Leyland gives us something to talk about

Jason Beck has been all over the Winter Meetings. Today he’s got some Jim Leyland nuggets that warrant some discussion.

The leadoff spot

So the Tigers don’t have a prototypical leadoff hitter, or at least prototypicaly in the sense that most people think of leadoff hitters: fast guys who steal bases, bunt, and don’t strike out a lot and don’t hit for power. Many view Juan Pierre and his 330 OBP last year as perfect. But I digress. The point of this is that Jim Leyland is talking about Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, and Ivan Rodriguez to be the leadoff man.

Granderson is a logical choice because he held the post last year, and he’s the closest to that qualification for fast. Polanco is fine as that pesky guy who will always put the ball in play. The name that will raise eyebrows is Pudge Rodriguez. The same Pudge that more than doubled his walk total from 2005 by picking up 26 free passes.

But I don’t think this is a bad thing to try. Pudge led off in 3 games in 2006, and drew 3 walks. Three games is of course and insufficient sample, but when placed into that role he seemed to make a concerted effort to see more pitches. I don’t know how likely it is that he would be successful in the role, but if it helps him improve his plate discipline the Tigers will benefit.

Marcus Thames at first

Leyland wants to give Thames a shot at first base. I think this is a wonderful idea. After all, first base is often a last option for defensively challenged players. The upside is that Thames is passable defensively, and you have quite the platoon partner for Casey. You also keep Thames on the team. You also keep Santiago/Perez from being Casey’s injury replacement (by extension of course when Guillen moves from short to first). It certainly wouldn’t help Chris Shelton’s cause, but Shelton has an option year left. Thames doesn’t.

Omar in the outfield

Leyland also said that Omar Infante will most likely be the backup centerfielder barring a trade. Infante is athletic enough to pull it off, and any indication that Leyland sees a role for Infante is a positive.

Leyland down the law

As I begin to delve into the merits of various players on the roster, I began to consider how much impact Jim Leyland has on the decisions. While it makes sense he would have a say, his impact probably stretches beyond what happens in organizational meetings. Continue reading Leyland down the law

The Lineup Shuffle – or deck chairs on the Titanic?

Do the Tigers need to change their lineup? Jim Leylandis certainly considering it. The lineup question was one I was going to pursue yesterday before I ran out of time. Last night’s 3 single effort certainly has stirred the pot to the point of action.

The obvious problem with the Tigers lineup is that their best hitter, Carlos Guillen, is hitting 5th instead of the more conventional third. It hasn’t bothered me too much as I rationalize that it helps clean-up hitter Magglio Ordonez see better pitches, and Ordonez was better at getting on base than the 1 & 2 hitters late in the season.

But with Ivan Rodriguez hitting behind Guillen, guy who is hitting the worst in the lineup is behind the guy who is hitting the best. Guillen won’t get anything to hit, and a walk won’t help much if a 4-6-3 double play is right around the corner.

If it were up to me, tonight’s lineup would be Granderson-Polanco-Guillen-Ordonez-Monroe-Casey-Rodriguez-Inge-Bonderman. And really Monroe and Casey could be flipped. Both have showed signs of life this series

Now Leyland will probably make a change tonight, but it won’t be that drastic. It may just be moving Polanco to 2nd and Casey to 3rd dropping Monroe down to Casey’s slot. It’s a lineup that Leyland is comfortable with, but it won’t address the problem of having Guillen and Pudge paired.

Now the funny thing is that it takes a game like last night’s to prompt the change. In all reality the lineup order last night made no difference. There’s no way to optimize a lineup that produces 3 baserunners all night.

UPDATE: Via Danny Knobler tonight’s lineup: Granderson cf, Monroe lf, Guillen ss, Ordonez rf, Casey 1b, Rodriguez c, Polanco 2b, Inge 3b, Bonderman p.

I can certainly buy into this lineup. Guillen is between guys who might do something positive, and he’s also between 2 righthanders which may discourage the use of a lefty reliever to turn him around.

World Series Rotation

As reported in the comments here, and on Kurt’s blog, Jim Leyland has set his playoff rotation. It will be Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, and Jeremy Bonderman.

