February 12, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland during spring training at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Case For Jim Leyland

My Mom hates Jim Leyland.

Suffice it to say, she has her armchair pedigree like most of us – a die-hard Lions fan since the glory days of the ’50′s, veteran viewer of hundreds of little league games and thousands of George Kell-narrated broadcasts, starts every day with a pot of coffee and “Mike and Mike”.  She can tell Cover-Two from Man, and unlike Tim McCarver, she can describe a hit-and-run in 30 words or less. She doesn’t know a WAR from a WHIP, but she knows that she knows a LOT more than that Leyland knows!

If the Skipper told her the grass was green, she’d say,”actually, it’s between emerald and kelly.” Every pitching change is either an inning too early or a batter too late; he sits the regulars too often but doesn’t use his bench enough. Unlike the annoying know-it-all at the corner pub, you can’t argue with Ma.

Certainly, there are some legit criticisms of Leyland, just as there are for all managers. It is difficult to quantify, however, the actual impact a manager has on his team. Is it preferable to have an in-game tactician who knows matchups and tendencies, or someone who goes with their gut? A fiery, in-your-face driver like Billy Martin, or a laissez-faire diplomat like Dusty Baker? Is it better to treat everyone the same, or give leeway to the star players to keep them happy? Are you a micro-manager, or do you delegate responsibilities to coaches and team leaders?

In baseball, the team with the better players has an advantage that the best manager usually can’t overcome. Sparky was no genius for writing Morgan, Bench, Perez et al on his lineup card every day.  Joe Torre was 894-1003 with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals; he piloted the Yankees at a .605 clip. The marathon of a 162-game season reveals the strengths and weaknesses of each club – it is when the teams are equal, a good manager (or a poor one) can make the difference. A ballpark estimate of a field manager’s effect on his team is 3-5 games a season either way…a small percentage, but not an insignificant number (ask a Rangers fan, or Bosox circa 2011).

Tigers fans know the common complaints about Leyland, so let’s take a look at them one-by-one and determine if they are problematic or overblown.

1) He has his favorites, and stands by them to a fault. As a “players manager” Leyland will give guys time to play out of a slump, and he won’t blast them in the press, that’s for sure. We’ve seen Ryan Raburn, Brandon Inge, and Craig Monroe all get the benefit of the doubt, at the expense of Marcus Thames, Matt Joyce, and Mike Hessman. This is understandable, especially with guys that have a proven track record. But when the back of the baseball card indicates a player is inconsistent at best, you need to explore other options sooner. Verdict – Problematic

2) He rests his regulars too much.  This is not only intangible, but it is impossible for a fan to know who needs a day when. I don’t like seeing a Sunday lineup look more like “I-give-up”, either; but it’s a fine line to walk between keeping your bench sharp and your big guns healthy. And since Prince played in 162 games and Miggy 161 last year, I trust the old boy on this one. Verdict – Overblown

3) Why’s he batting that guy there???  We are all still waiting for Raburn to “run into one” out of the 2-hole. With the Tigers roster, however, it makes some sense to have a power guy bat 2nd. It’s bad strategy to bunt a base open, setting up an intentional walk and double play. But I would argue a better OBP would fit there instead. Otherwise, his lineup construction  is typical – he seems to consider matchups and left-right combos as would be expected. Demerits for ever batting Brandon Inge higher than 9th. Verdict – Neutral

4) He’s clueless about running a bullpen. Like most managers, Leyland wants to direct the late innings by script, with defined roles and  a designated closer, as discussed here: http://motorcitybengals.com/2013/01/28/tigers-hot-stove-closure-on-the-closer/. While it is frustrating to see late inning leads vanish, believe it or not we’ve been spoiled by the success of Jose Valverde for the past three years; that is to say, it could be worse this season. So if you become bilious each time  Jimmy marches to the mound, you may be hitting the Rolaids early and often this year. Verdict-Overblown, but merits watching.

