Detroit Tigers: Why Brad Ausmus failed to bring a championship


On November 3rd, 2013 the Detroit Tigers hired Brad Ausmus as manager with the hope he would lead them to a World Series victory. He failed miserably. This is a look at what happened.

Under the leadership of manager Jim Leyland, the Detroit Tigers went to the World Series in 2006 and 2010. On both occasions, they failed to win. When Leyland retired after the 2013 season General Manager Dave Dombrowski selected Brad Ausmus to lead the team to victory.

Ausmus was an 18 year veteran of the Major Leagues and played on four different teams. This included two different stints with the Detroit Tigers.

Detroit Tigers Manager

When Ausmus took over the reins of the Tigers, in 2014, the team was in a position to win.

Led by perennial stars such as Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Justin Verlander, the Tigers won their fourth consecutive Central Division title. However, Detroit was swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship.

2015 Season

After a disappointing ending to the 2014 season, the Tigers looked to repeat their winning ways.

The Tigers had a formable staring rotation, but Max Scherzer‘s contract had expired. In spite of a sizeable offer from owner Mike Illich, Scherzer decided to test the free agent market. He ultimately signed with the Washington Nationals.

To add injury to insult, on December 11th, 2014, the Detroit Tigers traded Rick Porcello to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for power-hitter Yoenis Cespedes.

However, the Tigers looked forward to returning to their championship ways. Poor play and a rash of injuries derailed that 2015 dream. General manager Dombrowski decided the time was right to restock.

On the eve of the trading deadline, Dombrowski traded David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays for Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris. Additionally (and in an apparent conflict with owner Illitch) Dombrowski traded Cespedes to the Mets. The Tigers received Michael Fulmer in the trade and the GM was fired.

Al Avila was then promoted to that position. The Tigers would finish last in their division with a 74-87 record. It was the first time since 2010 that they would not be in the playoff race.

2016 and 2017 Seasons

Despite the signings of Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann, the 2016 season saw the beginning of the downward spiral that would lead to a complete house cleaning in 2017.

On the last day of the 2016 season, the Tigers would lose to the Atlanta Braves. That loss would knock them out of the playoffs. When the Tigers began the 2017 season by losing key games to the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners, Tiger fans knew the end was at hand.

By the end of August 2017, the Tigers had traded nearly every star on their roster. Gone were Verlander, Upton, Justin Wilson and J.D. Martinez. The Tigers now found themselves in a complete rebuilding process. Ausmus was let go at the end of the 2017 season and new manager Ron Gardenhire was hired to fill the “skipper” spot.

Why Ausmus Failed

The easiest answer to “why the Tigers reached this dismal spot” is to blame the demise on injuries. While injuries did play a role in the devastating 2017 season, there is much more to the story.

Handling of Veteran Players

In 2014 and 2015, the Tigers had pitching coach Jeff Jones. Jones was apparently loved by all on the Tigers pitching staff and had good success in the position. “Jonsee” however retired at the end of the 2015 campaign and the Tigers hired Rich Dubee.

Dubee previously had great success in Philadelphia but it was with a veteran staff. It was not his style to approach pitchers. He would only respond if the pitcher came to him with problems.

That was not a good fit for the Tiger staff. Pitchers were mired in their daily struggles without relief. While former catcher Ausmus would on occasion catch sideline work by his staff, it apparently was not enough.

Young pitchers who had been sent to the minors would excel in Toledo only to struggle once called back up. It appeared to the casual fan that there were problems and many began to blame Dubee.

Perhaps the biggest disaster of last season occurred in the early months of the campaign. Closer Francisco Rodriguez blew saves in back to back saves in a series against the A’s. It was his fourth blown save in 11 chances.

The Detroit Tiger fans cringed and the team dropped further in the standings. While K Rod had a track record of slow starts, it was apparent to all, aside from Ausmus, that Rodriguez’s career was over.

Ausmus did not motivate and was too late in making critical decisions. He allowed veteran ballplayers the opportunity to work out of problems without making key decisions to alleviate the problem.

A good example of such was Ausmus’ hands-off approach to Victor Martinez.

While it was clear that Martinez was struggling at the plate, Ausmus failed to remove V-Mart from the clean-up spot in the order. The Tigers struggled to score runs.

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The Tiger manager failed to hold veterans accountable. While Ausmus had his bright spots, he was not the right manager for this rebuilding task.

The 2018 Tigers have a new manager and pitching coach Chris Bosio. We have already seen significant strides in resolving problems that plagued the starting rotation. It may take a few years to be competitive again, but we are heading in the right direction.