As a so-called "smart" baseball writer*, I know that a manager only impacts a handful of games in a baseball season. I know that the difference between even the best and worst managers in baseball is maybe one or two wins. A great roster can make a bad manager look good, and vice versa. The scorn that a manager receives for a single decision during a game is often blown way out of proportion. As the saying goes, every other manager in baseball would have made that same move.
That said, I wish the Tigers would have hired Lloyd McClendon.
The Tigers saw McClendon's influence on a roster this past weekend, as the Seattle Mariners stormed into Comerica Park and took two of three games despite their ace's worst performance since May. The series win -- their fourth in a row -- vaulted the Mariners into the second AL wild card slot by half a game. The Mariners are already four victories away from matching last season's total.
Or, as Lookout Landing put it after Friday's game:
I get all that. I'm excited too. But casting tonight's win as reclamation of the last wild card spot reflects a reality that only lasts for about 12 more hours. Imagining this (continued!) offensive performance as indicative of a now-elite club ignores regression and even just dumb bad luck that could tank the rest of the season. Proudly exclaiming that the Mariners are eleven games above .500 for the first time since 2007 is...woah, wait, 2007? Holy shit, I'm ready for the fucking playoffs.
There's a good chance that McClendon has little (if anything) to do with the Mariners' success. They added the best second baseman in baseball to their roster last offseason. Their pitching staff currently has the best team ERA in over 30 years. Their young players are progressing, though maybe not as quickly as their fans would like. Their GM has seemingly regained a lost touch for finding and acquiring talent at a discount (see: Jackson, Austin).
But damn it all if that team doesn't feel like the 2006 Tigers. The same Tigers that Jim Leyland tore into after a listless end to a road series in April. Courtesy of Billfer:
Yeah we stunk period. We stunk and that’s not good enough. This stuff has been going on here before and it’s not going to happen here. We had a chance to take a series. I’m not talking about anyone in particular. I’m talking about the team, myself, the coaches, and everybody else included. It’s my responsiblity to have the team ready to play today, and they weren’t ready to play. They were ready to get on the plane and go to Oakland. If they won it was okay and if they lost it was okay. That’s not good enough.
Leyland's rant, a seemingly season-changing moment, is now part of Tigers lore. Like the 2014 Mariners, those Tigers won with strong pitching, a couple of high-priced veterans, and a fair amount of good luck. Oh, and a certain base-thieving hothead on the coaching staff.
Comparing McClendon's impact on his current team to the 2014 Tigers is an apples-to-oranges comparison. McClendon's Mariners are the upstart squad that hasn't won anything in years. These Tigers are World Series contenders, complete with a fanbase that expects nothing short of perfection. But with McClendon on the staff throughout Leyland's successful tenure in Detroit, it's easy to see how seamless the transition could have been.
Some of this discontent falls on the current manager, and it's anyone's guess as to whether he has had any impact on the team's current slide. Are the players happy in the clubhouse? Is Ausmus' decision-making being questioned? We have no flipping clue. But hindsight is 20/20, and it sure seems like McClendon is having the better go of things right now.
*The assertion that I'm a "smart" baseball writer (or even smart in general) is up for debate, but at least I know what FIP and wOBA are.