This season, Jim Leyland seems to embody the phrase "I'd rather be lucky than good." In the first game against the Boston Red Sox last night, Leyland tried to throw the game away, but a little luck in the form of a bottom-of-the-ninth Jhonny Peralta home run gave his Tigers the win.
In just his second career major league start, Jose Alvarez gave up 2 earned runs on 5 hits, walked 2, and struck out 3 in 5 innings. Not too shabby against the team that's leading the AL in runs scored.
However, as so often happens this season, Leyland's bullpen choices gave the lead away after a gem of a performance by the starting pitcher. In the top of the 8th inning Phil Coke stayed on (after striking out left-hander Jacoby Ellsbury in the top of the 7th) with the score tied 2-2. He walked right-handers Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia, which gave David Ortiz the opportunity to score Victorino on a ground-ball single to right field, putting the Red Sox up 3-2 before Drew Smyly was given the ball to clean up Coke's mess.
What seems obvious to everyone watching the game, but escapes Leyland's management, is that Coke should be a strict LOOGY. Striking out Ellsbury in the 7th and leaving the game would have been the perfect use of Coke. Instead, Leyland left him in to allow two righties to get on base and allowed Ortiz, who is batting .310 on the season and already had a home run on the night, to drive in one, giving the lead to the Red Sox.
Although the Coke conundrum is obvious, let's break down the numbers. Lefties facing Coke have a .243 OBP against Coke. Good, right?On the other hand (pun intended), righties have a .383 OBP against him. This is like comparing Bryan Holaday (OBP .250) to Prince Fielder (OBP .384). Every time Coke faces a right-handed hitter, it's like facing Prince Fielder. This needs to stop.
Detroit devotees know that the Tigers have had trouble scoring runs in the last third of games this season, and they needed a ninth-inning rally last night. This is where Leyland found his luck. After a Victor Martinez walk, Jhonny Peralta homered on a line drive to left field, giving the Tigers their second walk-off victory all season.
Jhonny Peralta is not lucky; he's been consistently great all season (.329/.385/.496). The luck came from Victor Martinez, who certainly isn't having the year he had in 2011. He's batting .226 and has a .279 OBP, and he strikes out more than he walks (.667 BB/K). By Martinez getting on base, it allowed Peralta to win the game. If Martinez had gotten out, it would have been the 7th and 8th hitters due up after Peralta (Dirks, .240 & Infante, hitting an inconsistent .306).
At a certain point, Leyland's loyalty to certain players (Coke, Valverde, Kelly) becomes less endearing and more disrespectful to the team as a whole and to the fans. Does anyone think that Detroit's starters--who are among the best individual pitchers in the major leagues, no matter how you look at it (Here's proof)--want Coke or Valverde closing the game for them?
In a long season, there are bound to be games that come down to luck. But if the Detroit Tigers are to have the season they're hoping for, Leyland will have to start relying on some common sense as well.