disliked Lloyd because he believes he is a crappy hitting coach, I don’t think that it’s cut and dry at all. If you point at Inge as a failure, don’t you have to point at Boesch as a success?

      • garretkc

        @MCBjohnverburg You’re right, it’s near impossible to tell how good a hitting coach is by looking at numbers. The reason I say Jackson as opposed to a guy like Inge is that, while Inge has been a poor hitter for a very long time, Jackson showed great potential in his rookie year. The problem that leads him to excessive strikeouts isn’t his ability to recognize pitches, as he actually swings at fewer outside the zone than the average hitter, it’s simply hitting them. His contact rate on pitches in the strike zone is just not good. I’m not a batting expert by any stretch and I couldn’t specifically diagnose the problem myself, but I think it’s obvious Jackson’s swing is messed up and I believe the issue is correctable. I could be wrong, but that’s why I bring him up and not any of the guys you mention.

        On a related note, I can’t seem to find a good, extensive study that assesses the real effect of a hitting coach. Interesting topic.

        • garretkc

          @MCBjohnverburg Here is an intriguing look at the role and impact of a hitting coach:

        • MCBjohnverburg

          @garretkc That actually made me chuckle some.

        • garretkc

          @MCBjohnverburg If you want a laugh, try this one:

      • MichaelBielecki

        @MCBjohnverburg@garretkc Avila improved because he worked out with Cabrera in the off-season on his swing, and Boesch worked out with Ryan Braun. I heard Peralta hit better because he started using a heavier bat, so what did Lloyd have to do with that. McClendon did nothing for AJax or Inge last year, or Granderson before that. And why can’t he get Raburn to show some kind of production before the all-star break?

        Lloyd is hardly doing a great job in his current role . . .

  • timoteus

    @MCBjohnverburg Hey John – sorry for the lengthy reply time. And please … you are nowhere near the realm of “being a jerk.” So no worries, brother. Your questions led me to re-think my position, and I believe it may have been of the knee-jerk reaction type. I don’t have any idea what kind of manager Lloyd would make. It is certainly true that his skills (or lack thereof) as a batting coach do not really have anything to do with how he would fare as a manager. I guess what I hold most against him is that he seems completely unable to help certain players get above their problems (i.e. Inge and Jackson). Whereas these players (Inge in particular) seem to do quite well after some time with the batting coach in Toledo. I don’t know; but for some reason both Lloyd and Lamont tend to drive me round the bend. (Course: as my ex-wife would say: that’s not a drive that’s going to consume much gas …. heh.)

    • MCBjohnverburg

      @timoteus@MCBjohnverburg Hey, we are all guilty of it. I am that way with Lamont. I was all too happy to ship him off to Boston, and didn’t even realize at one time this guy had been Manager of the Year and has a pretty good record as a manager. He certainly can’t seem to 3rd base coach. Its often hard to tell tone in these posts, so I didn’t want to seem like I was doing anything other than looking for names or your opinion on who should be considered. Depending on how much longer Leyland manages, it could be entirely someone different. McClendon might get a job somewhere else, or maybe people see things like you and others and he gets canned as hitting coach first. Haha.

  • jgorosh

    I think Lamont has a better chance of being a manager before McClendon. They’ll hire from outside though. If the Rays don’t re sign Maddon, I could see Leyland “retiring”, and the Tigers offering a boatload for Maddon.

    • MCBjohnverburg

      @jgorosh I would love the Tigers to get Maddon or anyone from the Scoscia coaching tree. I just think with the management experience they got on the bench they will stay within. Time will tell. Either way, don’t think Leyland has more than a couple years left in him if the Tigers play well even.

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