Leyland abuses Verlander’s arm for no good reason

Jim Leyland before the game:

Zumaya’s right shoulder remains a point of concern. Leyland said Zumaya reported “normal soreness” and indicated that he was able to pitch, but Leyland said that description was “not defined enough for me.”

“I’m not going to have it on my plate that I got Joel Zumaya hurt, getting greedy,” Leyland said. “I’m not going to do it.”

Justin Verlander last night:

  • 7.2 innings
  • 6 hits
  • 5 runs
  • 3 walks
  • 8 strike outs
  • 130 pitches

This is categorically stupid. From an in game management sense, the team was only down two runs and still very much in it. You starter has done his job and worked into the 8th inning. After the Dye double, even if he is still throwing in the high 90’s, get him out of there and bring in a fresh arm. Try and keep the game close. Instead he throws 11 more pitches taking a lofty pitch count to insane. That Lopez finally came in and allowed a single is immaterial.

From a pitching management standpoint it is inexcusable. With last night’s start, Justin Verlander now leads all of baseball in pitcher abuse points. He’s thrown more pitches than any other pitcher in baseball this year. And for what? A 5-1 loss in a season that is already decided? The Tigers just wanted to make sure that all their young pitchers end up on the DL?

It seems that this type of move happens when the manager is on his way out of town.

Ah, the closer by committee

The Tigers are going the route of closer by committee. Sort of. In the sense that Kyle Farnsworth, Fernando Rodney, and Joel Zumaya will all get opportunities there is definitely a committee of people who will be closing games. But it seems as if it will be pre-determined heading into the game – at least tonight when Joel Zumaya will close if the situation presents itself.

I guess what I’d prefer is to just wing it each game. See who is throwing well, and the match-ups coming up in the 9th. And on another note, why not throw Bobby Seay into the mix.

What to make of Jim Leyland

I’ll be honest. I was going to break my rule about swearing on the blog and use some expletives in the title and direct them towards the skipper. His management – or lack of management – in the final inning of today’s debacle was grossly negligent (I’ll hit this more in a minute). But then I read some of his quotes prior to the game and I don’t know what the hell is going on.

Before the game he essentially ripped into his team. He threatened changes for underperformers and under-hustlers. Some highlights from the Det News article:

“I’m getting a little tired of some of these performances. We’ve got to do better. They (players feeling the heat) can get mad at me ’til the cows come home, but I’ve got people on my (tail).

“If I were my boss, I’d be ticked off. That can be a trickle-down effect. If I have to tell people ‘I’m taking you out of the rotation,’ that’s what I’ll do.

“I won’t hesitate to do anything. We’re pretty fair here, I’d like to think. But there’s a difference between effort and production.

“Hustle should never be in question. Running a ball out, running hard, is a no-brainer.”

and he finished with

“But we’ve had some performances that have been terrible. I’ve been disgusted the last few nights. The last few weeks, we had situations where we should have dominated a game and we didn’t come close.

“You’ve got to step it up if you want to be in the hunt. If not, go home and come back next spring training. I’ll bring up some kids to play.

“If you don’t want to grind it out, then start your vacation early.

“We should be embarrassed,” Leyland said, ending his soliloquy. “And I’m not sure enough people are.”

Okay, so he’s pissed. He’s feeling the heat. He wishes all the players felt the same heat. And it’s seems like changes are coming. A fact that was probably accelerated by Fernando Rodney’s performance today. Personally I think we see Casey Fien or a member of the 2008 draft class joining the bullpen. And Nate Robertson better pitch a hell of a game on Tuesday because he’s all out of leash as well.

But back to today’s game. I can’t fault the manager for Kyle Farnsworth allowing 2 homers. I have no problem with Farnsworth being in the game at that point. But the 10th inning was a debacle.

Not being privy to the pregame rant, the fact that Rodney was coming in didn’t seem out of the ordinary. (Although I was pleasantly surprised to see Bobby Seay take the mound to start the inning. It would have really sent a message had Seay been allowed to pitch because – you know – he’s the guy in the pen that isn’t sucking) But when it became quickly apparent that Rodney and the strike zone weren’t going to be compatible where was the action in the bullpen?

