Jim Leyland Did the Darndest Things

The Tigers may not have had any choice but to reactivate Delmon Young to take the place of Magglio Ordonez on the American League Championship Series roster prior to Game 2. But they did have an option on where they batted him, and it didn’t need to be third. By the end of the night, it was one of many confusing decisions on the part of Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland, who did not have his finest night at the ballpark.

The decision to even play Young wasn’t really up for debate against a lefty, assuming good health. Young is better against lefties than he is against righties, and save for Danny Worth — who has never before played the outfield as a professional — the Tigers didn’t have a better option at the plate. But it was apparent right from the jump that Young wasn’t going to have the arm he needed out in left. Elvis Andrus was going to score on Josh Hamilton’s double in the first no matter what — you can see him practically jogging home in the clip — but Young was certainly not going to be an asset in the field. As such, it was a good bet that Young was going to come out for a defensive replacement at some point. That point came in the top of the seventh, with the Tigers clinging to a one-run lead.

Defensive replacements are fine and dandy like sour candy when you have the lead, but the Tigers lost theirs approximately 85 seconds after Don Kelly took over in left. While the top of the order wouldn’t come around for two more turns, the Tigers were still faced with the proposition of having Ramon Santiago in the two-hole and Kelly in the three-hole. And with Austin Jackson struggling in the leadoff spot (more on him in a minute), the Tigers were left with what should have been a completely useless top of the order. Of course, Kelly garnered just his fifth hit of the season off of a lefty when Mike Gonzalez came on to face him in the ninth, but just because the move worked doesn’t take Leyland off the hook for a poor decision. Had he simply moved everyone in the lineup one spot and hit Young behind Peralta in the eight-hole, he would not have been at such a disadvantage. If Young is not capable of playing a full nine, he needs to hit lower in the lineup so that the Tigers may avoid this situation in upcoming games, as things probably won’t work out so well the next time he is lifted.

Leyland’s head-scratching substitutions weren’t done. Leading off the top of the ninth, Leyland pinch-hit for Brandon Inge. This in and of itself was not a bad decision, as Inge produced a woeful 18 wRC+ against right-handed pitching this season. But Leyland chose to go with Andy Dirks instead of Wilson Betemit. On the surface, this is a terrible decision — Dirks produced an 81 wRC+ against righties this year, while Betemit had a 128 wRC+ against them, and 150 in the regular season with Detroit. Now, perhaps Betemit’s knee is still bothering him, but he is on the roster, and as the situation with Young has shown, it’s all hands on deck for Detroit. If you look closer, you can see that the decision was even worse. Alexi Ogando had finished the previous inning by pumping in six consecutive cheese-laden fastballs to Alex Avila, the last three of which hit 98 or 99 mph according to MLB.com Gameday. It was a good bet that Ogando was going to stick with that strategy in the ninth. Going back to our two candidates, we find that while Betemit was essentially neutral against fastballs this year, Dirks compiled a -10.7 wFB, which was good for the 15th-worst mark in the game this season. With only Jose Valverde and Al Alburquerque left among the competent members of their bullpen, the Tigers needed a hit right there, and Dirks was overmatched. He flied out to center. Had they sent Betemit to the dish, perhaps he gets on, and Kelly’s double scores him with the go-ahead run. The move looked even worse two innings later when Dirks, who stayed in the game in right dropped a catchable fly ball. Perhaps Leyland, trying to think ahead, didn’t want Betemit’s glove at third, but that should not have been a factor — the Tigers needed base runners. If the Tigers take the lead there, you can still bring in Dirks and trust your “perfect” closer to win it in regulation. When they didn’t, it spelled trouble for a Tigers’ bullpen thin on trust-worthy relievers.

Still, even with the Tigers low on good relievers, the decision to go with Ryan Perry over Al Alburquerque in the 11th inning was a curious one. Up until that point, Leyland had been very aggressive with his two best relievers, getting five outs from Joaquin Benoit and six outs from Valverde. At that point, the Tigers had one good reliever left, and it wasn’t Perry. Perry throws three pitches, a fastball, slider and changeup. This season, only his changeup qualified as an above-average pitch, and then, just barely. In the regular season, he had the lowest K/BB, as well as the highest xFIP, SIERA and WHIP among Tigers’ relievers, and only Daniel Schlereth had a higher FIP. In his first two postseason appearances, he entered with the Tigers trailing 8-1 and 10-1, respectively. Now he was being asked to keep the Tigers out on a 0-2 hole. He couldn’t do it. Perry did not record one out, and the Tigers never got Alburquerque to the mound, even though he was warming and probably could have (and should have) come in to face Cruz at the very least.

These weren’t the only head-scratching moves Leyland made. He also ordered Jhonny Peralta to bunt in the 10th, but even though Peralta had not laid down a sacrifice bunt since 2009, it wasn’t that awful of a decision. It put a runner in scoring position for Avila, and while the move increased Texas’ win expectancy by three percent that would have not mattered a whit had Avila come through. But he didn’t, and Dirks (him again!) grounded out to shortstop to end the threat.

