Friday, September 15, 2006

What Rests at the Feet of Leyland?

I suppose it is just human nature, but the reaction toward Tigers manager Jim Leyland when his team started to slide has, nonetheless, been a curious one. All of a sudden he has gone from utterly brilliant to completely clueless. In my opinion, Leyland has not been at fault for what has happened to the Tigers. While he does sometimes come up with strange batting lineups, I think he is just searching for a combination that will be the key to unlocking the Tigers floundering hitting attack. Curtis Granderson has been killing the Tigers in the leadoff spot. But name a better option? Placido Polanco would have been, but he has been hurt. Leyland has a couple of his key hitters in the middle of the lineup, Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez, obviously playing at less than 100 percent because of nagging ailments. Leyland is not a miracle worker. He can only get out of this team what it has to give. There are people who want to blame hitting coach Don Slaught for the Tigers woes, but such criticism is misguided. Swinging at bad pitches is not necessarily a patience-at-the-plate problem as much as it indicates an inability of hitters to recognize pitches. Hitting a baseball at the major league level involves split-second reactions. Most hitters, even major league ones, have to guess. They cannot adjust to a pitch if they do not know what is coming. The best hitters can because they recognize pitches and are able to either speed up or slow down their trigger. That is not something that can be taught. The Tigers have been pitching well. That is not an issue. Leyland has handled his pitching staff well. It is just offensively the Tigers cannot get it going. Slumps, however, do not last forever. They mirror hot streaks in that way. I would be surprised if the Tigers, collectively, continue to slump for the remainder of the season. They will break out of it sooner or later. For their sake, it better be sooner.

Random Thoughts

- QB Rex Grossman played very well for the Bears during their season-opening rout of the Packers. However, the Packers put virtually no pressure on him. I have a feeling the Lions will Sunday, and that it will be a lot closer game than many people think.

- If you get a chance, check out my column on Michigan State in Friday's print edition of The Oakland Press. I am curious to know what you might think. Is it a little too harsh or on target?

- What is the over and under on how many days before Red Wings goalie Dominik Hasek misses either a practice session or preseason game because of some sort of injury. I say 10.

24 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. C. Hasek 8. Tiger: I agree with you about their adjusting to pitches. There are great pianists and some that are only good. Ted Williams had a chart of the strike zone and marked it with batting averages if you swing at pitches in certain areas. S/a low and out 200 av. I think he said wait for your pitch and when you get it make sure you hit it. I'm sure they all know this but it's too difficult for a lot of players to adjust to the music. When i think back at this season it seems they had low scoring games or scored a bunch of runs in an inning then not to much after. God Luck Tigers! Vinny.

9:31 AM 
Anonymous Chris said...

Pat,
Thanks for bringing some reason to the topic of Leyland. I have nothing but praise for the job he has done this year. Anyone who lays the blame at his feet for the recent slide is very short-sighted. It seems like every move he makes is scrutinized right now because they are losing. You can't call for a bunt if you can't be sure the guy can even lay it down, you cant call for a steal when there is no speed on the basepaths, etc. I wish people would lay off the guy and appreciate what he has done with this team. When looking top to bottom, he probably has the 4th best offensive team to work with in his division, let alone the AL.

Pat, its early, but do you think Casey might be in the mix for next season? I have always liked him, but he is really looking old and slow these days. I wonder if adjusting to a new league and his injuries are catching up to him.

10:16 AM 
Blogger martyc said...

about lineups---what about Infante leading off, followed by Pudge, Guillen, Ordonez, Casey, Monroe, Granderson, Thames, Inge in that order? Infante's hitting better than Granderson. Infante walks some too, and can run and bunt. On paper, Casey's not much protection for Ordonez, and he can be a double play machine, but Casey has driven in a lot of runs per at bat. Anyway, Infante seems like a better bet to get on base that Granderson leading off, and is hitting for such higher percentage that it's better for him to get more AB's.

10:26 AM 
Anonymous Nick P said...

Hey Book
just read your print column today. I took a deep breath at just reading the headline. I can't really argue what you are saying, I mean you are factually correct, and while I may argue you on MSU BBall this year, by no means can I say they are going to win the big ten. The real question is what the hell does MSU do. I don't necessarily think baggin on the basketball program is fair, even if izzo has a down year, i mean, come on, cut the guy a break. But this is football season.
Our football team has been exactly what you said. But what is the solution. Is it a new AD? New mindset? I know JLS gets very mixed reviews as a head coach, personally, I like him. Do you think JLS is the problem? If a talented offense and horrid defense is a typical MSU team, is getting a big name def coord the solution? I guess I'd like to see a combination of retiring AD and a new def coord brought in. Or if JLS is the problem, lets bring in a defensive marinelli style head coach.
Anyway Book, what do you think this team needs?

