Let me start by saying that Brad Ausmus was a good hire for the Detroit Tigers and they would not be where they are in the standings without his leadership. But in the wake of Jim Leyland day last weekend at Comerica Park, some fans have gone out of their way to criticize Jim Leyland by saying that the Tigers would not be among the best teams in the American League if the old man was still in charge.
Jim Leyland, who has been known to listen to talk radio, responded to this criticism during interviews leading up to and after his day at Comerica Park. Leyland joked during a press conference that he agreed with Brad Ausmus’ strategy of “resting his players” and “making sure everyone stays involved”.
Frequent use of his bench players, even in the face of losing a series, was something Leyland often received criticism for during his tenure. Brad Ausmus has shown an affinity for this strategy as well by using Don Kelly to spell his starters regardless of their spot in the batting order.
Leyland was also slammed by fans for his stubborn avoidance of the sacrifice bunt. Although they have more team speed, the 2014 Tigers rank near the bottom of major league baseball in their use of the sacrifice bunt. It seems Brad Ausmus is not proponent of small ball either.
So if Ausmus and Leyland share similar in-game management style, why are the 2014 Detroit Tigers better than in previous seasons?
Two reasons: balance and performance.
Last years Tigers team was composed of slow, base clogging power hitters. The team was constructed to play long ball and when the power hitters slumped so did the offense. The 2014 Detroit Tigers are designed to put pressure on the opposing pitcher by extending pitch counts while applying pressure on the base paths with speed and the hit and run. The Tigers have traded power for a balance of speed and on base percentage a completely different offensive attack than is years past.
But fans should not assume that the 2014 team was built differently because of Jim Leyland’s retirement. In fact the team would have been constructed differently in 2014 whether or not Jim Leyland was the skipper. Dave Dombrowski pulled the trigger on the Fielder trade and the Rajai Davis deal after Leyland retired and before Ausmus was announced as manager. So neither Leyland or Ausmus had influence over those decisions.
So before you curse Jim Leyland for the Tigers past failures and praise his retirement as the reason for success just remember that the manager can only work with what he has. Championships are decided by the players performance on the field, not the skipper on the bench.