Detroit Tigers News

Evaluating the Skipper: What went wrong in 2008?

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Is it possible that Jim Leyland’s last year in spikes could come at the end of 2009? We all know that the Tigers haven’t offered an extension, and probably don’t have any intentions to until the end of next season.

In his third year with the Tigers, Leyland led the squad to their first sub .500 season under his watch (74-88). After starting 23-32 in the first two months of the season, the Tigers clawed back into contention. By the end of the first half, The Tigers were at 47-47. It seemed that the team’s offense and defense had balanced. But after a mediocre July (13-13), the Tigers woes continued and the finished the second half of the season with a 27-41 run, which led them straight to the cellar of the AL Central. So what happened? We all know that injuries took a toll throughout the season. But could part of the blame be laid on the coaching staff? There is only one way to find out. Lets dig into the stats!

Dissecting Jim Leyland

Though Jim Leyland has a reputation throughout the Major League Baseball media to be one of the top managers in the game, he has only been able to muster three seasons over .500 throughout his career. In comparison, Tony LaRussa, a great friend, and one of the managers he has been most compared to (he worked under him in Chicago), has led his squads to .500 or better records for eight of the last nine seasons. Within the division, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has only had one sub .500 season since joining the club in 2002. But with the criticism comes the praise. Leyland has taken two teams to the World Series. In 2006, He came in and led the squad to the first .500 season in an era that saw nothing but losing. Three years after a 49-119 record, the Tigers were in the Promised Land. In 2007, Leyland’s squad yet again were hit by injuries. Kenny Rogers went down to injury. Craig Monroe was released because of his lack of performance. Management took a gamble on Cameron Maybin, but it didn’t work out. Finishing 88-74. The Tigers flipped that record to finish the ’08 season at 74-88.

Offensive Decisions and Output

In 2008, Jim Leyland chose (and was partially forced) to use one hundred and thirty one different lineups in one hundred and sixty two games. Much of this has to do with the lack of production early

from the newcomers. Miguel Cabrera couldn’t hit the broadside of the barn early in the season. Edgar Renteria was still trying to find comfort in the lineup (in which he never did). Also to start the season, Leyland had to improvise at the leadoff position. Curtis Granderson wasn’t an option. Gary Sheffield and Carlos Guillen also struggled to stay healthy throughout the year. And though the Tigers put up pretty good offensive numbers this season, there is no wonder why they couldn’t stay consistent. Also factoring was the addition of new comers Matt Joyce, Clete Thomas and Jeff Larish. Deciding where to stick these guys night in and night out was a major issue to start of the season. Finally they found their niche, and unlike some veterans, filled in nicely.

Also adding to the weakness of this squad was their inability to hit on the road. The club hit .256 in road games with five hundred and ninety six strikeouts. In comparison, the Tigers hit .287 at home with one hundred and sixteen less strikeouts (480). Though manager Jim Leyland can be blamed for this, much of the criticism should fall on Hitting Coach Lloyd McClendon. His inability to help the newcomers adjust could have cost this squad.

It is also interesting to note that the Tigers only sacrificed runners via the bunt only 40 times last season. A lot of that has to do with the idea of having a “stud lineup” which was supposed to be able to drive in more runs than they actually did. In 2009, Jim Leyland should consider going back to his former National League approach to the game. Especially if they don’t go out and get a major hitter in this market (which at this point seems expected). With hitters like Ramon Santiago on the bench, who can bunt pretty well, It could make sense to bring him in as a bunter and replacer to move runners late in games. It also makes sense if they bring in a Jack Wilson, Julio Lugo or Alex Cora.

Defensive and Pitching Decisions

When talking defense, one specific adjective comes to mind, atrocious. The Tigers had 113 errors, which was the second most in the American League. Manager Jim Leyland made a league leading fifty defensive substitutions throughout the season. Despite having two top defensive catchers throughout most of the season, the Tigers finished with sixteen passed balls, only second to the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox make sense though at this position. Tim Wakefield had twelve wild pitches on the season.

Could this be why the Tigers are aiming at defense in free agency and through trades? It has to be. Already early, we can see the Tigers are addressing the issue. Moving Brandon Inge back to third was addressed because of the struggle on defense at the hot corner. Jeff Larish, Carlos Guillen and Migeul Cabrera combined accounted for 21 of the 103 errors on the season. By moving Inge to third, they not only decrease errors at the position, they add more opportunities of getting to balls that are harder than average to complete. Edgar Renteria also contributed to the defensive struggle, by recording 16 errors in the scorebooks. What is more shocking though, is his low amount of putouts. He had only 197 in 138 games. That’s about 1.4 putouts per game. In comparison, Omar Vizquel put out 108 runners in only 84 games, with only three errors.

We all know the issues the club faced pitching wise in 2008. Former pitching coach Chuck Hernandez was handed the pink slip. As was former and current (sounds weird doesn’t it?) Bullpen Coach Jeff Jones. Though injuries were a big part of the bullpen in 2009, I believe a lot of the consistent problems had to do with Jim Leyland’s persistency to not use relievers on back to back nights. Relievers were used on back to back nights only 73 times in 2008. In comparison, Joe Maddon of the Rays used relievers on back to back nights 112 times. Granted, you need your top relievers healthy in order to use them like this, The Tigers didn’t even attempt. Joel Zumaya only saw consecutive action twice in 08. Fernando Rodney and Freddi Dolsi only seven times. Gary Glover and Kyle Farnsworth led righties with consecutive appearances with 11. Lefty Bobby Seay had 12 consecutive outings. I would expect a reliever like Freddi Dolsi to pick up more back to back appearances in 2009, especially if the Tigers do not sign one to two new relievers (Later we will break down the bullpen performance a bit more).

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