It has been officially a full month since the Detroit Tigers were eliminated from post-season play back on October 5 with a 2-1 loss to experience a sweep out of the ALDS at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles. In the time since, we have been busy assigning grades to the players from the 2014 team. So it is fitting that we conclude the “card” marking with a grade for the man in charge of all of these players: manager Brad Ausmus.
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We have assigned the rookie manager a grade of C for a number of reasons, but first a caveat. A manager is often given too much praise when a team is playing well and too much flack when a teaming is tanking. Ausmus experienced each of these during his rookie season–many fans thought he was the second-coming of John McGraw when the team went 27-12 and many of those same folks thought he was a clown when the team went 9-19 and played fairly inconsistent through the rest of the season and post-season.
Ultimately, it falls to the players to succeed or fail. The manager can provide guidance and strategy, but most wins and losses in baseball have more to do with what happens on the field than what a manager does or doesn’t do.
Nonetheless, it is still important to look at Ausmus’ first year and since we’re bloggers, we need to assign an arbitrary grade.
First off the positives. Brad won a division title in his first season. I mean how many managers come and go in this game that never experience the postseason? He’s genuinely likable, affable, and easy-going. He is smart and has the ability to be a very good manager in time.
Ausmus’ greatest strength may have played into some of the team’s greatest weaknesses this season. Ausmus is a laid back dude, doesn’t get riled up about much, and has an easy and approachable nature for players. Yet it also leads to him being a bit tepid challenging veterans who are not performing.
It really began late in Spring Training when Brad ignored the numbers and decided that Justin Verlander deserved the Opening Day start over Max Scherzer even though J.V. was coming off surgery, a shortened Spring Training, and a down 2013 year while Scherzer was the reigning Cy Young winner.
I understand that Ausmus was handed a mess with the bullpen and Dave Dombrowski failed to do his job properly in that area, however an experienced manager would be able to adapt. If you have guys that can’t record outs at the backend of the bullpen, you go with the hot hand to get you holds and saves.
Instead Ausmus stayed with the tried and true formula of going with matchups in the seventh inning if the starter was out (meaning Joakim Soria was under utilized) and going Joba Chamberlain in the 8th and Joe Nathan in the 9th. Nathan struggled mid-year and Joba struggled toward the end of the year, yet at no time was Brad willing to rock the boat, and challenge a veteran by sitting him for a couple days.
White Cleat Beat
I am not saying the dreaded closer by committee was the answer, but could it have been any worse?
I often criticized the manager saying it felt like he had an instruction book in the dugout, giving him guidance on every baseball situation because 99 percent of the time, he went with the status quo.
Certainly we should give Ausmus some slack for being a rookie manager. A lot of changing things on the fly and thinking outside the box comes with experience, but perhaps that was another folly of the Tigers’ organization by hiring someone with no experience to lead a supposed World Series contender.
When Joe Maddon left the Tampa Bay Rays, I thought the Tigers should pull a Les Moss move and let Ausmus go for the experienced Maddon. I also felt this way about Ron Gardenhire a month before. It’s nothing against Ausmus, if these two very good managers had not become available I wouldn’t have wanted Brad fired. Nonetheless I knew today’s Tigers are different than the organization from 35 years ago, are extremely loyal, and that Ausmus would not be fired after a divisional winning season.
I actually thought if Ausmus had waited a year to jump into the managerial ranks, Tampa Bay would be a great first experience. Little pressure and mid-range expectations. Instead he ran head-long into a team built to win now and even though it wasn’t all his fault, he’s taking a lot of the heat for the team’s failures.
It will be interesting to see how Ausmus fares next year with a (hopefully) healthy Miguel Cabrera, Bruce Rondon, and Jose Iglesias. Yet he could be without Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter, and Max Scherzer. Of course he’ll need help from Dombrowski, but since he’s sticking around we fans might as well give him an open mind and a second chance in 2015.