Jim Leyland’s World Series failure means it’s finally time for Detroit to put a dude with new-age swagger in the managerial seat. I mean, Leyland still smokes bogies in his Tiger office for Morton Downey Jr.’s sake. Who does that anymore?
At 67, Leyland has as much baseball acumen as Smokey Robinson has hits. That’s good and bad for Detroit. Leyland’s baseball experiences run the gamut. His pure baseball wisdom is prolific. But within his knowledge, lies a resistance to change that has cost Detroit games. It played a big part in the Tigers’ 88-win, underachieving 2012 season, which ended in a WS sweep at the hands of the Giants. In Leyland’s situation, the saying you can’t teach an old dog new tricks rings louder than the gun shots on Detroit’s Southside on the 4th.
Leyland is like a rave DJ with a gray-haired Afro. He’s kinda out of place, but he knows how to keep it rocking. His track record is thick, but the stubbornness that gives him an edge, also keeps him from thinking “outside the box”.
Baseball’s strategies have evolved since Leyland started managing with the Pirates in ’85. His refusal to incorporate advantageous new-age information models like sabermetrics is alarming. Leyland is ignoring a key aspect of the way scouting, pitching matchups, performance evaluation, and defensive maneuvers are analyzed. Leyland has two of the best hitters in baseball and the best pitcher, and still got stomped. If Yankee kingpin Joe Torre can get dissed after four chips, any manager can get it.
The final inning of Game 4 put Detroit heads to bed and was a fitting example of Bruce Bochy’s ability to position his underdog team for victory, while Leyland stagnated in defeat.
The Giants led off the top of the 10th inning with a single. A sac bunt advanced the runner to 2nd and a two-out opposite field single by Marco Scutaro flared in the crucial run. San Francisco did a little bit of this and a bit of that (Sandoval’s 3 homers) to win games.
Detroit, on the other hand, didn’t change anything.
In the bottom of the 10th, leadoff batter Austin Jackson K’s in ugly fashion. He didn’t attempt to work the count or draw a walk. Leyland didn’t attempt to bunt or utilize Jackson’s speed on the base paths. In fact, Leyland’s been asked why Jackson, a strike out machine who’s whiffed 458 times in 3 seasons, even continues to lead off. Then Leyland pinch hits Don Kelly, a .186 hitter during the season, who hadn’t hit all playoffs. He flailed at a sinker away.
Cabrera follows with a feeble K, to put Detroit out of its misery. Detroit fans have been waiting for the roof to cave in all season. It took a Fall Classic choke job to do it, but there’s a belief in many baseball sectors that Detroit reached the World Series in spite of Leyland, whose expiring contract sheds uncertainty on his baseball future.
Say what you want about his record of success. There is also a record of failure evident in this World Series. Leyland ‘s use of the bullpen and his unwillingness to adjust his lineups, particularly after being shut out in back to back games, has been criticized more than Gabby Douglas’ hairdo. When shaky closer, Jose Valverde gave up two home runs in the bottom of the ninth and blew a 4-0 lead in Game 1, Leyland was the goat. Some say he blew the series by leaving Valverde in too long.
In a scoreless Game 2, third base coach Gene Lamont played himself and sent Prince Fielder home on a hit which would have set up 2nd and third. Fielder, who burns slower than a nickel bag of Reggie Bush, gets thrown out. Leyland has to take some blame. Lamont’s his guy. They were roommates in the minor leagues in the 60’s. Lamont’s overzealousness is an extension of Leyland’s leadership philosophies, so Leyland is equally responsible for the costly punch out.
If Leyland blended a touch of new age number crunches and not just hunches, maybe his third base coach would have played the odds rather than his gut. Baseball Prospectus says major league teams scored an average of 1.89 runs each inning when they had runners on second and third with no outs. Once Fielder’s gunned down, the average drops to 0.65 runs.
Game 3 doesn’t help Leyland’s case either. He inexplicably went for the double play with the bases loaded, and no outs, instead of playing the infield in, to prevent the go-ahead run.
Leyland’s rigid demeanor and terse press treatment is outdated too. In today’s media-savvy baseball world, a team is associated with the personality of its manager. Maybe a new voice, with fresh philosophies and some real live energy will get the Shawn Kemps of MLB to the promise land.