5) He’s too loyal to his assistants. Lloyd McClendon and Gene Lamont evoke the most ire from fans - Lloyd in his nebulous role of batting coach, Gene as the erstwhile 3rd base coach who’s gaffes unfold in plain sight. In McClendon’s case I find it unfair to blame him for one hitter’s struggles while attributing zero credit for another’s success. Lamont, on the other hand, has been indefensible the past few seasons. Credit Leyland (and/or the organization) for taking some positive steps – bringing in Toby Harrah‘s fresh voice and shuffling Lamont to the bench coach position – while not disparaging either man’s efforts. Verdict – Problematic

If the bottom line on a manager is victories, with his 74th win in 2013, Leyland will pass Ralph Houk for 15th on the all-time list. The World Series Championship we all expect this year vaults him into serious Hall of Fame candidacy. Describe him as gruff, crusty, stubborn, old-school; quibble with his quirks and curse his idiosyncrasies; decry his coaches and wish him gone. He commands respect, massages massive egos, and with a few exceptions puts players in position to succeed. He’s not perfect, but I think it would be difficult to find a better manager for the Tigers than Jim Leyland.

I think if Ma and Jimmy sat down over a beer he’d make her see things his way – at least he’d have a chance. Me, I have no shot.


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  • rings13

    You’re spot on for each point. My biggest criticisms are:
    1. The favoritism – it IS an issue and has cost them games, but is understandable to also show confidence in a guy you THINK will eventually prove you right. You can’t be correct on all talent evaluations.
    2. The bullpen “roles” instead of matchups – but all guys do it the same way, except perhaps Joe Madden
    In my view, major criticism of Lloyd McClendon is nonsense. A “hitting coach” has minimal influence on most hitters, especially veterans. however L-Mac gets MASSIVE credit for AJax last season and I’m not sure you can ever criticize him for guys like Raburn or Inge, because they suck and are incosistent no matter who is “the coach.” He spent the offseason working with Boesch, so let’s see if there’s progress..because BB will probably fall into Leyland’s “favorite” category, and will get every chance to prove himself again.

    • scott byrne

      I think you are right about Boesch – we all know chances are good he has a good spring when pitchers aren’t trying to get him out.

    • YODA777

      Boesch did not work out with Lloyd in the off season, he worked out with his own hitting instructor here in California.

      • rings13

        I’m sure he’s worked with LM and his on his own. Here’s McClendon’s quote to DetNews’ Tom Gage, upon which I based my comment:

        “I am extremely excited about Brennan Boesch. It’s about the work we’ve already done in Detroit and the work that he’s done in the offseason. I look forward to building on that. This guy has a high ceiling.

        I would not call it an epiphany, but Brennan certainly understood he had to work on some things. Sitting there being ineligible for the playoffs had to weigh on him heavily. You’ll see better balance, a shorter stride and shorter stroke. But I don’t think you’ll see a lot of differences in his stance. He’s just going back to what he was doing when he was doing well. He’s gotten a lot of different voices out of his head, so to speak.”

        • YODA777

          I really hope Boesch can live up to his potential and hit the crap out of the ball this year. Too bad Dirks or Boesch werent right handed.

          • rings13

            * like *

  • MichMike

    Keeping Lamont at 3rd makes no sense, he is terrible. But I cannot believe the article does not mention fundenmentals. I like Leyland, but there is no excuse for the Tigers being the worst fundenmental team in baseball every year. No excuse what so ever and it costs the Tigers games every year. No excuse.

    • scott byrne

      I don’t disagree, but I think fundamentals are a reflection on the system, more than the manager. By the time a player makes it to the Show he is either fundamentally sound or he isn’t. The Twins and Cards are prime examples, I think the A’s to a point also.

      • MichMike

        I don’t wholly disagree, but the Tigers still make little league mistakes. Those are not acceptable and can be taught. Indeed, fundamentals can be taught at any age.

        • chrisHannum

          Not sure why you’re so convinced that only the Tigers make bone-headed mistakes, aside from bad memories of Raburn attempting to play defense maybe. I think if you watch a 162 game A’s season you’re going to see a bunch of inexcusable mistakes too.

          • MichMike

            cutoffs play are horrible consistently. defensive rotations after the ball has been put in play are mostly non-existent (not wholly unusual in the majors) and wrong even when the effort is expended. We certainly cannot bunt, it is a skill that can be taught, though a difficult skill for many. We mostly run the basepaths poorly (and of course slow, but that is what it is) and place our key players into base running injury situtations too often, with a very poor 3rd base coach (a proven track record, don’t dislike Lamont, just get him out of the 3rd base box). Cabrera was continually out of position at 1st, pursuing balls he should not, Prince is slightly better but still very poor (I love both those guys but they CAN get better in the field). And either the skipper and I don’t agree on some of the cutoff positioning or we just don’t do it right, generally infielders taking throughs at the infield edge. There is lots of other stuff, but it is incrementally more difficult to teach and execute. We can be so much better, providing incremental wins, but there appears to be no interest. But 3 run homers are still very cool.

