If you're a Tigers fan who LOVES to second guess Tigers manager Jim Leyland, then you stumbled across the right place. Overall, I'm a big fan of Leyland, but this feature will serve its purpose in breaking down every questionable managerial decision our chain smoking skipper makes in every game leading up to a Tigers' off day (or some random day in the middle of a lengthy stretch). I won't catch everything or won't think some things are a big deal, or I may even mention a Leyland move as questionable when it wasn't at all, so if you have something to add, hit up the comments.
When you consider who the Tigers have faced in their first 16 games, 10-6 should be more than satiable. I don't know a sane Tigers fan who isn't happy with the Tigers being on pace to win 100 games. Alas, where there's Jim Leyland and Brandon Inge and Ryan Raburn and Daniel Schlereth and some losing in a 162-game season, there's likely some curious decisions for fans to pick at like a Drew Smyly booger.
Bunting Ryan Raburn after three consecutive hits in the bottom of the 8th inning
The Tigers had taken a 2-1 lead on the second of three straight hits in the inning. Raburn was 0-3 and, thus, asked to bunt with no outs against reliever Burke Badenhop to move Prince Fielder and the now former Tiger Clete Thomas over for noted "RBI guy" Jhonny Peralta, who was hitting behind Raburn for situations just like this, I guess.
Raburn didn't lay down the first two strikes and, ultimately, made swinging contact on a 3-2 hit-and-run, a questionable call in and of itself with a high strikeout hitter such as Raburn at the plate.
In the end, after failing to get the bunt down on two tries, the hit-and-run worked -- Thomas was safe at second on a 6-4-3 single put out. Without the hit-and-run, the Tigers are doubled up and might not get another run in the inning (they definitely don't if Peralta still flies out in his at bat). It's hard to argue with a successful tactic, but I think in the moment it was reasonable. Raburn did a good job making Leyland look okay after making him look bad on the front-end. He seems to do that a lot.
Game 5 vs. Rays (4-2 L)
Justin Verlander pitching into the 9th inning
In an almost identical situation to Opening Day when Jose Valverde blew a Verlander 2-0 lead in the ninth, Leyland decided to stick with his ace for the ninth in this game with the same lead.
Of course, the major difference here was that Verlander was only at 81 pitches as opposed to 105 on Opening Day. Factor in how Opening Day turned out when Leyland went to Valverde, it feels like it was a no brainer to stick with the reigning MVP here.
Matthew Snyder has an interesting article up on Tigers Den, though, on how Verlander's success decreases when the opposing lineup sees him a fourth time. That's probably true for any pitcher, but the point is that going to a closer like Valverde is statistically the best move anytime Verlander is about to go through an order for the fourth time.
Here, Verlander would face the bottom two of the order before reaching the top of the Rays' order again. A Cy Young pitcher at the bottom of a team's order for the ninth inning with only 81 pitches thrown should be allowed take the mount for the ninth every single time.
Unfortunately, it didn't pan out in this game and Verlander gave up the tying runs before being relieved with another two runners on who would ultimately score. Once Verlander started to get in trouble, one could ask why Leyland didn't go get Valverde before Verlander blew his start entirely and I think that'd be a good question, especially with Snyder's analysis to lean on. But there should be no questions about letting Verlander at least start the ninth.
After pulling Verlander, instead of going to Valverde, Leyland went to Schlereth with the game tied at 2-2 and two runners on to face former Tiger and left-handed hitter Matt Joyce. Predictably, Joe Maddon pinch hit right-handed hitter Elliot Johnson. Johnson shouldn't be a hard out to get, but Schlereth tried to get cute with his offspeed pitches once he got up 0-2 and wound up walking the bases loaded. Leyland then went to Valverde.
But why not go straight to the closer? By going to a lefty like Schlereth, you force Maddon's hand to pull Joyce out of the game for a more favorable match up, sure, but you're also putting in a much lesser arm. I know Phil Coke pitched the game before, but why couldn't he go again? I feel like he's underused and I know I'm not the only one who believes this.
