Tigers Will Win Despite Jim Leyland

Alternately Titled: David Dombrowski, Please Take Don Kelly Away From Your Manager!

Three weeks into a baseball season is not time for panic. That’s not what you are going to read here. If I come off that way, it is certainly not my intention. I will state my belief for you all at the outset, so it is clear for everyone. When all is said and done, I believe the Tigers will have once again won the Central Division crown in 2013. The 9-9 start doesn’t bother me. The inconsistent run production doesn’t scare me. The bullpen doesn’t even scare me.

So what does bother me? You guessed it. Jim Leyland.

Now, I realize it is really early in the season to deliver a post that is going to dabble on the the side of complaining about the Tigers veteran manager, but I am going to do it anyway. Jim Leyland’s affection and borderline obsession for Don Kelly has to stop. It’s frankly getting embarrassing, both for Leyland and for Don Kelly.

I will get to some facts about Kelly first. The first one is that Don Kelly has shockingly played in ten of the Tigers first eighteen games this season. The positive of that being his plate appearances have been limited, appearing at the dish with a bat in his hand only nineteen times. That’s actually tied for last on the team with equally poor performing Ramon Santiago, but it’s still eye popping that Kelly has made his way into that many games. Even with only nineteen plate appearances, Kelly is on pace to get more playing time than he did last season when he only made 127 plate appearances. If Kelly’s current pace keeps up, he will make 171 plate appearances.

Apr 20, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Don Kelly (leftt) and Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson (right) are unable to make a catch on a fly ball hit by Los Angeles Angels left fielder J.B. Shuck (not pictured) during the eighth inning at the Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The reason why I find this preposterous? Well, Kelly hit .186 last year with an OPS of .523. That earned him a release from the Tigers organization, and surprisingly enough, he cleared waivers! The Tigers clearly knew that he isn’t a good baseball player. Then with an off-season of free agency, it was another large surprise (this is laced with sarcasm) that Kelly found his way back home to the Tigers organization and a Jim Leyland managed squad.

This season so far, Kelly is 2 for 17, both of them singles, but still he seems to be on the forefront of Leyland’s mind, with Leyland finding places to insert Kelly at every opportunity. I would argue that even 19 plate appearances are too many.

Leyland Reasoning: Jim’s reason for playing subs and getting them into games is clear. He has said numerous times he likes to get guys at-bats so when he needs to call upon them, they have had some semi-regular at-bats and won’t be coming in cold. On the face of it, that does make sense. In reality it doesn’t hold up.

My Rebuff: I guess it comes down to the definition of what Jim Leyland considers need. If the Tigers actually need a replacement for an every day guy for an extended period of time, it isn’t likely to be a guy like Don Kelly anyway, so why would he need to keep getting him playing time? Yes, guys need a day off from time to time, but the early season schedule offers plenty of rest opportunities. And is Don Kelly really the best guy to be giving guys a day off anyway?

Leyland Reasoning: Don Kelly is versatile. He can pretty much play every position, and he is the Tigers emergency catcher.

My Rebuff: Being versatile is an absolute non-factor if you really think about it. If you look at the Tigers roster, every position could easily be covered by other guys on the bench. The Tigers don’t need Kelly to play the infield. They have Ramon Santiago to back up 2nd and SS. They have Matt Tuiasosopo to back up 3B, LF and 1B. They have Brayan Pena to back up catcher and 1B. Would the Tigers really lose anything if Quintin Berry was on this roster instead of Don Kelly? Nope. They might actually have something to gain. Berry actually provided some things of value to the Tigers roster last year, and he can play all the outfield positions. Is Kelly a better defender than Berry? Sure, but how much does a late inning defensive replacement really affect the outcome of a game? Very little.

Point being, the Tigers have a guy who can be more productive in a variety of ways (the bat and speed), and has shown to be so.

Fan Argument: C’mon John. What’s the big deal? Kelly is the 25th man on the roster, and he isn’t the reason the Tigers are going to win or lose. He works hard and is good in the clubhouse.

My Rebuff: I agree that Kelly isn’t going to be a reason the Tigers win or lose. Frankly, I’m just sick of seeing a guy on the roster that shouldn’t be, and everyone knows it except for the manager. Isn’t it the job the manager to put the best 25 guys he can on the roster? I guess I would respond with, what’s the big deal with wanting to put a better player in that last roster spot?

Kelly is what he is. He is a 4A player trying to prove every day that he belongs on a major league club. I don’t fault him for that. I certainly don’t fault him for his effort. But the reality is, he doesn’t belong on the Tigers roster, and if it wasn’t for Jim Leyland, he likely wouldn’t be. And it doesn’t just end with Kelly either. I think you could put Ramon Santiago in that same conversation.

One of the things that is clear about Jim Leyland is that he is fiercely loyal. He teared up when talking about Kelly last season, showing a humanity that isn’t a problem for me. Loyalty is often thought of as a good quality, and for the most part it is. His players seem to love him for it. But loyalty in baseball is different. In the case of Jim Leyland, he is often too loyal to good character guys that are bad baseball players. As a manager, you have to separate the two.

It isn’t the end of the world, but it is certainly frustrating to watch.

Still, the Tigers are likely going to win the Central Division, and all will be forgotten and forgiven. But it won’t be because Leyland is pulling some magical strings, or making great decisions. He is pretty much a low risk by the book manager. The Tigers will win if their every day players play to their capabilities.

They better, because it doesn’t look like they are going to get much help from the bench.

Topics: Detroit Tigers

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  • YODA777

    Good take John; however, you got a little soft in your conclusion. Leyland almost cost the Tigers a playoff berth last year because of the excessive playing time for players [Kelly, Santiago, Raburn, Inge] who should not have even been on the roster. Leyland has more input on the roster make up then apologists will admit and when you look at the Tiger bench, it is not one you would often see on a championship club. The Tigers had a chance to bolster their bench over the winter and choose not to do so. The Central Division is better this year top to bottom then it has been in many many years, thus, Leyland does not have as much time to mess around.