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If only Jim Leyland hadn’t been so hands on

Oct 20, 2013, 1:32 AM EDT

ALDS Tigers Athletics Baseball AP

Tigers manager Jim Leyland spent the first four months of this season with two reliable relievers: left-hander Drew Smyly and right-hander Joaquin Benoit. Obviously, that’s less than ideal. But it did give him fewer chances to mess things up.

And mess things up he did in the ALCS. With Jose Veras and Al Alburquerque at his disposal, Leyland turned Smyly into a matchup guy. In Saturday’s game, Smyly induced a possible double-play grounder from the only batter he faced, Jacoby Ellsbury. Unfortunately, the play was botched by Jose Iglesias, who should have at least gotten one out.

Smyly was pulled. Veras came on with the bases loaded and gave up a grand slam to Shane Victorino. The rest is history.

From a percentage standpoint, it wasn’t such a bad move. Victorino certainly hits lefties better than righties, and Veras had been throwing well. But it was such a waste of the team’s best or second best reliever. Smyly held righties to a .242 average this year. He shouldn’t have been put in the situation as a one-and-done. Leyland wanted to save Phil Coke for David Ortiz, apparently, but it would have made more sense to let Coke face Ellsbury and then let Smyly have at Ortiz and a couple of the right-handers surrounding him. That was their best bet.

Instead, Smyly was gone after facing one left-handed batter for the third time in four ALCS appearances. It had happened just five times in 65 appearances between the regular season and ALDS (during which time he amassed a 2.34 ERA in 77 innings). The one time he was allowed to go longer against the Red Sox he ended up retiring all five batters he faced.

Game 2 was lost by the Tigers in nearly the same fashion as Game 6. Benoit, who gave up David Ortiz’s grand slam, was the fourth reliever to pitch in the eighth inning. Smyly walked Ellsbury and was immediately removed in that one.

Of course, not all of this is on Leyland. Things could have worked out fine had some non-Smyly relievers made better pitches. It’s just that Smyly seemed like the best bet to make those better pitches.

It’s easy to imagine the Tigers overreacting to their ALCS loss and signing a big-name closer this winter after passing on Rafael Soriano last winter. Trading Rick Porcello for late-inning relief help and moving Smyly to the rotation might also be a consideration. Benoit is a free agent, and if he’s back, it’ll probably be as a setup man. Ideally, Bruce Rondon would have been ready to close, but after his late-season elbow woes, he can’t be counted on in the role just yet. As is, I can’t help but think the Tigers will import one closer from the group of Grant Balfour, Joe Nathan and Brian Wilson this winter.

  1. thebestfaninbaseball - Oct 20, 2013 at 1:50 AM

    As Mr. Burns said when he pinch-hit for Daryl Strawberry with the bases loaded against a left-handed pitcher: “It’s called playing the percentages. It’s what good managers do to win ballgames.” And they won that game.

    My point is, the Tigers should fire Jim Leyland and bring in Mr. Burns.

    • tuberippin - Oct 20, 2013 at 3:25 AM

      “Mattingly, I thought I told you to trim those sideburns!”

      • jlovenotjlo - Oct 20, 2013 at 3:31 AM

        Full circle

  2. halohonk - Oct 20, 2013 at 1:56 AM

    Leyland reminds me of Gene Mauch in the 86 ALCS Angels/Boston when he took out our ace Mike Witt when he still had the lead and we lost it. The Donnie Moore game.RIP. Classic over managing by Leyland and he did it twice!

    • jimatkins - Oct 20, 2013 at 2:44 PM

      A new example of over-managing for a new generation. Damm, that game in 86 hurt. We had a bottle of Moet White Star on the table, ready to open. It got put away for New Year’s. Bummer.

  3. joestemme - Oct 20, 2013 at 2:37 AM

    Don’t want to beat up on a fine Manager in Leyland.

    My only comment is that after watching the Tigers bullpen stuggle in this series, I would have left Scherzer in until he lost the lead. He may have been “gassed” as he says he was in game 2, but, keep him in there until he actually was beaten by the Sox (which he really wasn’t in both games he pitched).

    • polegojim - Oct 20, 2013 at 9:35 AM

      Agreed on your second point Joe… but not the first.

      Leyland bears responsibility in barely improving a weak relief staff… and or leaving a weak pitching coach on the payroll. You can’t have it both ways. Leyland and his staff make those personnel decisions and manage the games. They did BOTH very, very poorly.

      They have no true closer, none. Haven’t for years. In fact, teams lick their chops when the starters come out… and can’t always rely on the bats to bail them out…. then there’s Fielder… who’s become a mammoth waste of roster spot equal to his size.

