Grading Tigers management can be a tricky business, for one thing it can be difficult to assess where in the hierarchy blame/credit should go and for another there are many different non-compatible measures for management success.
I’ll start with the most obvious: the most important thing Jim Leyland ‘does’ as manager of the team is to extract more wins than the team’s talent would lead you to expect. The team finished the third quarter with a 21-20 record despite allowing far more runs than they scored, so in one sense you’d have to say that Jim Leyland had success. Whether or not Leyland has much control over this kind of thing is another issue entirely…
The most important thing that Dave Dombrowski does isn’t actually win games, it’s put butts in seats – and by that measure he is doing pretty well. In their 18 home games in the third quarter (which I have counted as going from game 81 through game 121) the Tigers averaged 35,627 butts compared to 31,720 butts last year. Average attendance for the year as a whole is now above last year’s average: 30,715 to 30,598 (in the first 121 games of 2010) and since the Tigers are in the thick of the AL Central playoff race there is reason to expect less of a September swoon than last year. There is a reason Illitch was willing to extend Dombrowski’s contract.
Those are the most important yardsticks by which a manager and general manager are judged by those higher in the corporate food chain – does the team win and does it sell tickets – but they probably aren’t the ones that fans think about the most. What fans think about is the roster moves, free agent signings, trades, promotions and demotions and who gets the playing time in which situations. Follow through the jump to see those grades:
It’s impossible to really assign whether these grades should go to Leyland, Dombrowski or somebody else, so I’ll simply give grades for ‘categories of move’.
Free Agent Signings: B- Now I know that nobody was actually signed during the third quarter of the 2011 season, but the third quarter has given us additional information about payoff from the signings from the offseason. Nothing much has changed here since the halfway point, but it has crystallized. The deals given to Magglio Ordonez and Brandon Inge have to be acknowledged as mistakes, while the signings of Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Al Alburquerque have been unquestioned successes. The Brad Penny deal is in a class of it’s own, quite probably a mistake but without a huge financial cost and with some hope that he will yet contribute in some way.
Trades: C+ Some of these did happen during the third quarter, some not, but the returns from most look poor to me. As I have already made clear, I’m not a fan of the trades for Fister/Pauley or for Delmon Young (and the less said of the Sizemore for Purcey deal the better) so the canny acquisition of league average third baseman Wilson Betemit for a bag of Doritos and a Pepsi is the only thing keeping this grade from the D range. The Fister/Pauley deal could yet wind up giving Tigers’ faithful something other than suffering this season (the Purcey deal can’t) but I consider the price paid to have been far too high. As for Young, if they had simply claimed him off waivers and given up nothing but cash I still would have considered it to be bad judgment. Dombrowski’s inability to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez counts against him as well, though the development of Ryan Robowski (2.40 ERA 33K & 17 BB in 31 appearances out minor league ‘pens) and Kevin Eichhorn (9-4 with a 3.52 ERA 97 K & 26 BB in 21 starts for the Whitecaps) – the haul for 2011 train wreck Armando Galarraga – counts in his favor.
Promotions & Demotions: B+ For the most part I’m looking solely at what has been done in the third quarter itself and the immediate dividends, and the most important demotion was the slightly risky decision to send Brandon Inge to Toledo. He wasn’t hitting, period, and while I usually laud Leyland for his willingness to stick with players as they ride out slumps here I’m doing the opposite: despite his tenure, Inge needed to be sent down to take the pressure off and give him a chance to prove that he can earn some of the money he’ll be due in 2012. The team has been better for the lack of him, and in Toledo Inge actually has started to hit – with power. What’s more, I’m genuinely glad the team was able to work out a deal to keep Inge as organizational depth rather than simply eating his salary. Management was willing to demote ‘high potential’ young arms like Perry, Schlereth and Purcey and Perry and Schlereth at the least seem to have figured something out (that something being how to throw a strike). They have also resisted the urge to recall under-performing top prospect Andy Oliver and instead work with less heralded guys that have earned the promotion – Wilk, Below and before the trade Furbush. On the other hand, management gave Casper Wells a wholly undeserved one-way trip to Toledo before shipping out of the organization entirely, has been unwilling to call up Will Rhymes despite filling two desperate needs for the big-league club (called ‘infield defense’ and ‘setting the table’) and hasn’t seemed to know what to do with Duane Below and Adam Wilk or a whole host of young relievers who clearly haven’t been ready for the show.
Playing Time, Position Players: B- Ryan Raburn has mounted quite a comeback, rewarding the Tigers for continuing to play him semi-regularly despite his struggles. Wilson Betemit has finally been given (it would appear) a nearly full time job at the hot corner. That’s about as far as the ‘right’ goes. Magglio Ordonez has played far too much, as has Carlos Guillen – two players who no longer seem to be able to play replacement-level ball. Austin Jackson continues to play just about every day and lead off despite being unable to do the only thing that a leadoff batter needs to do above all else. Who to bat 2nd and 3rd seems to continually mystify Tigers’ management, just like who to bat leadoff. Now we’re going to be seeing Raburn batting second and Delmon Young batting third? Really? Please find a man who can get on base and let those two hit behind them if they must hit somewhere. Albert Pujols hits third, why shouldn’t Cabrera? Alex Avila has an on-base percentage of .384 and the guys hitting behind him are those dregs that Leyland hasn’t seen fit to let set the table for Cabrera. Let him bat second. Why do the Tigers need speed on the basepaths, they don’t run anyway? Who should lead off? In my perfect world, it’s Will Rhymes. In the imperfect world we’re stuck in – it should be Jhonny Peralta. That was an unnecessary tangent, but the fact remains that the Tigers continue to write out lineup cards that give too many plate appearances to the worst hitters on the team and that drags this down from a B+ to a B-
Bullpen Leverage: A- In part, this is simply random chance instead of good managing, but take a look at the numbers below:
Look how heavily concentrated that ‘leverage’ is with the Tigers two ‘bullpen aces’ – Benoit & Valverde. Coke, Alburquerque and (since his return) Schlereth have pitched in ‘middling’ leverage situations and have done a decent job as well. If you want to know how the Tigers have managed to win more than they have lost despte allowing so many runs to score, look no further. The only thing that keeps this from a full A is the poor performance that David Pauley has put up when it has counted since joining the team, and the fact that Ryan Perry (and Below, I suppose) has pitched fairly well but has pitched exclusively in blowout losses.