The stage was set for something incredible.
Holland, who in the second half of the season has been, arguably, the best closer in the league: since the end of June he has allowed two runs, both earned. He leads all AL relievers with a 13.95 K/9, which is third in the league only to Aroldis Chapman and the rejuvenated Jason Grilli. Suffice it to say, this is a prime opportunity that doesn’t come along often.
Except Victory Martinez pops out to right.
And then Andy Dirks strikes out embarrassingly.
At that moment there is only one out left in the game. One out to salvage a magnificent outing by Doug Fister, one out to fend off the Cleveland Indians, who had already won. At this point, one would think that a manager would notice that on first base is Prince Fielder, and think, “Hmm. It might be wise to pinch-run for this rotund gentleman.”
Fielder stays in, and Omar Infante laces a double to left field. It escapes Alex Gordon and caroms towards the left corner. Fielder chugs around second and third. The Royals relay the ball perfectly. Salvador Perez takes a throw veering left, dives to his right, and tags out Fielder effortlessly.
Now, let’s take a moment to consider Prince Fielder and his baserunning. The phrase “Hustle” comes to mind, as does “Deceptively quick.” Aside from those backhanded compliments, Fielder lacks one iota of any positive baserunning attributes. This is a man who admits freely that he doesn’t know how to slide. Fielder’s instincts on the bases are questionable at best, even though he could have plowed over Perez or simply tried to swat the ball out of his glove. Instead, he somehow pump fakes his entire body and is tagged out pathetically.
Knowing all this, one has to wonder why on God’s green Earth didn’t Jim Leyland pinch run for the guy?
These September games are all meaningful, and chances to foil a save from the best closer in the American League in a divisional game aren’t showing up in bulk. Leyland knows Fielder can’t outrun a toddler wearing daddy’s work shoes, so why didn’t he sub in Hernan Perez? Perez has a Spd score of 7.5, which is around Austin Jackson fast, and Fielder has a Spd score of 1.5. 1.5!!!!!!
Was Leyland afraid of not having Fielder going into extra innings? I don’t know why he would be: Miguel Cabrera is still in the game, as is Martinez and Torii Hunter, and he still would have Matt Tuiasosopo and Brayan Pena available. In fact, he could have moved Ramon Santiago to third, Cabrera to first, slid Infante to shortstop, and had Perez stay in at second base. He could have done all that, but he didn’t. Why?
Because it’s reached the point where we can’t trust Jim Leyland anymore – he cannot manage this team effectively anymore.
That simple non-move of keeping Fielder in the game is indicative of his managerial style nowadays: he can’t seem to push the right buttons to out-maneuver an opposing manager, especially when faced with a one-run game, or a game in extra innings. In fact, the Tigers’ record in one-run games is 16-22, and their extra innings record is 5-11. Are we really surprised?
We can speculate why he didn’t pinch-run for Fielder in an important game: maybe he was playing for extra innings and wanted Fielder in the lineup. Maybe he wanted to keep resting players. Maybe he thinks Hernan Perez’s legs will fall off if he rounds third base too quickly.
Fellow MCB writer John Verburg wrote a terrific piece about Leyland the other day that begs the question, “how much of that record is the roster that has been assembled, and how much of that is Leyland’s managing talent?” At this point, I sincerely believe the Tigers win in spite of Leyland. I’ve been railing against the man seemingly all season, and watching this game end so pitifully really sent me over the edge.
It all came down to one simple move that he didn’t make, one piece of common sense that anyone watching the game possessed.
And he didn’t do it. He never seems to do it.
UPDATE: Courtesy of Matthew B. Mowery‘s Sulia account, Leyland was asked about pinch-running for Fielder:
Q: Did you consider a PR for Prince?
“No. No, I don’t run for Prince Fielder. The only reason I run for Cabrera now is because he’s had the injury. But Cabrera and Fielder, I never run for, unless Cabrera’s in the situation he’s in. Obviously, I run for Victor.”
Q: In general, is that because you don’t want to lose them for later on?
“Well, no. I’m not taking Prince Fielder out of the game. I’m not going to do it. It’s just the way it is. I’m not going to run for him. I won’t take Miggy out when he’s 100 percent healthy. Victor’s really the only guy that you slam-dunk run for, for me. That’s the way I do it.”
Rigid, unimaginative, and completely predictable, these quotes show that Leyland would not go out of his comfort zone for the sake of a win. This is absolutely mind-boggling.