      Can’t catch foul pop flies
      Can’t block one hop throws to first (not even that far off base either)
      Can’t hit
      Can’t run bases…. time to move him and lose him.

      • albertmn - Oct 20, 2013 at 10:35 AM

        If Fielder is that bad, why would any other team take him?

      • joestemme - Oct 20, 2013 at 11:16 AM

        You make a point about the team’s roster – but, that’s something for after the season is over.

        I was just talking about the situation at hand. Leave you best pitcher on the mound until he cries “no mas” – or loses the lead. The bullpen had failed in this series while Scherzer hadn’t.

      • polegojim - Oct 21, 2013 at 6:05 PM

        Yes Joe, completely agree on that…

        I’d refuse to come out with that bullpen during the postseason.

        Albert… that’s the quandary.

  4. normcash - Oct 20, 2013 at 2:40 AM

    Bringing in Veras was the right move. Victorino hit a good pitch. Without Phil Coke as an effective
    second lefty out of the pen, Leyland was hamstrung regarding Smyly—forced, really, to use him
    as a situational pitcher. The critical elements of that inning were the missed 3-2 call by the home plate umpire on the Borgaerts AB (followed by the usual mealy-mouthed commentary by McCarver and Buck, who apparently can’t see their monitors clearly) and the Iglesias error. Shit happens.
    With Miggy’s injuries rendering him an ordinary mortal and Fielder AWOL entirely, it’s a miracle
    the team got as far as it did. My one criticism is that he should have dropped Fielder in the order.
    But he has a weakness for stars and a tendency (out of what I’m sure he thinks as “respect”) to
    protect them at all costs. But I think anybody jumping on the “dump Leyland”: bandwagon is
    seriously misguided.

    • dan1111 - Oct 20, 2013 at 3:32 AM

      I agree. This article is nothing more than hindsight second-guessing. The Tigers lost, and maybe they wouldn’t have lost if Leyland had made different decisions. But the things is, I could imagine an article like this being written no matter what Leyland had done: “If only Jim Leyland had played the match-ups better…Victorino kills lefties; why did he leave Smyly in?”.

      The bullpen was a factor in two games. In game 2, the bullpen was only needed for two innings, so playing the match-ups is entirely defensible. And Smyly did not get it done for the one batter he faced. The fact is, every single reliever used in game 2 let someone reach base. If even one of them had not done so, the Tigers likely would have won. I don’t see how Leyland deserves the blame for this loss.

      Game 6 was an elimination situation. Those two outs in the seventh inning were likely to be the most important in the game. What do you do? Bringing in your best lefty to face Ellsbury is clearly correct. Bringing in a righty to face Victorino also looks correct. While Victorino has hit right-handers well in a small sample size this season since giving up switch-hitting, for his career he is far better against left-handers. It was simply the game situation that led Smyly to only face one batter.

      It is normal for reliever usage to be different in the playoffs than the regular season. And Detroit’s starters averaged nearly 6 2/3 innings per game, there weren’t that many relief innings to fill, anyway. Honestly, I can’t think of a single situation in this series where Leyland obviously brought in the wrong reliever. This is not the reason the Tigers lost.

    • lindenfrank123 - Oct 20, 2013 at 8:40 AM

      a good pitch? glad you’re not a pitching coach somewhere…you don’t throw that pitch on a 0-2 count never…this guy Veras pitched for Houston last year…enough said…you want quality relievers don’t go to teams that lose 100+ games three years in a row…but that’s on Dumbrowski not Jimmy…

    • polegojim - Oct 20, 2013 at 9:39 AM

      Norm and Dan… whether the pitching staff failed… again and again and again… or Fielder has NO strength in his game… it falls back on the man making the decisions:

      Leyland and his coaching staff – regular season wonders managing a team who’s balls drop off during the post season and can’t finish.

      Can’t have it both ways… in big time situations… they either are poor game managers or poor judges of talent or poor team builders… Take your pick.

      • dan1111 - Oct 20, 2013 at 2:35 PM

        Another possibility is that the Tigers didn’t do anything particularly wrong, but simply got outplayed by the Red Sox. It happens. And there is a lot of luck involved; given how close most of the games were, it could easily go the other way if they played it again.

        The manager in baseball has very little impact on the outcome of games and shouldn’t be blamed unless there were obvious tactical blunders.

        There is room to criticise the Tigers’ front office for weaknesses in the teams they have built, but that is not Leyland either.

      • polegojim - Oct 20, 2013 at 5:36 PM

        Red Sox took advantage of the situations as they should have…

        My point is… the Tigers GAVE them the opportunities with the same poor decisions.

  5. Reflex - Oct 20, 2013 at 2:45 AM

    “Unfortunately, the play was botched by Jose Iglesias, who should have at least gotten one out.”