11:07 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Vinny,
I love Ted Williams' book "The Science of Hitting" and that classic hitting chart with the batting averages if you hit the ball in certain areas of the strike zone. It was a classic - before its time, when you think about it. It's a great example of what is ailing the Tigers hitters. They don't wait out pitchers. The pitchers out wait them.
Caputo

11:10 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Chris,
I like Casey, too, as a player and he is a good influence on the team. But not at anywhere near the $8.5 million he is being paid this season. He just doesn't sting the ball enough to command that type of money. I'd rather the Tigers had a hitter with power at first base. The Twins have one, the White Sox have one, the Yankees have one, the Indians have one and the Red Sox have one. The Tigers don't. It's the one area they are clearly behind their primary competition in the American League.
Caputo

11:14 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

MartyC,
Infante is probably the best option for leadoff, but hardly ideal. That kind of falls into the "pick your poison" category. He is hardly a patient hitter, but he does have good speed by the Tigers' standard and he'd see more fastballs - and he's an excellent fastball hitter.
Caputo

11:16 AM 
Anonymous Nick P said...

Book,
On subject of Casey's struggles, any chance shelton could get his starting first base job back?

11:21 AM 
Blogger ThinkingMan said...

Pat,

I agree with your comments about Leyland and what you were saying last night about Mags and Guillen.

The way I look at it, I'd be content (but not happy) if the Tigers didn't win another game all season. They've already far exceeded my expectations for this season. Anything they do from here on out is gravy, in my opinion. I want to see them make the playoffs, for sure. But I won't be crushed if they don't.

I'm really intrigued to see how Dombrowski will handle this off-season. The Tigers have some clear needs in the field ... first base being No. 1 as you mentioned. They must get better run production from that position. I think he'll also need to settle on the outfield... should Thames play everyday in left with Monroe shifting to right, or do you package one of those guys in a deal?

I think the most tradeable (is that a word?) commodity is Nate Robertson. He's a bulldog pitcher that other teams should have interest in ... he could probably be a No. 2 or 3 starter on a lot of clubs. Because of the Tigers depth, he can be replaced in our rotation. My hunch is that Dombowski will trade Robertson and a prospect or possibly even Monroe/Thames/Inge for an established first baseman. What do you think, sir?

11:33 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Nick P,
Michigan State needs a central figure in charge that overrides all the politics that go on at school so near the state capitol. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was President John Hanna. Nobody was going to mess with him because he was Michigan State. Since his day, it's been nothing but in-fighting. The board of trustees, the president, the alumni and the coaches are never all on the same page. Somebody is always feeling left out and ready to make a power grab. Nick Saban knew that and kept it all away from his program and won. Yet, they couldn't get him out of town fast enough because they felt he was being disrespectful. Look what happened to Ron Mason as AD? He was pretty well respected as college hockey's winningest coach. But getting involved in this has obviously not been good for him. Izzo might ultimately be the answer. He is universally respected. But he has enough problems with his basketball team right now and may not want the headache and heartache it would take to get things right at MSU. He seemed deeply bothered by the what happened to Saban. And in the meantime, the years keep passing on by.
Caputo

11:48 AM 
Anonymous Rob said...

Pat,

I agree, I think the Lions/Bears game will be close. The Lions shut down a solid offense last Sunday and they will give another good defensive effort this Sunday. Winning the game will be up to the offense. Kitna has to stay away from INT's, and the O-line has to open holes for Jones.

The Lions might be positioning themselves in the next few years to play like the Steelers, Ravens, and Buc's (and Buckeyes) of the past. That is, a great defense and an offense that doesn't throw the game away. I don't know if this is Millen's plan, if maybe he just stumbled into it, but I have to believe I'm delusional and Lions still stink.

The Tig's are up against a guy tonight who's ERA dropped from 108 to 37 in his last start. This is just what the doctor ordered. It would be good for them to find some offensive rhythm.

Leyland is showing a lot of faith in Bonderman by rearranging the rotation as he has. He is giving Bondo an extra start, including the final game of the season.

11:53 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Thinkingman,
It depends on how this season plays out. If Bonderman does not pitch better near the end, they might move him for a power hitter. You can get a lot more for him than Robertson. They need to either sign Bonderman long-term this off season or move him on. He will be a free agent sooner than Robertson. As far as throwing a pitcher in a deal, that would likely be Maroth instead of Robertson. He is eligible for free agency sooner than Robertson and, even with the injury, scouts like his crafty style for a lefty.
Caputo

11:56 AM 
Blogger maddog52 said...