This is an inning that started out with a walk. Followed by a HBP when the Rays were trying to give up an out. Followed by a sacrifice. Now here is the most telling and at the same time conflicting decision. With the winning run on second, and an open base, Leyland didn’t order the intentional walk. This is a manager that intentionally walks everyone. Yet he didn’t want to have Rodney pitching with the bases loaded. YET NOBODY WAS WARMING UP.

So of course a walk comes anyways. AND YET NOBODY WAS WARMING UP. You’re now in the situation you wanted to avoid, and you don’t have another arm to go to. Rodney should never have been allowed to pitch to Carl Crawford, or Longoria, or Pena. There is no conceivable reason that Rodney was left in the game.

I don’t want to hear “he’s our closer.” This is a guy that got the job last week and has floundered. This isn’t Rivera/Nathan/Papelbon/Jenks/K-Rod. This is a guy who has the job by default. Go get his ass out of the game if he doesn’t have.

Of course we don’t know Leyland’s reasoning because he decided to not explain himself. Instead going with:

“You guys saw it,” he seethed, stabbing angrily at a plate of food. “Write what you want.”

In that case – You blew it Jim. Farnsworth blew the game. Rodney blew the game. But in the latter case you allowed it to happen. You’re in the unenviable position of having no one you can trust and limited healthy options. But doing nothing was clearly a ridiculous move. Maybe someone else would have let in the Rodney’s mess. But it became clear that Rodney wasn’t going to get out of it on his own. On the day you threaten changes and demand more from your players, you let the fans down, as well as everyone in that clubhouse.

Todd Jones out as closer

Jim Leyland hasn’t been shy about making changes to established roles this season. He quietly announced a big one on the radio pre-game show with Dan Dickerson when he said that Todd Jones is out as closer and Fernando Rodney would primarily assume the role.

It had become clear over the last couple weeks that Jim Leyland was losing confidence in Todd Jones. Leyland announced a couple weeks ago that he was going “to watch him” speaking more about his usage and indicating that Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney would receive some opportunities. In Baltimore he let Joel Zumaya pitch a second inning to try and get the save instead of Jones.

On Friday night Aquilino Lopez was warmed up and at the ready if Jones started to unravel – the type of move Leyland would NEVER make in the past. We all remember a certain game in Cleveland last year where Jones didn’t have it, got hammered, and Leyland refused to get anybody up in the pen. Jones blowing the Friday game after coming so close to securing the win was apparently the last straw.

Even with 2 blow-ups, Rodney has been the Tigers most effective reliever since coming off the DL*. Since June 16th Rodney (and not counting today) has thrown 14 innings and has allowed 8 walks, 10 hits, and he’s fanned 12. Over the same period Todd Jones has thrown 14.1 innings and allowed 22 hits with 2 walks, 4 HBP, and only 4 K’s. (And if you were wondering about Zumaya he’s gone 16.1 innings with 16 hits, 15 walks – ouch, and 16 K’s)

*Actually Bobby Seay probably deserves to hold that title. Over the same span he’s allowed just 6 hits and 6 walks in 12.1 innings with 13 strike outs. Why are the Tigers looking for a lefty reliever?

Rodney is much maligned though among Tigers fans. I attribute it to the fact that he wears his hat crooked. And when he blows up he really blows up. Still he is capable of extended periods of dominance – like 2006 for example. Or even last year after he returned from the DL and allowed all of 3 hits and 4 walks in his first 11 games back while fanning 17.

Now there are questions about this move. Primarily what role does Todd Jones play? He can’t be brought in to tough jams. Does he fill the Aquilino Lopez role of keeping a deficit from expanding, or eating an inning or two with a multi-run spread? And second there has to be concerns about Rodney’s health. He looks great at the moment, but he’s missed big chunks of the last 2 years and a 45 pitch outing today probably isn’t the best strategy.

I like seeing Rodney get the opportunity, and I like the willingness of Leyland to make a move. Stubborn is a difficult tag to hang on the skipper this season in that he’s tried a number of things. I think Rodney will probably fare okay, but be ready for a different type of rollercoaster. Jones would take you through highs and lows in any given outing but would typically get the job done in most outings. Rodney will wow you sometimes and kill you other times. It’s a matter of inter-outing rollercoaster versus intra-outing rollercoaster.

UPDATE: The Detroit News has some audio with Todd Jones. He says all the right things, but the guy is crushed. And yes, he’s struggled and the move is the right one to make, and he’s a professional, and he gets paid millions of dollars, and he’s made some questionable comments in his columns. I know for all those reasons people aren’t supposed to feel sympathy, but I can’t help it. I do.