I’m not trying to paint Leyland as the worst manager ever, because he isn’t, and certainly Ron Washington made some questionable decisions of his own last night. But all in all, Washington’s moves — particularly his quick hook for Derek Holland — turned out much better. It simply wasn’t Leyland’s night. And it won’t get any easier for Leyland in Game 3. As Chris Cwik mentioned this morning, if there is one game in which you want to stack lefties in your lineup, it’s tonight against Colby Lewis. You would have to consider Dirks over Young — their numbers against righties were nearly identical this year and Young isn’t 100% — but Kelly is probably the right play here. You could take Raburn out of the lineup, but he has been one of the Tigers’ best hitters so far this postseason. Either way, tonight should see at least two of Kelly, Betemit and Dirks get starting nods. The other big decision the Tigers have to make is whether or not Jackson continues to hit leadoff. Jackson is now sporting a .290 on-base percentage for the postseason, as well as a lowly .490 OPS. He has struck out in more than half of his plate appearances in the ALCS, and has struck out in nearly half of his postseason PA’s overall. When you add in his September stats, Jackson has walked just 14 times and struck out 56 times in his last 150 plate appearances, which is high even for him. Leyland admitted they would have to look at that going into Game 3. Betemit might prove to be a better catalyst at the top of the lineup, at least for tonight, than will Jackson.

Jim Leyland has proven time and again that he is a world class manager. He has managed six playoff teams, one pennant winner and one World Series champion, and is a three-time Manager of the Year. Simply put, he’s one of the best that’s ever done it. But his performance last night was more blooper reel than it was wall of fame, and his decisions aren’t about to get any easier tonight or beyond.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

24 Responses to “Jim Leyland Did the Darndest Things”

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  1. well says:

    Wait, how is Leyland a good manager? Just because he has a lot of hardware doesn’t mean that he is a competent manager. The players are the guys that are making the plays. If memory serves, I’ve read on fangraphs or hardballtimes that the manager actually has very little potential positive benefit on the game; he can only really screw his team up with bad roster management, poor bullpen decisions, and ill-advised lineups.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      There are also articles that show the batting order reallyy isn;t all that important either.

      Some articles show how the manager’s decisions handicapped his team, and other articles serve to tell us that managers are meaningless.

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      • well says:

        Batting order counts for several runs (dare I say 10 runs/1 win?) over a season. That may not sound like a lot, but combined with not taking advantage of other market inefficiencies, it DOES matter. When you have a 100+ million dollar payroll, these things should definitely be considered. I sure as heck hope that he is a great intangibles manager that “wills” his team to try their hardest (even that doesn’t make much sense; if a player doesn’t do well then its their contract on the line) and give the proverbial 110%.

        I’m a Detroit fan and Fangraphs reader so the two obviously don’t mix. Detroit is not very saber friendly.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        10 runs / 162 games = .06 runs per game with an optimal lineup vs. average lineup.

        That’s not even considering that a manager uses many lineups over a season, and sometimes will use an optimal lineiup and sometimes won’t.

        I’m also not saying that managers shouldn’t use every advanatage they can possibly get.

        What I am saying is that a logical brain cannot accept both:

        [1] Data that shows the managerial decisions are largely meaningless.

        [2] Numerous articles showing how managerial decisions are severely handicapping their teams chances

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      • Aaron says:

        While I agree with you for the most part here, Circle, I think the conclusion of most manager analysis could be better phrased as “a manager can’t help or hurt much but he can hurt more than he can help.” That’s why you get more articles griping about managerial bad moves than crowing about good ones. Well, that and human nature, I guess.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        What we’re essentially saying is that “According to my spreadsheet* and this stack of statistical studies, the best move is ….”, when we know there may be critical information we are not privy to, cannot currently measure, and/or aspects that much of the data does not address.

        When I say spreadsheet, I literally mean “data”, most likely seasonal data that is a composite of many scenarios. But, in essence it’s a spreadsheet.

        We know that going in, yet we still feel that our conclusion/evaluation is worthwhile, perhaps even totally accurate.

        Again, IMHO, the only reason why we feel confident in doing so is that we’ve convinced ourselves that managers are basically dumb, as are GMs, so any conclusion that shows them in a negative light must be true … hence the standard of proof is far lower than what we would normally accept.

        Jim Leyland is dumb, LaRussa is so arrogant he doesn’t realize how dumb he is, Ron Washington not explanation necessary, Ron Roenicke … moron. So any time their decisions do not work out, well that’s evidence of their stupidity or arrogance. Any time their decisions work out, well that’s lack, randomness, or “baseball” happening.