Caputo.

I don't think people are on Leyland if they are then they are fools. ONly thing that ticks me off is I still see PErez on the team and worse playing. Infante is a 100 percent better ball player and should be playing. They really need taht top of the order guy. I think granderson needs to go to the 9 whole and they need to try Guillen or when he comes back polonco up there. Offense will be fine. Like you said yesterday it is Bonderman that is the biggest concern. If we are to make the playoffs he needs to win his next two starts.

12:02 PM 
Anonymous Allan said...

Pat,

Hasek's whole game was centered around his flexibility, especially his ability to flop into a full split in an instant.

I agree with you - I can't see that ability ever returning after a serious groin pull. Just a matter of time, or else he will nurse it and be a shadow of his former self.

3:08 PM 
Blogger I rule said...

Bonderman is 23. I've got to believe he's not going anywhere yet. The commodity the Tigers have that's in short supply is left-handed starting pitchers. We could part with Maroth and/or Ledezma and still be in good shape there with Rogers, Robertson, and Miller in the near future.

The question is who would we target and who would be vulnerable from the current roster. I'd place them in 3 categories -- not going anywhere, likely to stay, and replace if they can. In the not going group you've got Guillen, Polanco, and Pudge. Not that Rodriguez has been great, far from it, but even with his lack of plate discipline he's as good as they come behind the dish.

Likely to stay are Granderson, who, despite his prolonged slump, is still in his first full season, Monroe (his clutch hitting has had a lot to do with their success), and Inge whose defense, athleticism, and upside potential are pretty valuable.

That leaves Ordonez, Casey, and Thames at positions we would be looking for upgrades. Lance Berkman might be a nice fit. Is he potentially available?

4:16 PM 
Blogger I rule said...

Matt Stairs? Sounds like a desperation move. He should fit in. His strikeout ratio (1 out of 4 at bats)is somewhere between Monroe and Granderson.

4:25 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Allan,
Look how Hasek let Ottawa down last season. Look how he let the Red Wings down his last season here. I know he didn't cost much, but he is no longer worth investing in emotionally. He'll lead you on with his talent, and break your heart with either an injury or some ego-related issue.
Caputo

5:32 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Rob,
If that is Millen's plan, then it is a good one. You have to start somewhere. Having a dominating defense is as good a place to start as anywhere.
Caputo

5:34 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Maddog52,
The Perez situation is the one area where I think Leyland may have cost his team some games. They might have won a game or two more had he played Infante more following Polanco's injury.
Caputo

5:36 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

I Rule,
I am not so sure Bonderman is not going anywhere. They are watching closely and will not give him some ridiculous long-term contract if he doesn't come through late this season. His struggles have really hurt them. I liked the Stairs signing. It cost them nothing and he is a decent left-handed stick. He drilled a homer the other night at Comerica.
Caputo

5:40 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

I Rule,
I am not so sure Bonderman is not going anywhere. They are watching closely and will not give him some ridiculous long-term contract if he doesn't come through late this season. His struggles have really hurt them. I liked the Stairs signing. It cost them nothing and he is a decent left-handed stick. He drilled a homer the other night at Comerica.
Caputo

5:40 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, but this is our easiest part of the year - schedule-wise i believe

I still stick with my preseason prediction of 95-105 but I hope the tigs will win 100, 50 at home and 50 on the road

And if Brandon does not win a gold glove this year( i know they are tied to hitting stats) then I might just not watch baseball next year, well prob not, but it'll really piss me off.

We need to start a Pat Caputo fan club or somethin...

PS Not a big issue but I have noticed that Leyland sometimes has the reverse Trammel syndronme - taking pitchers out too soon.

Thanks again and one of my last season tickets is tomorrow night's game against the O's. 5-2 Tigers sounds about right =P

David

Go Tigers

'35 '45 '68 '84 '06 '07 '08 etc!

3:11 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

David,
Last night was huge for the Tigers. It gave them a little bit of room in the standings. I watched a lot of the Cleveland-Minnnesota game. I thought the Indians were going blow that game because their fielding was so bad. Chicago is going to have a tough time in Oakland. The A's might soften up the Sox up for the Tigers next week.
Caputo

8:06 AM 
Blogger maddog52 said...

Halftime and Michigan is looking awesome. This makes me almost want to fast forward to the OSU game. I like Mannigham and I am happy they didn't focus on breaston as a number one target. BEcause he is a returner at best.

As far as the tigers. I agree if we can some how win the next two. and if Oakland can take at least one more and cleveland can take one more. I think that puts us in a great situation heading into Chicago where we wouldn't be so pressured to win all the games. because Chicago couldn't gain no ground.

5:57 PM 

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