Life After Leyland
By Grant Stoye
I know this is early, and probably unwarranted (highly, HIGHLY unwarranted), but I’ve just about had enough of Jim Leyland.
Like I’ve said before, I like the guy. I appreciate and treasure his time and successes as the manager of the Detroit Tigers. He was a fantastic manager that juggled egos, injuries, and dicey situations, and he was enjoyed by every one of his ball clubs. He helped essentially resurrect a moribund franchise and guide it towards its current status as one of the preeminent franchises in Major League Baseball. The guy has experience, and through that experience he really knows his stuff.
That being said, the dude has to go after this season.
Jul 28, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland (10) is ejected by home plate umpire Chad Fairchild (75) in the third inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
There comes a time in the tenure of any manager where he has reached his limit in terms of what he is able to coax out of a club. Some managers burn out quickly, and some, like Mike Scioscia, retain their posts for years. But the one underlying truth is that eventually a change is necessary. For Jim Leyland, the time is coming soon, if it isn’t already here.
I cannot stand watching him use a bullpen. He waffles. He shows too much faith in others, and not enough faith in some. He clings tightly to the antiquated notion that he has to have a proven closer, that there needs to be specific roles for specific guys who have that specific experience. When he attempted a closer-by-committee, he failed. He sticks by “his guys,” like Phil Coke, even when they have proven that they are no longer adequate at their assigned job.
He Dusty-Bakers his aces. I know that pitch counts are a debatable notion, and that starting pitchers need to go deep into a game to preserve a taxed bullpen. However, there are several starts every year where he leaves his starting pitcher in to rack up unnecessary pitches. Sure, Verlander seems to be able to handle the workload for now, but what about in a season or two? What if his struggles this season were a harbinger of things to come? (God forbid knock on wood rabbit foot). Remember how Dusty Baker pitched Mark Prior and Kerry Wood into the ground to gain traction with the Cubs in the early ‘00’s? This is what I worry about.
And Leyland’s inability to spark a running game…UGH. With the depreciation of MLB’s overall power game, stealing is coming back in force, and Leyland fails to utilize his fast players. An argument could be, ‘Why have Austin Jackson/Torii Hunter steal a base and leave first open for Cabrera/Fielder?’ Well, why in the world wouldn’t anyone want a free base? It’s not like the lineup ceases being great once one of the Big Two are on base. If anything, sabremetric baseball has shown us the power of a walk, and, correct me if I’m wrong, but having multiple runners on base seems to lead to more runs.
I was ready for the Tigers to deal secretly with Terry Francona last year if it meant no more Leyland (which, seeing what Tito has done with an inferior Indians squad makes my longing all the stronger). Watching his teams sort of underachieve the last few years has just been frustrating, on a spoiled-fan sort of way (how can one not have huge amounts of success having the best hitter AND best pitcher in the major leagues? And arguably one of the most talented teams in the majors?), and I think it’s time for him to move on.
To replace him, I’ve recently become of fan of Bruce Bochy’s bench coach in San Francisco, Ron Wotus. Wotus reminds me a bit of Joe Maddon, in that he’s been at every level and nearly every type of coaching position in the San Francisco Giants system for 25 years. As a minor league manager he has had a good amount of success with the San Jose Giants (1991-92), the Shreveport Captains (93-95, including a championship), and the Phoenix Firebirds (96-97). Oh, and he has two World Series rings in the past three years. He understands the importance of speed, defense, and how to handle a tremendous pitching staff. He has learned how a lineup functions when a tremendous hitter is involved. And, most importantly, he comes from a great organization and a great manager, and he’s looking for a shot.
I honestly believe he could be a fantastic addition to the Detroit Tigers, a fresh voice bringing a mentality that would properly utilize the players on the squad. Where Leyland’s loyalty is unwavering and powerful to a fault, Wotus is a guy who was part of championship teams that sat some of their better players (Pablo Sandoval in 2010, Melky Cabrera in 2012) for the purpose of succeeding. Would Leyland ever do anything like this?
It’s time for a change, and I hope Mr. Illitch and Mr. Dombrowski can finally realize it.