Game 6 vs. Rays (7-2 W)
Drew Smyly starting the 5th inning
At 86 pitches in his MLB debut, trailing 1-0, Smyly returned to the mound in the top of the fifth inning to face lefty Carlos Pena. On the fourth pitch of the at bat, Smyly hit Pena and was relieved for Collin Balester with Evan Longoria coming up.
It's clear Leyland wanted the lefty-lefty match up here and also wanted to see if Smyly could build off getting the last two outs from the preceding inning and possibly save the bullpen an extra frame. Maybe Smyly's only job in the fifth was to face Pena and once he hit him, his day was done.
You could argue that the one batter leash in this situation is kind of silly and sets Smyly up to exit the game on a sour note, but I think that he was probably done no matter what after facing Pena. Therefore, I'm okay with the move, although I would've been happy with him not going out for the fifth at all, too.
Going to Brayan Villarreal in the 7th
Balester put the first two runners on and Leyland had to make a move. It's debatable that Leyland should've been done with Balester after the sixth, but Octavio Dotel was not available due to his back, so trying to stretch Balester an extra inning was understandable here. Going to Villarreal is basically an extension of Balester before getting to Coke-Benoit-Valverde.
The reason is because Delmon Young said during Spring Training that he does not want to DH. Young's splits don't really indicate any drop off in his hitting while DH'ing, but Leyland doesn't want to intentionally upset one of his better players. That's why his players respect him. But it reared its ugly head in the bottom of the eighth when Young made an egregious error that cost the Tigers two runs.
When the Young play was reviewed and retroactively turned into an error, the biggest beneficiary was Schlereth, whose two runs allowed became unearned. But Schlereth probably shouldn't have been pitching at all. It should've been Phil Coke, who was warming up in the seventh, presumably ready if the Tigers tied the game or took the lead.
Game 8 vs. White Sox (5-1 L)
Left-hander Wilk got the nod over Duane Below to fill in for the injured Doug Fister, despite Below being the one who was competing for the No. 5 spot in the rotation during Spring Training and started a couple games last year. At this point, though, Below is set up in a position to be a middle reliever and I'm guessing Leyland didn't want to jerk him around. Wilk is simply a placeholder and it should be okay to see how he fares as a starter until Fister returns and Wilk is likely sent back to the minors.
Brandon Inge pinch hitting in the 9th for Andy Dirks
If Gerald Laird and Brandon Inge pinch hitting in the ninth inning isn't throwing in the towel, I don't know what is. I get Laird hitting for Avila against the lefty Matt Thornton because if, somehow, the game needs a bottom of the ninth, Laird slides into the catcher's position. However, why Inge instead of, say, Ramon Santiago, you ask?
Although Santiago is a career .375 hitter against Thornton, Inge was 2-6 with a homer and a couple walks off Thornton entering that at bat, so I'm guessing that's why.
Game 9 vs. White Sox (5-2 W)
Brandon Inge DH'ing or Brennan Boesch getting an off-day
I think the general complaint is that Inge is still on the team, but he hits lefties relatively well and can serve a purpose there. White Sox starter Chris Sale is a young lefty. Now, Ryan Raburn hits lefties better than Inge; however, because Leyland gave Boesch a day off, Raburn was already penciled in at right and Inge had to be used at either 2B or DH.
But why was Boesch given an off-day? He had five hits in his last three games and he hits lefties better than he does righties. I understand players need the occasional day off, but this one, on April 15, didn't make any sense to me.
Justin Verlander pitching into the 9th inning again
For the third straight Verlander Day, the Tigers' skip had a big decision to make with his ace entering the ninth inning. After Valverde blew Verlander's gem on Opening Day and Verlander blew his own start the next time out, Leyland probably felt conflicted.
Verlander fell behind his last two batters he faced in the eighth inning, his pitch count was at 104 and the Royals' 4-5-6 hitters would be getting their fourth crack at Verlander. But Verlander demanded the ball and, thus, Leyland said it was Verlander's game to win or lose. Verlander struggled -- he even received a visit from Leyland during which Leyland quipped that Verlander was going to get him fired -- but he would finally exorcise the demons on 131 pitches.
Game 11 vs. Royals (3-1 W)
Where in the world is Danny Worth? Oh, Toledo.
