It felt more like an act of mercy than anything else.
Miguel Cabrera letting the Tigers faithful off easy, not letting this team tease them any longer with promises of greatness, and letting strike three blow right by him without even a token effort.
And the Tigers were embarrassed again on baseball’s biggest stage.
It could be argued this was even worse than the collapse in 2006, when the favored Tigers were eliminated in five games by a very sub-par Cardinals team. It wasn’t like the Tigers particularly shot themselves in the foot with errors or poor decisions in this latest iteration of the Fall Classic. They were simply thumped by the better team.
It wasn’t that the Giants played all that particularly well, either. Outside of a Game 1 explosion, they won Games 2 and 3 by scoring two runs in both. Of course, the Tigers wasted those great outings by their starting pitching by going scoreless for twenty consecutive innings before Cabrera got a heavily wind assisted pop up to carry into the seats in right field.
Want to know the last time an American League team was held scoreless in consecutive World Series games? Here’s a hint… that AL team was deliberately throwing those games.
You have to go back to the 1966 Dodgers to find a more pathetic showing by a World Series team. It is safe to say that the 2012 Detroit Tigers legacy will be that of the worst American League champion in the history of the game.
Sad thing is that the Tigers weren’t a talentless team. They had a starting rotation deeper than nearly anyone in baseball. They had two of the best bats in the game batting third and fourth. A blossoming All-Star leading off in Austin Jackson.
There was talent on the 2012 American League champions, but it was often wasted or misused.
And that is what needs to change.
It’s rather hard to formulate an argument that a manager needs to go when his team made it to the World Series, but accept that the trip through these playoffs was fool’s gold, a stretch where all the cards fell into place for a team that had barely managed to squeak into the playoffs in the last week. If the Chicago White Sox had played .500 ball in the final week, the Tigers are watching the playoffs from home.
The Tigers have a brilliant opportunity to make the change they desperately must make. Jim Leyland is not under contract for next year. They don’t even need to fire him. They simply don’t need to make an offer.
Because make no mistake, Tigers’ fans, Jim Leyland is the problem, and here’s why…
For Games 3 and 4, Jim Leyland started Quintin Berry in the 2-hole in the lineup. Berry rewarded him by batting a blistering .167 OPS in the World Series.
Morticians view anything under a .300 OPS as legally dead.
Despite starting off scorching hot upon his call up from Toledo earlier in the year, it had become clear that pitchers had figured him out and the huge hole in his swing low and away. Despite an OPS that had been steadily plummeting, and the acquisition of Omar Infante at the trade deadline, Leyland repeatedly inserted Berry in front of his two best hitters.
This is hardly a one-time occurrence. Leyland has spent much of his tenure in Detroit inserting his most struggling hitters in front of his best ones. From Neifi Perez to Brandon Inge to Brennan Boesch to Ryan Raburn, it has been a trend that has handcuffed his offense, killing rallies and often ending innings before Cabrera and Fielder could get at bats with runners in scoring position.
Delmon Young, finding some heat in the playoffs aside, had led the Tigers to 14th in production among AL teams from the 5th slot in the batting order in the regular season.
Yeah, there’s only fifteen teams in the American League.
Yet despite this power outage, if Delmon Young was playing, he was batting fifth, again putting the squeeze on Cabrera and Fielder. An easy out in front of them, no fear of the man behind them… it’s not a secret why the offense that on paper was set to explode instead gained very little traction until October, and a major reason for the necessity of the White Sox collapse to even reach the postseason in the first place.
And that is entirely on the man penciling in the lineup card.
Misuse of the bullpen:
Phil Coke is in many ways a microcosm of the Tigers’ season. Struggling most of the season, catching fire for a short period in October, but petering out just before the finish line.
Coke finished the regular season with a 1.65 WHIP. Among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched, that was good for 349th… out of 368.
Much of it had to do with being horribly misused. At his best, Phil Coke is a lefty specialist; left-handed batters having a very respectable .685 OPS against him. Against right-handed batters, however, he was clocked for a 1.050 OPS against.
To Tigers’ fans, let’s put it this way; when Phil Coke is facing a left-hander, they are Brennan Boesch. When it’s a right-hander, they are Miguel Cabrera.
Despite this glaring platoon split, Leyland frequently called out Coke to handle right handed bats, and it predictably was like tossing gasoline onto a house fire and wondering what happened. And in Game 4 of the World Series, Phil Coke would be the man who gave up the game and series-winning at bat…
… To Marco Scutaro… batting right-handed.