    This sentence must be a misprint. I was repeatedly assured that Iglesias was in there for his defensive prowess.

    • tuberippin - Oct 20, 2013 at 3:29 AM

      Even the best fielders will make errors from time to time. Whether that relates to it being a pressure situation cannot be fully determined.

      Funny that he makes a crucial error against the team that traded him earlier in the season.

      • Reflex - Oct 20, 2013 at 3:00 PM

        Oh of course they do. But my point has been that his defense this year has only been a marginal upgrade over Peralta and his bat has been a huge downgrade. And while he looks good out there, unfortunately a lot of that is because his positioning is terrible, plays that would be routine for Jhonny look spectacular for Iglesias when he has to dive for them. But having to dive for a play is often an issue of poor positioning decisions rather than a player managing to get to something they wouldn’t have otherwise.

  6. sincitybonobo - Oct 20, 2013 at 2:46 AM

    I’m not pinning this series loss on Leyland. The best hitter on the planet was neutralized with injury and Prince just didn’t have it. This greatly reduced the Tigers’ margin for error.

    Valid point on Smyly and Cole not pitching to Papi, despite great career numbers, but before the series started, everyone knew the Tiger pen was their biggest weakness.

    This, combined with a lack of production from the middle of the order, was just too much for Detroit to overcome.

    Two outstanding teams are in the Series. Tough to see a clear favorite.

  7. Jeff - Oct 20, 2013 at 3:47 AM

    I knew the Tigers were going to lose this series, after their fantastic collapse in game two, which they should have won.
    This Tigers team reminds me so much of the Braves in the 90s. I wonder if the Tigers ever get their one World Series championship though.
    Sadly it doesn’t look like it.

    • polegojim - Oct 20, 2013 at 9:40 AM

      Jeff… their ‘one’????… you realize they’ve already won a number of them right???

      • Jeff - Oct 22, 2013 at 11:04 PM

        I meant their one with the current iteration of players, management, owner, et. al. – since Dombrowski and Leyland.

  8. deborahagriffin - Oct 20, 2013 at 7:08 AM

    as Lisa explained I am alarmed that some people can make $4548 in 4 weeks on the computer. get more ———————-bay96 c o m

  9. jacobk621 - Oct 20, 2013 at 7:31 AM

    Well it looks like the duck dynasty mini-series will comtinue

  10. moogro - Oct 20, 2013 at 7:37 AM

    The real story is how Cecil’s behaviour has quietly been a drain on Prince, taking him out of the playoffs. Other players know this and won’t talk about it.

    • Glenn - Oct 20, 2013 at 12:19 PM

      I thought the marital problems were taking him out of his game? I wonder how these things really affect athletes. I know that everyone is different, but one would think the game would be an escape from personal problems. Jerry Adair had an excellent role-player season for the ’67 miracle Sox and he had a terminally ill child at home. He kept it to himself – even his team mates did not know.

  11. titansbro - Oct 20, 2013 at 7:41 AM

    Excuses. Cabrera may have been injured but he still had a decent series. He certainly wasn’t the reason the Tigers lost. Maybe the Sox were just better? Nah, couldn’t be.

    To the writer, if this blogging thing doesn’t work out you should totally be a manager of a big league baseball team. Your after the fact in game moves are exceptional.

  12. elgrande30 - Oct 20, 2013 at 8:07 AM

    How about this for a. Point of view??? Red sox won it..Jim L and Tigers did not lose it??

  13. lindenfrank123 - Oct 20, 2013 at 8:36 AM

    If Jim Leyland is such a failure…how come he won a World Series? And he’s been to three. Twins fans would have loved to have him at the helm the last three years. He took a franchise that tied a recored 116 losses…and made it in to a model franchise and contender and you diss him? You have no idea what you’re talking about.

    • polegojim - Oct 20, 2013 at 9:44 AM

      Yes – Leyland has done a great job, but obviously the last few years has lost ground and is getting out managed badly during critical situations…. and the SAME failure over and over.

      Miggy is not the only big hitter the Tigers have. That’s a weak excuse.

      It’s not a disgrace to realize it may be time for both to move on.

    • polegojim - Oct 21, 2013 at 7:12 PM

      PS Frank… even Leyland agreed with me… see… HIS decision

  14. steelers88 - Oct 20, 2013 at 9:02 AM

    I love Jim Leyland. That been said though it’s time for the Tigers to move on. The Tigers almost always have the best team talent wise but they can never win the World Series trophy. I also think Leyland should have rest Cabrera in the last few weeks of the regular season.

