The Tigers are off to a quick 8-1 start to the season with Brad Ausmus at the helm for his second season as a manager. They’ve flashed brilliance in each and every facet of the game thus far, showing a vast improvement defensively and on the basepaths. Perhaps that is a testament to the way in which GM Dave Dombrowski assembled this team or maybe credit should be given to the players, but a strong argument exists that the sophomore manager’s philosophy and leadership has contributed to the hot start as much as anything else.
Over the offseason we asked how you felt about Ausmus’ first season. The vote came in with a 65 percent approval rating, not bad for a rookie in such a dissected profession. Ausmus received much criticism for his management of the bullpen in 2014, and while it’s true that he wasn’t given much talent to work with, the Tigers were still expected to avoid being one of the worst bullpens in the league.
Specific complaints included sticking with a struggling Joe Nathan for far too long -- the entire season, to be precise -- as well as failing to get Joakim Soria and Anibal Sanchez more meaningful appearances late in the season and into the playoffs. His reliance on strictly defined and followed roles may have gained some favor among the players (we’ll never know for sure), but it also bit him on more than one occasion when a pitcher was unable to perform the duties given to him.
On the other hand, the Tigers did manage to win the American League Central yet again, despite battling significant injuries to several key players. There were plenty of bright spots in Ausmus’ first season as well, such as a hole at the shortstop position that was sufficiently plugged in an unexpected, MacGyver-esque fashion. Breakout seasons -- such as the ones from J.D. Martinez and Rick Porcello -- are usually attributed entirely to the player, but some amount of credit should also be given to the coaching staff.
More recently, Ausmus has quietly overseen this not-so-quiet start to the season. While many criticized him for being too traditional last season, he has shown some willingness to use more modern strategies this season. During spring training Ausmus said that he was open to the idea of batting Alex Avila second in the lineup, and even did so in exhibition games, showing an understanding that on-base percentage is just as important at the top of the lineup as hits and stolen bases. He has effectively deployed lefty-righty platoons in center field and at the catcher position, and he’s even shown some flexibility in his bullpen usage since losing Nathan to the disabled list.
It's still very early in the season, and in Ausmus' managing career. Still, we have more information than we did a few months ago, so let's reassess our opinions of him.