Imagine for a moment. Game 4 of The World Series. The home team is on the verge of sweeping their opponent, it's the bottom of the ninth and they're losing the game 7-4. The odds are against them, but the bases are loaded with two outs, as the next batter steps to the plate. He settles as far back into the batter's box as he can. The count quickly builds to 3-2.
The pitch. He swings and the ball sizzles over the left center field 420' portion of the wall. The crowd goes wild as the home team rushes the field in celebration. The skipper has a grin on his face that won't disappear for years, and a reaction to match. The home team has just won the 2014 World Series on a walk-off grand slam.
The new World Series Champions, the Detroit Tigers. The batter, Miguel Cabrera. The overly elated skipper? First year manager Brad Ausmus. Back in reality this is a dream scenario that the fans envision happening under the best circumstances with an experienced manager. To expect anything remotely similar to this of a brand new manager -- one so new the grass hasn't even dried on his cleats yet -- is a tall order. Yet this is the elusive prize the Detroit Tigers have been aggressively seeking for years now, and they're hungry for a World Series ring.
But so is Brad Ausmus. He made five postseason appearances in 18 years as a player, but he's only been to the World Series once in 2005 with the Houston Astros. As a manager, he has been handed the proverbial keys to the kingdom with one goal, win a World Series.
The young 44-year-old manager may be only three years removed from the playing field, but already he knows what his managerial style is. "One general philosophy is put some pressure on the defense from an offensive standpoint whether it's on the bases, at the plate, but force the defense to make the plays," he says. "Overall putting pressure on the defense, gives you more opportunities to score runs."
Largely because of Ausmus' young age it has been assumed that he would be a strong advocate for the use of sabermetrics. Interestingly, Ausmus is more of an old school skipper; however, that doesn't mean he places no stock in sabermetrics at all.
"There is some value in numbers and when I was a catcher I used some of that stuff in preparing scouting reports to get hitters out," he says. "I think the important thing is you don't want to inundate players with numbers; players want simple pieces of information that they can use to help them get a hit, get a hitter out, win a baseball game.
"But that doesn't mean we won't use some numbers in our decision-making process, whether it involves the lineup or defensive positioning. I just think it's inaccurate to say that I'm a sabermetric guy. I kind of came up, as a player, in the pre-sabermetric era then the sabermetrics kind of took over during the course of my career. So, you know I see the value in it, but I certainly don't live and die by it."
He also knows where and for whom projecting players is most useful, and it's not where you may think. "Well there's value in it but on a day-to-day line-up basis you didn't use that," he stated in reference to his years in the majors. "If you're a general manager, projecting what a guy's going to be able to do over the next two or three years. Whether to give him a multi-year deal, what his age is, how that plays out or how that age is played out in terms of success. From an analytical standpoint I see it, there's probably a little more value in that sense for a general manager than there is for a manager on a day-to-day basis."
Pitchers are notoriously sensitive individuals, so a staff that isn't relaxed because of defensive issues is a recipe for disaster. A breakdown in communication creates a ripple effect that spills into the dugout and back on the playing field, both defensively and offensively. As such, it is one of the reasons Ausmus places such an emphasis on the basics of communication rather than focus on glorified numbers and projections.
"If I have something I want to talk about or a subject that needs to be addressed whether it's a young guy or old guy I'll go directly to them," Ausmus says. "And you know, when you have veteran, Cy Young, MVP-type players who play the game the right way, go about their business the right way, it becomes very difficult for a young player to step out of line."
Ausmus may be a young manager, but his approach draws similarities to Jim Leyland, and that familiarity will allow the Tigers to place their primary focus on training as the regular season approaches. The team already knows Ausmus because he took the time to get to know every member of his team during the off-season. Spring training is only days away, and the new skipper's trial by fire is set to begin, but for now his future looks very bright.