Danny Worth was sent to Toledo on April 13 and it's games like this one when I wished he was still on the team. Raburn's struggles probably would've called for a Worth start against the lefty Bruce Chen, but because he was in Triple-A, tearing it up, we were stuck with Raburn's meh 1-4 game. (A night after hitting the game-winning homer, Inge he was benched because he's 1-23 in his career vs. Chen; Raburn had six hits and two homers.)
Game 12 vs. Royals (4-3 W)
See above for the same Brandon Inge/Ryan Raburn theme...
He relieved Balester in the seventh and, after a leadoff walk, he got out of the inning. I don't understand why Leyland didn't immediately go with Below, though. Below's capable of throwing multiple innings and he's been the much better lefty out of the pen not named Phil Coke, even up to this point.
Schlereth proceeded to get himself into serious trouble in the eighth and finally Below was summoned. But it was too late.
Game 14 vs. Rangers (10-4 L)
Rick Porcello pulled too soon/late?
If you turned this game on in the second inning expecting to see Rick Porcello pitching, you may have missed him. He got the hook after giving up eight earned (nine total) runs while only getting three outs. The last time a Tigers' starter was this bad was exactly 10 years ago when Jose Lima gave up eight earned in only an inning of work.
It's always tricky to know exactly when to pull a struggling starting pitching before he can get the team beyond, oh, the first inning. Adam Wilk was getting roughed up similarly to Porcello the game before, but he was getting out of innings relatively unscathed. With quite a bit of fortune, Wilk lasted four innings, deep enough for Leyland to feel comfortable to pull him when he walked the lead off hitter in the fifth and Leyland felt maybe Wilk's luck was about to run dry. However, against Porcello the runs were piling up along with the hits. At a certain point, the runs are no longer really as much of a concern as getting enough out of your starter so as to not have to completely exhaust your bullpen. At the same time, you also don't want to leave your pitcher out to dry.
I thought Leyland properly allowed Porcello to go back out in the second to redeem himself and possibly eat some innings, but when it started to have similar results to the first inning, Leyland smartly decided to pull the plug and take his chances with his bullpen. Luckily, Duane Below saved some arms by going six scoreless in relief of Porcello.
Why does he ever pitch!? Hah, well, in this case it was actually warranted, because he was demoted after the game, leading me to believe that Leyland was just using Schlereth to eat a couple innings of a game the Tigers had already all but lost thanks to Porcello's rough start. This was actually one of Schlereth's better outings of the season, too, although he did give up a run on three hits in two innings.
Game 15 vs. Rangers (3-2 W)
Justin Verlander only goes 6 innings
Some might have wondered why Verlander didn't go out to at least start the seventh against the bottom third of the Rangers lineup. He mowed in the sixth on 14 pitches and he was only at 115 pitches after throwing 131 the game before. Well, that's part of the reason (the high pitch count the game before) and the fact that the Tigers have Dotel-Benoit-Valverde for a reason. Leyland played this perfectly and his relievers rewarded his decision making.
Game 16 vs. Rangers (3-2 L)
Pinch hitting Inge for Kelly in the 10th
The reason Inge pinch hit for Kelly in the 10th against lefty Robbie Ross was because, well, Inge is decent against lefty pitchers. As I've already said, Raburn is probably better, but he had already replaced Young in left field in the top of the 10th. I think most fans would've been fine with Kelly remaining in the game in that spot, but I like that Leyland is still managing with what he has.
Of course, the lineup change meant that Inge would have to move to third in the 11th inning and Cabrera would switch back to first, which was weird to see again.
Thad Weber in the 11th
After Jose Valverde threw a scoreless 10th inning, Leyland decided to give rookie Thad Weber his MLB debut in the 11th. Valverde did not throw more than one inning all of last year until the postseason against Texas when he threw two scoreless. After a long stretch of games in which Valverde saw action in eight games, having him throw two innings was likely never a consideration, even with the off day on Monday. Weber was put into a tough spot for his debut, but he was by far the freshest arm in the bullpen and likely would've been asked to go as long as possible.
Did I miss something? Did I fart? If you have anything to add, leave your thoughts in the comments.