Like many Tiger fans, I have some basic philosophical differences with Jim Leyland's management style, including some of the moves he made during the hard fought victory in Yankee stadium that clinched the League Division Series. I'd have left Doug Fister in for another inning. I'd have let Max Scherzer finish off the seventh inning, rather than have Joaquin Benoit pitch multiple innings. I'd have put Dirks in left field in place of Ryan Raburn when Delmon Young tweaked an oblique. I'd never have had Kelly bunt with no outs early in the game, let alone bunt with two strikes In fact, I'd have left Fister, Porcello, and Scherzer in for at least a while longer when Leyland pulled them in three different starts in this series.
I did post about half an hour before the lineup was announced that I'd have Kelly at third and Maggs in right. Lo and behold, Leyland's lineup was written to my specs. What I didn't say (to be honest with you, as Leyland often says) is that I'd have batted Magglio second and Kelly down in the order. But hey, I'm not hard to please with the lineups once Ryan Raburn is not playing anywhere in the infield.
It's all just philosophical for the most part. I would leave well enough alone and not make a change to get a better match up, especially a pavlovian lefty/ righty match up when there's an effective pitcher on the mound. I'm never going to agree with Leyland on these moves and he is going to keep on making them. Well, the bottom line is that the the Tigers won. Benoit twice got the job done in multiple innings. The bullpen imploded twice after the starter being pulled early, but they still won the series.
In the bigger picture, I think that a lot of fans and media still tend to over value managerial moves such as these in the grand scheme of things. Managers don't win and lose games, players do. Just as there is too much focus on a catcher's numbers at the plate, when 90% of his value is behind the plate, I think that the lion's share of a manager's job is to get the most out of his players, and nobody does that better than Jim Leyland. No players on the Tigers have any doubts about what their roles are, or what is expected of them. Nobody has any doubt about who is the boss. Every player on the Tigers will go to the mat for Leyland because he will go to the mat for them. Everyone knows where they stand.
Leyland's biggest fault, I think, is too often trusting players that are not up to the task. If there is a flaw in the roster, his managing style will find it and expose it in a painful way. My take is that Dave Dombrowski needs to make his roster "Leyland proof" in order to be successful. He won't alter his management style and use a 20 man roster to get through the season. Everyone has their role to play in Leyland's grand scheme, and play they will.
This is where the job that Dave Dombrowski has done this season really shines. The Tigers reached the All Star break with a top five lineup (in runs scored) and a bottom five pitching staff in runs allowed. Both the bullpen and the rotation were in the bottom five in the league in ERA as a group. The rotation was surviving on solid run support, relatively weak opposition in the division, and a back end of the bullpen that saved the game every single time that they were given the ball with a lead after the seventh inning, and 84% of the time after the sixth inning. The back end of the Tiger pen was the best in the league, thanks to two free agents signed by Dombrowski over the past two years.
The glaring weaknesses on the Tiger roster were in the rotation, in the middle relief in the pen, and also at the top of the batting order. DD went out and acquired Doug Fister, who went a cool 9- 1 as a Tiger, allowing the move of Phil Coke to solidify the bullpen. Coke did not allow an earned run for the month of August, and was rock solid down the stretch as the Tigers destroyed their division rivals. He also picked up Delmon Young to replace the fading Magglio Ordonez in the 3 spot, allowing Magglio to fill a part time role where he absolutely thrived, hitting over .400 in September.
Dombrowski's record of signing free agents is stellar to the extent that he uses Mr. Ilitch's check book to improve the team. You don't see any free agent busts on the Tigers like you do on other clubs (just some really bad contract extensions). Specific needs are targeted and filled. But what we have not seen until this season is the kind of deadline trades that have filled the team's needs. These moves collectively make DD the executive of the year, and I think it isn't even close this season. Moreover, I don't think it was just luck, although nobody including DD could have predicted the level of Fister's success with the Tigers. Dombrowski gave Coke a shot at starting and when it didn't work out, he knew he had some payroll flexibility, something that his division rivals didn't have, to get what was needed to put the team over the top.
I questioned the four year contract extension for DD at the time it was announced. I believed, as I still do, that his track record alone did not justify a four year extension. But I like how the team is set up going forward. Mike Ilitch held out on DD and Leyland, rather than giving them blind loyalty, until things were in place and setting up nicely in the second half of this season. The Tigers' future looks bright from my view. We have an owner committed to winning who is willing to spend. We have a General Manager who makes good trades and good free agent signings, and a manager that gets the most out of his players. We also have a good crop of young players and a mix of solid veterans. There are still holes in the team, it could be further Leyland proofed, but nothing that can't be addressed in the off season. Now, if we could just sit them down and go over the value of on base percentage and win probability added with a runner on base and no outs, we'd be all set.