But even that doesn’t even come close to the Jose Valverde debacle.
As the year progressed, it was becoming increasingly obvious that “Papa Grande” was not the same pitcher that he was last season, even if he had a bit of a charmed year. The velocity on his fastball was dwindling, and his out pitch, the splitter, was losing the movement that made it viable. He got through the end of the season on a wing and prayer more than anything else.
By the post-season, Valverde had bottomed out. His fastball was in the low 90’s and his splitter had completely abandoned him. After blowing the save in Game 4 of the ALDS, that should have been it. But Leyland, clinging to the “closer” mantra, sent him out for Game 1 of the ALCS and very nearly cost the Tigers that game as well.
But the biggest travesty was yet to come; in Game 1 of the World Series, where Leyland effectively waved the white flag and sent out Valverde to give up two more runs and set the tone for what would be the biggest embarrassment for the AL in the Fall Classic since the infamous Black Sox.
Yet, neither of the above are even the most compelling reasons for the dismissal of Jim Leyland. Those are yet to come.
The Pittsburgh Pals:
Jim Leyland has surrounded himself with his old friends, many of whom were players or coaches during his time as the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Many of them who are nigh comically incapable and incompetent at their jobs, most notably third base coach Gene Lamont and batting coach Lloyd McClendon.
Lamont has gained the nickname “Green Light Gene” by the fanbase, and that is not a nickname they necessarily use endearingly. His horrible decision making as to when to send and hold runners at third has been long and frequently noted.
And in Game 2 of the World Series, “Green Light Gene” very possibly cost the Tigers the game, and with it any chance of leaving San Francisco with a split. His decision to send Prince Fielder home changed what would have been runners on second and third with nobody out into a deflating inning, and the Tigers would not score for another eighteen innings after that.
But if you want the source of that particular power outage, you need not look any further than Leyland’s former player turned hitting coach.
There’s a reason that until the steroid era, no team with a 40+ home run hitter had won the World Series, because home runs are a very inefficient and ineffective way to score runs. As awe insipiring and momentum changing as they can be, hitting the home run is a very fickle thing that is hard to count on.
Yet, it is McClendon’s stated philosophy that once there are runners on base, that his hitters start swinging for the fences and trying to drive in runs with one big swing. Plate discipline and defensive batting take a back seat to trying to hit that big home run ball.
No clearer was this philosophy in evidence than the bottom of the eighth in Game 4. After a leadoff walk by Avasail Garcia, the next three batters all tried to end the game in one swing. All three of them chased horrible pitches out of the strike zone.
All three struck out, and left another man stranded on base.
These coaches are not going anywhere as long as Jim Leyland is in charge. They’re his buddies, and Leyland will not suffer any suggestion that they be fired or replaced. They will continue to form the crumbling foundation that the Tigers house lists on… unless the Tigers do the right thing and send Leyland packing.
The game has passed him by:
In the last decade, the sabermetrics movement has begun to flourish in baseball. Batting average is slowly being replaced by OPS as the measure for the effectiveness of a hitter. WHIP is supplanting ERA as the gauge for pitchers. RBI is becoming an archaic stat, losing favor in light of Runs Created. Fielding percentage is giving way to Zone Rating.
And through it all, Jim Leyland stubbornly and ignorantly clings to the old school thinking that is becoming increasingly antiquated.
In an interview with the Toledo Blade (which can be read here), Leyland refers to On Base Percentage as “geek stuff.” In an article by Chris Iott of mlive.com (found here), he dismissively scoffs at sabermetrics and WAR specifically, despite the latter’s increasing reputation of correctly gauging the overall value of a player than the methods of the past.
It’s not necessarly the dismissal of “new school thinking” that’s bothersome; not even sabermetric experts can agree on one standard for WAR, for example. It’s the willful ignorance… the unwillingness to even attempt to understand the new metrics that are pushing Leyland further and further from relevance.
He’s a “by the book” manager… using a book that is about two editions out of date.
Jim Leyland had a good run as a manager, make no mistake, and even his tenure as the Tigers manager was hardly a disaster. But if the Tigers are going to finally make it over that final hill, they need a new skipper, one that is ready, and willing, to use all the tools at his disposal to put his players in the best possible positions to succeed.