I like that Rogers is set up to pitch twice in Comerica Park. I like Nate Robertson taking the first start on the road.

I’m not a big fan of Bonderman being the guy to pitch just once in the series. He’s been second only to Kenny Rogers in the postseason while Justin Verlander has struggled in his 2 starts. He has allowed 19 baserunners and 3 homers in 10 2/3 innings. He survived against the Yankees and the offense picked him up against the A’s. As for his success against the Cardinals lineup, over 29 at-bats they have an OPS of 911 against them.

This also makes it very likely that Verlander will pitch twice in this series. That’s fine if it is a matter of circumstance, like if your team was pushed to 7 games and you have to go with who is most rested. The Tigers had the luxury of avoiding that and chose not to.

Now as I’ve said before each series, I don’t think the rotation will matter a great deal because it is quite balanced. I just don’t understand why Leyland would put the struggling rookie in this situation. Perhaps he thinks that the Cardinals will be just so fatigued it won’t matter. Or perhaps the advance scouts – who seem to have done an excellent job in the postseason – have seen something that indicates that Verlander would have the most success.

Any rotation would cause second guessing. And to a large extent Jim Leyland has earned the benefit of the doubt. Starting with Verlander just seems like a strange choice to this blogger.

UPDATE: The Cardinals named their rotation. It will be Anthony Reyes-Jeff Weaver-Chris Carpenter-Jeff Suppan

The big inning – that almost wasn’t

Yesterday the Tigers put the game out of reach early with a monstrous 9 run 2nd inning. But that inning almost didn’t happen. In fact, Jim Leyland tried to keep that inning from happening. Here is what transpired:

1. Craig Monroe led off the inning with a double down the line.

2. Brandon Inge was called on to sacrifice bunt. Essentially giving away an out to advance Monroe to 3rd, or playing for 1 run rather than for runs. Fortunately for the Tigers Brandon took the first pitch, and was drilled by the 2nd. Now there are runners on 1st and 2nd.

3. Omar Infante is now called on to sacrifice bunt, giving up an out to move runners into scoring position in the 2nd inning. Infante got the bunt down, but the Royals couldn’t field it cleanly and everyone was safe.

Now with the bases loaded the bunt was taken out of the equation. For the rest of the inning the Royals would be forced to earn their outs. In doing so the Tigers managed to push 9 runs across.
Continue reading The big inning – that almost wasn’t

Tigers Rotation Shuffle

According to Danny Knobler, it looks like Jim Leyland is using the 2 off days this week to realign the rotation for the Chicago series. Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander will pitch in the Texas series. Instead of going with Wil Ledezma and Nate Robertson the first 2 games of the Orioles series, Jeremy Bonderman will be moved up. Because the Tigers are off on today and Thursday, Bonderman will be on his regular rest.

Presuming that Nate Robertson doesn’t have lingering effects from the line drive to the ribs, he’ll get the nod on Saturday followed by Ledezma on Sunday.

That leaves Kenny Rogers, Justin Verlander, and Bonderman to face the White Sox.

Now earlier in the season, the Tigers went to Minnesota to face a Twins rotation that was stocked specifically to match-up with the Tigers. Leyland kept his rotation intact and left Zach Miner to face Francisco Liriano (which worked out okay). So is Leyland feeling the pressure now with a rapidly shrinking lead?

Tiger links and such

  • Management by Baseball commends Jim Leyland from a management perspective. This isn’t a discussion of baseball tactics, but of how Leyland’s response to being swept by the White Sox was dead-on and helped lead to the Red Sox series victory.
  • There’s a great story about the challenges that 10 year minor league vet and Erie Seawolve Jackson Melian has encountered since being a top Yankee prospect. Early in his career, both parents were killed in a car accident while accompanying Melians team on a roadtrip.
  • The Tigers have announced their Arizona Fall League contingent. Jair Jurrgens, Preston Larrison, Jordan Tata, Kevin Whelan, Mike Rabelo, Kody Kirkland, and Brent Clevlen will be representing the Tigers and playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs
  • .Carlos Guillen has signed on with Scott Boras. Fortunately the Tigers still have Guillen through 2007.

