Tigers manager Brad Ausmus does not have the same track record as his president and general manager. There was a lot asked of him in 2014. He had to replace a Hall of Fame manager and guide a veteran roster with World Series expectations back to the promised land only four seasons after his final game as a player. No sweat, right?
Our January approval poll seems to reflect a general feeling of acceptance of the job Ausmus did. Sixty-five percent of voters expressed approval for Ausmus in an intentionally unambiguous poll. Managers incite more polarizing feelings than their front office counterparts and we wanted our poll to be as black-and-white as possible. Or, in this case, navy and orange.
The case for Brad Ausmus (64.6%)
Why do so many approve of Ausmus? Partly because they couldn't say "I don't know" and partly because of the following.
1. He won the division in 2014
Replacing a manager like Jim Leyland and guiding a talented roster to a postseason berth isn't easy. Just look at the mess Bobby Valentine made of the Boston Red Sox in 2012 before their run to the World Series in 2013. The right manager may not add very much, but the wrong manager can take quite a bit away. Ausmus was able to keep the Tigers afloat despite injuries, a leaky bullpen, and a blockbuster trade that changed the make-up of the roster. They withstood a mid-season surge by the Kansas City Royals and even outperformed their pythagorean win expectation by four games.
hillmanchad recognized the unfair expectations Ausmus was taking on when he agreed to terms with the club.
The expectations were extremely high coming off of the 2013 ALDS disappointment. Anything short of a WS title was going to be deemed a failure by a lot of people and those expectations are unfair for a veteran manager, let alone a rookie one.
2. His "faults" may not have been his fault
Ausmus was fortunate enough to inherit a talented roster, but a flawed roster nonetheless. The cracks in the armor were deepened when Bruce Rondon, Andy Dirks, and Jose Iglesias all went down with injuries during spring training. Ausmus had to rely on contributions from Alex Gonzalez, Andrew Romine, and Eugenio Suarez at shortstop. His setup man was a reclamation project that happened to go right for the first four months of the season. He eventually had to rely on Ezequiel Carrera as a substantial part of the outfield late in the season.
There was star power to overcome these deficiencies, but a lot of Ausmus' more questionable managerial moves came out of necessity. If Joe Nathan was not going to close, who was? Deciding between Rajai Davis and Ezequiel Carrera in center field was a no-win scenario. Was he supposed to let Justin Verlander work himself out of trouble -- something he rarely did -- or turn a game over to a leaky bullpen? There didn't seem like a lot of wiggle room for the rookie skipper.
3. It was only year one
Take it away, TigerTom.
He should evolve in his decision-making and in his exercise of clubhouse control in the next year (and, assuming all goes well, the next few years). Last year was a year of on-the-job-training and getting to know personnel, plus allowing them to get to know him. I expect, since evidence point to him as being a fairly bright guy, that he will assimilate the experiences he gains to help him alter his managerial style to incorporate those experiential lessons, and I expect to see some different decision-making than we saw last year.
Neither Ausmus nor Dombrowski will ever admit as much, but there were probably plenty of growing pains in 2014. We may not see a dramatic improvement in 2015, but there will likely be fewer moments of uncertainty from the young manager.
The case against Brad Ausmus (35.4%)
Ausmus' actual disapproval rating may be higher than the poll indicated. There were several reasons why this is the case.
1. He stuck with Joe Nathan for far too long
Part of this is due to a lack of personnel, but Joe Nathan's continued status as closer was a season-long issue for the team. Almost no lead was safe when the 39-year-old right-hander took the mound in the ninth, and a replacement level season was the result.
Patrick was more succinct.
We don’t know what happens in an alternative universe, but his bullpen management was beyond pathetic.
2. He didn't learn as the season went on
jw MctheD was unforgiving when discussing Ausmus' faults.
I refuse to give him credit for the Martinez and Suarez discoveries. He had no choice but to play them and when he did have a choice we stopped seeing Suarez. I also refused to cut him any slack when it comes to the bullpen. He was a major league catcher. For that reason alone, I expect him to know how to use a bullpen much more effectively than he did last year.
Patrick was similarly hard on Ausmus during the playoffs, condemning his usage of Anibal Sanchez and the rest of the bullpen. Ausmus failed to adjust when his relievers struggled and was unable to work Sanchez into enough games to have him ready to shoulder (pun not intended) a heavier workload during the postseason.
3. He's as old school as we feared
When you hire a 44-year-old manager in this age -- let alone one dubbed the "Pitch Framing King" -- you expect a certain amount of progressive thinking. Ausmus' plan to be aggressive on the basepaths was a plus, though it didn't really work. Otherwise, Ausmus was the same stodgy, old school manager that his predecessor was. Rigid bullpen roles and traditional lineup construction were two of his bigger flaws throughout the year, a fact that was not lost on singledigit.
Was hoping for a little more non-conventional thinking.
Well … that’s not true. Was hoping for a LOT more.
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Thanks to everyone who voted and commented on the poll. Feel free to continue your discussion of Ausmus below. We will run another poll as we get closer to the regular season.