Willis being mixed into rotation

It’s been a couple weeks since Dontrelle Willis came off the disabled list. He’s made all of one appearance. That will change this week when he splits a start with splits a start with Armando Galarraga.

Willis will pitch the first 4 to 5 innings and Galarraga will pitch the rest. It’s an unorthodox move to be sure.

The fact of the matter is Willis can’t not pitch for the team. To consider Willis a sunk cost 6 innings into a 3 year deal is wildly premature so they have to find a way to work him in. At the same time he needs to work on his control issues and only so much can be accomplished in side sessions. This gives him a chance at an extended outing.

Initially this doesn’t appear to be a permanent move:

“Willis is not taking Galarraga’s place as we speak,” Leyland said. “I’m just trying to figure out a way to get him out there (and) how we need to use him if he eventually is going to move back into the rotation permanently.”

This does effectively reduce the bullpen by a pitcher (which can probably be done regardless). It also means that the Tigers are only carrying one lefty in the pen in the form of Bobby Seay.

McClendon- “batting average is the most overrated statistic”

Hitting philosophy

Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon said runs scored, followed by on-base percentage, are the most important statistics.

“Batting average is the most overrated statistic in baseball,” McClendon said. “Pete Rose told me, ‘When you are scoring runs, you are doing the job.’

I don’t have a lot to comment on here, but I thought the quote was very noteworthy and that it would make sabermetricians smile.

Earlier in the season we saw that the Tigers were being more patient than they had ever been, and it looked to be a philosophical shift. But with the offense sputtering they’ve gone a little more aggressive (or are being pitched more aggressively) and the walks have gone down.

In April the Tigers were walking 4.36 times per game and the team had a .261 batting average and .355 OBP. In May the walks per game dropped to 2.58 and while the team batting average is now .266, the OBP is down to .336.

Shuffling the deck and rehab news

A cornucopia of Tigers news that has come out today. Jim Leyland is prepared to make some changes, even if it means hurting some feelings. The skip says:

“So I’m going to change some things around here and see what happens. I think that’s important. As I said, I don’t know if it’s going to work. I don’t know if it’s going to make people angry, but that’s the way it goes.

“I don’t mean for this to sound negative, I don’t mean it that way, but this isn’t about feelings. It’s beyond worrying about egos. This is about doing the job. I’m going to try some stuff.

“We have a great group of guys and I think they’ll understand. They might not agree with it, but the manager has to do what he thinks is best for the team. If this team is what I think it is, they’ll go along with it.

“We have to get it rolling somehow,” Leyland said. “I’m not really a 40-game guy, or a June 1 guy, but you can’t just sit there when it’s not working.

“My general manager has given me a hell of a team here. I haven’t really coached it to the right flow. But I’m not going to sit still. I don’t want to be patient to a fault.”

One thing you can’t accuse Leyland of this season is being complacent. He’s shuffling batting orders, moving people aroudn the diamond defensively, giving pitchers different roles in the pen. The hope is that something sticks. Some of the moves coming out are:

Miggy drops to 6th

Jim Leyland dropped Miguel Cabrera to the sixth spot in the lineup. I have to believe that this move is more psychological that strategic. Let me rephrase that. I believe that the implications of this move will be more psychological than strategic.

Lineup configuration has a pretty limited impact on run scoring. Cabrera hasn’t put up his typical numbers, but has still been an offensive force. He has struggled with RISP to the tune of a 639 OPS. If there is a thought that he’s pressing, perhaps moving him down will take pressure off of him to drive in runs. I don’t really believe any of that and chalk it up more to sample size issues. I’m somewhat supported in this because he has a .903 OPS with men on.

Still odd that Cabrera is productive and gets moved from 5th to 6th while Sheffield was allowed to flounder at the 3 spot.

Rotation flip-flop

With the off day yesterday Leyland is flipping Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers in the rotation. I’m guessing the move is 2-fold. First, Rogers struggled a little in his last start against the M’s. He allowed 8 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs in 5.1 innings on May 21st. Second, Rogers is a Cy Young pitcher in Oakland. In 45 career starts he is 25-4 with a 3.46 ERA.

Supposedly there is another move coming with the pitching staff.