        I’m not saying that some managers aren’t dumb, but all of em? Even the most winningest managers? Those that manage teams that don’t have every advantage? Those that have managed multiple orgs/teams successfully?

        See how we set up the framework to result in exactly what we’d like it to?

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      • Romodonkulous says:


        I could not agree w/ this post more.

        The biggest mistake being made w/ contemporary black-and-white statistical baseball analysis, is the assumption that one is privy to any and all variables in the equation…which is almost NEVER the case.

        Are SB’s valuable? Maybe…maybe not — in and of themselves — but how does the threat of a SB alter the exchange between pitcher and batter? How does the effect of speed enhance value at certain spots in the lineup, if this is to be considered?

        Just think we’ve gotten into a bad habit of assuming a finite amount of variables that we can observe and/or analyze in a “2-D” manner, as opposed to appreciating the delicate balance between each and every agent of probability change from which most managers inherently incorporate as a means of decision-making.

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    • DodgersKings323 says:

      This is what i was going to say because i’m reading a book that mentions that same thing once again. But we do see these managers make boneheaded moves all the time you can’t help but wonder it is making a difference….

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    • TK says:

      wait, if doing something can really screw things up, doesn’t not doing it really help?

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  2. Brian says:

    Betemit won’t be in the lineup. Kelly will be at 3rd. Either Betemit is hurt or Leyland just doesn’t like him, but he really seems to take advantage of any opportunity to not play him.

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    • Colin says:

      You must have missed his plate appearances at the end of the year and into the postseason. He honestly has looked like he’s intentionally trying to lose games both with his bat and on defense. That’s why he has not been playing. Even Alex Avila and Austin Jackson have looked better at the plate.

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  3. Flip says:

    Betemit’s been swinging the bat terribly. Going with Dirks was a no-brainer.

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  4. JP says:

    I’m also confused by the summary declaration that Leyland is still a good manager.

    Evaluating managers is difficult, as it generally requires this sort of analysis, but spread over several games or even seasons. Simply being the manager for a successful team proves little. Unless we can somehow control for the quality of a manager’s players, win-loss records and playoff wins are pretty much meaningless in evaluating a manager. For all we know, those teams all won despite Leyland, not because of him.

    Maybe Leyland simply had a bad night. Or maybe this is how he manages all the time. (I’m guessing the latter seeing as Austin Jackson has been a mainstay at lead-off).

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    • SC2GG says:

      Perhaps Paul didn’t want to offend Leyland when he read this article and took him off his Christmas Card list.

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      • Ronin says:

        As a follower of the Tigers (cant really say fan since I disagree with so many of their decisions) I can tell you that this is how Leyland always manages. I like his attitude and his demeanor but he pretty much believes in any and all old school/conventional wisdom strategies. I also believe that his success as a manager has more to do with the quality of his teams as opposed to any tactical expertise on his part. The players love him and he keeps a drama free clubhouse so perhaps that adds a few wins to make up for the wins he loses due to poor in-game decisions and a bit too much loyalty to unproductive players.

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  5. SaberTJ says:

    If not Dirks in right late in the game, whom would the Tigers have stuck out there?

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  6. Jon E says:

    You mention that Perry had only pitched in the two blowouts against the Yankees…..but didn’t he record 5-outs in the Tigers 3-2 nailbiter loss on Saturday night to the Rangers? He actually looked okay that night….
    I thought the “no doubles” defense actually hurt him last night. The Michael Young hit to lead things off was a product of Kelly guarding the line. That was an out in the middle innings. Then Beltre hits that liner into centerfield….Jackson seemed to be playing extremely deep….I wonder if he’s at normal depth if that liner finds leather instead of grass. Then Dirks muffs the play, Cruz bashes one deep…..ballgame.

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    • Jon E says:

      Although I would say Detroit’s “No doubles offense” hurt them more than the “No doubles defense”! :-)

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    • Paul Swydan says:

      My fault, I missed that appearance. Still, until last night, his only postseason appearances were when the Tigers trailed.

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    • Drew says:

      The fact that in Albuquerque’s prior two appearances (both ALDS) he’d given up 3 runs and obtained 1 out feels somewhat relevant here. Season stats are important, but in the light of extremely recent performance need to take a backseat.

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  7. CircleChange11 says:

    If Leyland was really ultra old school, wouldn’t Verlander be pitching as often as possible?

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  8. Chris Hannum says:

    Perhaps you did not watch Wilson Betemit humiliate himself on national television in the ninth inning of game 1. I can’t fault a guy for striking out against a reliever as good as Feliz, but his bat was very late and missing where the ball used to be by a good foot. And that was par for the course this October. Personally, I would have left Inge in but there are reasons for Leyland’s decisions, even if some of those reasons seem silly to statheads others (like that one) make a certain kind of sense. Betemit is also a pretty horrible defender, so if he was going to pinch-hit, Dirks would have been used as a defensive substitution anyway.

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