  15. jason1214 - Oct 20, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    Its not time to fire Leyland. Simply put these tactical moves get magnified in the postseason. IMO Leyland and Mattingly got woefully outmanaged by Farrell/Matheny.

    • polegojim - Oct 20, 2013 at 9:41 AM

      Your two sentences completely contradict.

      It’s not time to fire Leyland…. even though he got woefully outmanaged…. AGAIN.


      • jason1214 - Oct 21, 2013 at 5:07 PM

        Well he quit so there you have it.
        Mattingly got outmanaged and he didn’t lose his job.
        Tigers lineup needs work, top of order hitters need to be priority. Their is only so much you can blame on a manager. Prince who? MC hurt, etc.

      • polegojim - Oct 21, 2013 at 7:51 PM

        Yep, Jim did the right thing.

      • jason1214 - Oct 22, 2013 at 7:15 PM

        Tigers will be in tough spot $$ wise soon. Do you see extension for Max S, Cabrera soon?

    • Glenn - Oct 20, 2013 at 12:24 PM

      Farrell did his share of over-managing and making similar bad decisions, like repeatedly wasting Breslow and Tazawa for a couple of outs. He also abandoned the very successful platoon of Nava and Gomes to increase grit and chemistry. Did he consult his astrologer or something? Hard to say that either manager out-managed the other in this Series.

  16. barkleyblows - Oct 20, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    Shocking Detroit would choke away another postseason.

    Every year it’s the same shit. Have the best players in the league and still can’t win a world series.

    • pwshrugged - Oct 20, 2013 at 11:53 AM

      Best hitter and best starting rotation in the league, but no bullpen depth, no bench depth, and no versatility at the plate. Hard to win in October with thin depth.

  17. Marty - Oct 20, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    I felt bad for Detroit watching this series because it reminded me of the same desperation Felipe Alou shown when managing the Giants pen into countless blown saves.

  18. pwshrugged - Oct 20, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    I agree that Leyland definitely played a part in the Tigers’ failure. When Leyland went from using his best relievers regularly for innings at a time to wildly playing situations, to the point where he was using his best left-handed pitcher on the entire staff for a single batter… well, I knew we had a problem. When he pulled Smyly after the Ellsbury at-bat, I knew we lost. It reeked of desperation; why not let your best reliever pitch against a guy hitting sub-.100 on the series? Is it that important to have the righty/righty match-up? Leyland never did that sort of nonsense in the regular season.

    Beyond that, consider what would have happened if the Tigers had managed to tie it back up – half of the bullpen would have already been used to get out of a single inning, resulting in a guy like Rick Porcello getting the extra-innings ball. I like Porcello more than most Tigers fans, but he’s clearly not a reliever.

    At any rate, there’s plenty of blame to go around for the Tigers’ loss, no doubt – but Leyland’s desperation bullpen usage should definitely be high on the list.

  19. nbjays - Oct 20, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    “If only Jim Leyland hadn’t been so hands on”?

    How about “if only the Tigers’ bullpen wasn’t such a horrible train wreck”?

  20. thehobbit7 - Oct 20, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    Jim Leland… Mishandling talented teams since the early 90’s.

  21. anjichpa - Oct 20, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    This article reeks of hindsight bias.

    For instance, the Iglesias error plate appearance had the 2nd highest leverage index score of any play in the game (Victorino’s slam being the highest). Without the Iglesias error, it’s likely that the Ellsbury AB would have had the highest leverage index score. While it would have been nice to have Smyly face more than a single batter, I don’t think you can argue having your best- or 2nd best- reliever face a same-handed batter in what is likely to be the single most important situation in the game was poor management by Leyland.

    While you might be able to argue that Veras facing Victorino wasn’t the right matchup, it’s not difficult to understand Leyland’s rationale. Veras has been throwing well and had pitched fairly well throughout the year. Victorino, normally a switch-hitter, would be hitting right-handed facing a right-handed pitcher. Victorino had also looked overmatched in his last matchup vs. Veras. You could argue that Victorino unintuitively hit better this year as a RHB against RHP than as a switch-hitter against pitchers from either side, but that seems likely to be more of a sample-size aberration than anything else. Veras was a highly logical choice to face Victorino in that situation.

    Sometimes you just get beat.

    • thesportsjudge - Oct 20, 2013 at 3:59 PM

      Hindsight bias. Hindsight. Bias.

      The only 3 things NBCsports and its “writers” excel at.

      • 18thstreet - Oct 20, 2013 at 5:15 PM

        Why are you here?

      • thesportsjudge - Oct 20, 2013 at 5:30 PM

        You must be an aspiring writer, looking to get hired at this shitty company?

    • skids003 - Oct 21, 2013 at 1:19 PM

      They sure are good at those 3 things.

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