Rodney and Zumaya news

The news out of Lakeland is encouraging for Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney. Both will be embarking on rehab assignments soon. Rodney is likely heading to Toledo while Zumaya will stay in Lakeland to start.

I’d guess that Rodney is probably a week or two away if he is heading to the Mud Hens. But given his problems last year and this year, I’d still be surprised if he made it through the rest of the season.

Regardless, barring setbacks both would be joining the Tigers within a month or so because a rehab assignment can only last 30 days.

Unintentional Consequences

As I watched intentional walks by Tigers pitchers lead to runs on both Sunday and Monday this week, it seemed to be an all to familiar story. It seemed that the Tigers strategy of intentional walks was failing with remarkable regularity. So I went back to each of the 19 IBB’s the Tigers issued (that’s what happens on west coast trips when I’m up late) to see how they fared.

The table below has all the gory details: Continue reading Unintentional Consequences

Thoughts on Jones and the lineup shuffle

Isn’t it something that we waited and waited to get the anticipated lineup together. First Granderson was injured, and then Sheffield and Polanco. And then everyone was set to come back and Carlos Guillen missed a couple games. Finally, on April 27th the 1000 run lineup took the field. And 8 days later on May 8th it’s been altered because it just wasn’t working. In that 8 day span was an off day and a sweep of the Yankees. Part of me can’t help but think it’s a little bit of an overreaction.

Now the Jacque Jones dismissal is a smart move and I applaud the relative swiftness of it. The Tigers gave him a month to do something, and it just didn’t happen. And this was with Jones facing almost exclusively right handed pitching. He only had 4 plate appearances against lefties, all of which result in strikeouts. His arm was as bad as advertised and Leyland respected his defense so little that he was always lifted for Ryan Raburn in late innings. If you can’t play defense and you can’t hit and you’re track record is marginal there is little to contribute and little reason to expect it to change. Jones amassed 5 line drives in his very brief Tigers career.

As for the “drastic” lineup move I hardly consider the swap of Carlos Guillen and Gary Sheffield to be drastic. The more drastic move is Gary Sheffield assuming left field duties. Sheffield had surgery to repair a torn labrum which you’d think would inhibit his throwing ability. But even odder is that the DH rotation will be between Sheffield and Ordonez.

Ordonez is an average fielder, and hardly a liability. There is talk about his bad knees, but in actuality he has 1 surgically repaired knee. The injury hasn’t appeared to be chronic and he isn’t as close to DH-dome as many make him out to be. While the semi-rest is probably a good thing, it does nothing to help the infield defense. An area of concern that could be remedied by rotating DH duties to Carlos Guillen (who does have bad knees) and Miguel Cabrera.

So like the Guillen-Cabrera switch, this realignment seems to be a reactionary move that solves little. The move was at Sheffield’s request because he thinks he can focus better by playing the field. That may be the case, but if he’s not healthy the focus part won’t make a big difference. Like Lee, I’m skeptical that it will result in an increase in his numbers.

Leyland to make drastic change to lineup

Following last night’s game a frustrated Jim Leyland suggested that he “might shake up the lineup a little bit” for Sunday’s game. He did just that with Sheffield getting the day off and Miguel Cabrera assuming the third spot in the order. But more changes are a-coming starting on Monday. Changes so drastic that Leyland suggested they might be termed drastic.

Now in Jason Beck’s blog he indicated that there wouldn’t be changes in personnel, meaning that Jacque Jones will continue to flail away at the bottom of the order. But aside from that, what could these dramatic changes be?

Shuffling Sheffield, Ordonez, Cabrera, and Guillen would probably be noteworthy, but hardly dramatic. With Pudge Rodriguez and Jones hardly distinguishing themselves at the bottom of the order, it’s not like they would be deserving of a more prominent role. That would probably be more shocking than dramatic. And I have to believe that Placido Polanco is firmly entrenched in the 2-spot.

That leaves me with this thought for the dramatic move. Gary Sheffield to lead-off and Curtis Granderson to the middle of the order. That would certainly count as dramatic, and there would be some logic behind it as well.

Sheffield’s power is lacking. Whether it is age, or injury, or slump he has not been able to drive in runs. But, he hasn’t been totally unproductive with a .340 OBP. He sees a lot of pitches, and when he gets on he’s a smart baserunner. And if you’re wondering if Sheffield has ever hit leadoff before, well he has but only in 10 games. Plus it takes Sheffield out of the 3 hole without significantly disrespecting him.