Not really bench warmers

At the time the Tigers set their 25 man roster this spring, I lamented the construction of the bench. Breaking camp the bench consisted of Vance Wilson, Omar Infante, Ramon Santiago, and Marcus Thames. All 4 were right handed (okay, so Santiago was a switch hitter for what that was worth) and only Thames had a chance to be a viable offense threat.

Fast forward to today and as John Paul Morosi points out, things look a lot better.
Continue reading Not really bench warmers

Rotation Rotation

The Tigers are keeping the same pitching rotation heading into the second half. Jeremy Bonderman will take the ball first though as Leyland treats Kenny Rogers All Star appearance as a start. Essentially Justin Verlander misses a turn which should help on conserving his workload.

Baseball Prospectus muses further on the Tigers potential for a 6 man rotation once Mike Maroth returns. BP astutely points out that the reasons team consider 4 man rotations are because it his hard to find 5 quality starters. Yet the Tigers are fortunate enough to find themselves in a scenario where they can run 6 productive arms out.

UPDATE: Things have changed. I was working off of the Game Notes from today. Since I wrote this Jason Beck reports that the new rotation will be Bonderman-Rogers-Verlander-Miner-Robertson. In terms of order, all that really has changed is that Bonderman and Verlander have flipped.

Leyland’s Tender Loving Care

As I documented here several times, the part of the Jim Leyland hire that made me most apprehensive was his handling of starters. A couple times earlier this season those fears were reinforced. There was the time he said didn’t believe in pitch counts, and he left it up to the opposing hitters to let him know when his starter had tired. And then there was the game in Oakland when he left Justin Verlander in for 121 pitches. However I’ve been happily wrong for the most part.
Continue reading Leyland’s Tender Loving Care

Verlander throws 121

Justin Verlander was throwing heat last night, but 121 is the number of pitches he threw – not his top speed. I’m a disappointed, but not surprised that Jim Leyland would leave him out there.

I’m not going to blame the loss on Leyland’s handling of Verlander. Yes Verlander allowed the home run to Nick Swisher leading off the 7th, but then he quietly retired the side afterwards. I don’t think that Verlander’s pitch count had anything to do with the home run, and by all accounts it sounded like Verlander wasn’t fatigued. On the last pitch of the 6th inning he hit 101mph.

My issue is that it was completely unnecessary for Verlander to throw that 7th inning. This is a prized young arm making his 5th big league start. He wasn’t working on a complete game and it wasn’t part of a pennant race. This was a tie game in the 7th inning in mid April.

Pitchers are all different, and there is nothing magical about the 100 pitch mark. It’s very possible that Verlander is and will be fine, and this outing won’t have any negative impact on his arm. I just don’t see why he even took the chance.

Related: Ken Arneson of Catfish Stew was in attendance and likes what he saw from Verlander.

When managers attack: Jim Leyland rants

After the Tigers laid an egg in a 10-2 defeat to the Indians, Jim Leyland ripped into his team in a clubhouse tirade that was loud enough to be heard by the media waiting outside. In his postgame press conference he had this to say:

Leyland: We Stunk. Next question.
Reporter: What bothered you the most?
Leyland: It was lackluster, the whole ball of wax was lackluster. We had a chance to take the series, take 3 out of 4, and we came out like we brought our luggage to the park like we had to play a game before we went on the road. That’s not good enough.
Reporter: It seems like this was your worst loss…
Leyland: 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

(Here’s the audio)

Whether or not this has any impact on the players will be the real test. Sure it was fun for fans to hear that Skip wasn’t going to tolerate any of this stuff. At the same time, what more leverage does Leyland have than yelling? I trust that he’s been around long enough to know better than to offer ultimatums that he can’t enforce. There are very few cut-able or demote-able players on the roster and the veterans aren’t going anywhere. He can bench players, but at the same time there is a mixed message that each game is important, and yet by benching his better players he’s not giving his team the best chance to win.
Continue reading When managers attack: Jim Leyland rants