      • YODA777

        As long as Leyland has been the Tigers manager, he should be influencing to some degree the fundamental development of our prospects. I know that Buddy Black in San Diego does this with both the pitching and the position players.

  • YODA777

    I think your “Ma” is a little closer to reality then your take. I saw on MLB the other day that Leyland was rated the 10th best manager in baseball. That is pretty close to slightly above average, which is where Leyland sits on a good day imo. We want to win a World Series Title; therefore, even with your evaluation, Leyland is not good enough for this. Each year Leyland has been in Detroit, DD has made the roster more Leyland proof. I am watching to see if Don Kelly makes the team, if he does not, the roster will be as Leyland proof as it has been since 2006. The fewer decisions Leyland has to make, the better chance the Tigers have to win it all. You forgot all those years where Leyland insisted upon putting Clete Thomas, Don Kelly or any other weak hitter in the 3 hole instead of just moving Miggy up one spot. Putting Shefield in the 3 hole instead of Miggy was also a poor move. Leyland is a good manager on a average to bad team, not on a team that wants to win it all. A manager should not cost his team 10 extra losses a year and I think Leyland easily has averaged that in his stay in Detroit. One last thing, Leyland is too old, he does not have enough energy to stay sharp and attentive throughout an entire baseball year. There are games where the old goat is just day dreaming and not paying attention and misses opportunities to affect the game in a postive way for the Tigers.

    • Matt Pelc

      “There are games where the old goat is just day dreaming and not paying attention and misses opportunities to affect the game in a postive way for the Tigers.”

      Just curious as to how you know this? Are you judging from watching him on TV? If so, he looks no different than any other manager. The “day dreaming” is likely him thinking about scenarios such as defensive replacements, pinch hitters, defensive shifts, bullpen availability, etc. etc. I think his day dreaming is baseball related and not thinking about who may be getting the rose on the Bachelor that night.

      • YODA777

        Matt, I am not judging your knowledge on baseball, but it is pretty obvious [I watch every single game] when observing Leyland that he is slow to react to game situations.

        • chrisHannum

          He’s certainly slow to switch pitchers – and he doesn’t like to pinch-hit or pinch-run – but that isn’t the same as not paying attention to the game. In the postseason he flips completely to the other side, and it does not always go well – because he burns through the bench and the ‘pen. I would not want him to manage every day like he did in game 163 against the Twins.

    • scott byrne

      10 extra losses? IF the worst manager is a negative 5 and the best is positive 5, that would mean he is the worst every single year…I don’t disagree at all with your assessments of his lineup decisions – but there is no possible way he can be worth ten losses a year. Fans don’t realize that “bad” decisions turn out good, (i.e. Don Kelly in the 2-hole vs. Yankees, game 5, 2011) and good managerial moves turn out poorly. The game isn’t played in a vacuum. I don’t see age or attention span being a factor at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthewjmalek Matthew Malek

    Leyland is a disaster…..but the good news this team is Leyland proof. I love it. Our talent is so good that the only time he may screw us up is in the World Series. Hmmmm….wonder why we lost twice there. Anyway, DD just has to make the team better and better. At least the big guns like Leyland. If they are happy, and raburn et al are gone, I will give ole smokey a break. Until that is…….he decides to rest Tori Hunter the 3rd game of the season and put Don Kelly in the 2 hole.

  • chrisHannum

    Point 1 is TRUE, but it’s a mixed blessing rather than a plain-old weakness. However it feels watching the game, in a 162 game season you do not want a manager for whom his players are only as good as their last game. His interview on the Valverde situation sums up his style as a manager (and, it would seem, as a person) perfectly.

    Kind of funny that you list Dusty Baker as the laissez-faire diplomat: the bad rap that he has gotten as a manager is as a guy whose doghouse is easy to get into and almost impossible to get out of – and gets blamed for derailing prospects’ careers.