Meanwhile Curtis Granderson established himself as an extra base machine. The quad-20 trick aside, Granderson gets on base and he does it with power. Plus depending on the sequencing the lefty-righty match-ups in the middle of the order could make things more difficult on opposing managers.

So that’s the move I’m looking for. It would qualify as dramatic and it makes sense. Of course Leyland’s lineups don’t necessarily make sense so maybe Timo Perez will be your new clean-up hitter.

When managers attack: Part II

With the Tigers struggling the first two weeks, there has been a lot of grumbling that manager Jim Leyland needs to light into the team. Well, Mount Leyland erupted following today’s game.

Leyland had previously downplayed such a tactic saying that it can’t be a show. It has to be something that is real and genuine. As I watched today’s debacle, specifically the Zach Miner sequence that involved an intentional walk, followed by a wild pitch, followed by an unintentional walk, followed by a grand slam I wondered to myself how could Leyland not muster up the necessary vitriol. Not that Zach Miner deserved to be the sole recipient, it’s not like the team was even in the game up to that point. It was just a glaring manifestation of the poor play that has overtaken this team.

Details of the rant are scant but it sounds like Leyland and the players have been doing some soul searching.

“We look bad,” he admitted Sunday. “You always feel from a manager’s standpoint that you’re not pushing the right buttons. Are you saying the right things? You beat yourself up harder than anyone else. You ask yourself whether you’re doing something different from what you did the last two years.”

We all remember in 2006 when Leyland went off on the team following a lackluster effort on get-away day against the Indians. It was credited with propelling the team forward. My own take is that the rant probably played a small role, but a come from behind win against the A’s a couple days later was the bigger factor. Still, with the last two games coming on top of a 7 game skid to start the season, something or anything is needed. And let’s pray it works. It’s the kind of tactic that you can’t go to over and over again.

One lineup question answered

One of the few mysteries for Tigers fans to debate this spring is the batting order. The players that will comprise that lineup have long been identified, but their positioning has a few questions. One of those was answered today with the announcement that Ivan Rodriguez will bat 8th. Does that make sense for the Tigers, or does it even matter. We’ll turn to the lineup optimizer to see what we can find out.

If you go with the theory that the team’s worst hitter should bat 9th (and it’s not really a strongly contested theory), then it would seem Pudge should bat 9th. He’s the best bet on the team to post a sub .300 OBP, and therefore the team’s most prolific out maker. But there is also the issue of the fact that Rodriguez is a Hall of Famer and a very proud player.

Using Pinto’s lineup tool, I plugged in the PECOTA weighted mean projections for each of the regulars in the Tigers lineup. I assumed Jones as the left fielder, even though Thames will get his share of at-bats in a platoon. Rodriguez was commonly slotted in the 8th spot in the optimal lineups which would score about 5.3 runs per game. So maybe Leyland is a fan of the tool as well? As an aside the RPG number is less than some earlier forecasts, as PECOTA isn’t as big a fan of the Tigers lineup as some other systems.

We know that Granderson, Polanco, and Ordonez will assume their same spots in the order. We also know that Carlos Guillen will bat 6th. That leaves Cabrera and Sheffield to bat either 3rd or 5th and Renteria and Jones to fill out the 7th and 9th spots. I played with each combination and the results are below.

2008lineups.JPG

Essentially it makes very little difference how those remaining spots shake out. That’s not to say there aren’t some things Leyland is likely considering. With Pudge batting 8th, it means that he’ll have back to back left handers in either the 6-7 positions for 9-1 positions. My guess is that Jones bats 7th because Carlos Guillen’s ability to switch hit will prevent an opposing manager from doubling up with a left hand reliever. Plus Leyland frequently batted Guillen and Casey back to back last year. Conversely, Marcus Thames coming off the bench could provide such a deterrent in a 9-1 scenario as well.

As for Cabrera and Sheffield, Henning thinks that Shef will get the 3 spot. My inclination is to think Cabrera should get it, for the simple reason he’s a safer bet to put up the better numbers.

Aside from the lefty-righty staggering, the most important thing is to keep everyone happy. I know it’s foreign for a stat-guy like myself to advocate those “softer” human issues. However, given that there is so little difference in expected output, shiny happy productive players will help to insure that the most comes from the lineup.