One of the few things which has driven me slowly insane about Jim Leyland during his tenure is his steadfast refusal to adjust the batting order. His batting orders aren't written in ink, but carved in stone tablets. It didn't matter if there was a left or right hand pitcher on the mound., who was smoking hot or badly slumping or if a regular needed to be rested and his backup believed wood should never touch horsehide, the batting order was never, ever to be adjusted.
Last night, things changed for the better.
Every one of Delmon Young's 92 starts had him 5th in the batting order. For his 93rd start, Young was bumped to 6th, Brennan Boesch was slotted as the number 5 hitter. Say what you about Boesch being the player batting behind Prince Fielder or 1 game sample sizes, you can't argue with the results.
In their 7-5 victory over the Red Sox, Boesch had an RBI single and Young 2 hits, one an 8th inning home run giving the Tigers a needed insurance run. Who knew adjusting your batting order according to whom you're facing on a given night would work!
After the game, Leyland decreed the move official. When a right-hander is on the mound, Boesch will bat 5th in the order. Even an MLB war-horse like Leyland has seen the light.
Jim Leyland going with a more flexible batting order? Jim Leyland no longer insisting on alternating left hand and right hand bats, putting the left-handed Fielder and Boesch back-to-back? Shows an old dog can learn new tricks, even with a pennant stretch run looming.
It may have taken 4 months for it to sink in, but Leyland has made a lineup change which should help the Tigers over the final 2.
My go-to example for Leyland's refusal to make batting order adjustments is Clete Thomas circa 2009. When long-established number 3 hitter Maggilo Ordonez was either injured or sitting due to his prolonged mid-summer slump (remember the controversy over his contract vesting?), Thomas usually played in his stead. But rather than adjust the batting order, Leyland would just plug the light hitting Thomas in the 3 spot. He was setting up Thomas to fail.
What did Thomas do in 183 plate appearances in the 3 slot? Hit .200 with a .597 OPS. I'm the somewhat proud owner of a Clete's Cult t-shirt, yet I'm still flabbargasted Thomas was a number 3 hitter in 57 games, 39 of those starts, on a pennant contending team. A team, which all painfully know, missed the playoffs by 1 lousy game (A game I've tried to erase from memory).
It was absolutely ridiculous Leyland used the light-hitting Thomas so high in the order in 2009, and it's just as ridiculous the oft-struggling, maddeningly frustrating Young has spent the entire 2012 season swing at any and all pitches while batting behind Fielder. It was past time someone else had the opportunity to hit behind one of baseball's elite sluggers.
As for why Boesch is being moved up in the order? He can be as hair-pullingly frustrating as Young, but since July 1st, Boesch has an .850 OPS and is slugging .524. Young is at .744 and .450 over the same stretch. If you can find a better perfroming bat somewhere within the Tigers' disappointing 5-9 hitters, name him. (Uh, Jim? Jhonny Peralta hasn't exactly been chopped liver as of late...)
Regardless of who ends up batting behind Fielder, this isn't off the wall, wacky strategy. Just common sense. If juggling the lineup according to pitching matchups can help get the offense jump-started, you do it.
Leyland has, and it's not a moment too soon.