Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE
If there was one sure thing in baseball this season, it was that the Detroit Tigers would win the American League Central. If you looked at any of the reputable projections, the Tigers were supposed to finish the season with a bigger first-place lead than any other team in the majors.
Of course there's no such thing as a sure than the Detroit Tigers are proof positive, as they're currently a distant third in the standings. And as Lynn Henning writes, this has fans calling for heads.
Would this help, though?
Getting rid of Lloyd McClendon, the Tigers' hitting coach, would make as much sense as firing a co-pilot because the plane's grounded.
Sending manager Jim Leyland off to his Pittsburgh home would achieve nothing but satisfy critics who are absolutely convinced another manager would push buttons, "inspire" players, use different lineups, and make strategic bullpen moves that would make the Tigers, if not instant winners, then at least better than they are.
And it's all fantasy. Every bit of it.
As long as disgusted fans are realistic, they can still enjoy a season's second half. But that all depends on whether people who for every reason were expected to hit in 2012 begin to hit. No coach is going to change that fundamental truth. The players are.
And if they don't, players who for good reasons were expected to perform will find themselves working elsewhere, if at all, in a sport that demands but one thing: personal performance.
I agree fundamentally with Henning about this, except with a small reservation ... Isn't it a fairly short leap from saying a new manager and/or hitting coach won't make a difference to saying managers and hitting coaches don't matter, at all?
My guess is that Henning wouldn't make that leap. My guess is that Henning would say that they most certainly do make a difference, and Leyland and McClendon have proven as much in previous seasons.
Despite (essentially) replacing Victor Martinez with Prince Fielder in the lineup, the Tigers' hitting has fallen off this season; last season they ranked third in on-base percentage and fourth in slugging; this season they're fifth and seventh. Not huge drops, really.
Last season the Tigers ranked seventh in the American League with a 4.40 ERA; this season they're 11th with a 4.26 ERA.
Again, not a huge difference. Justin Verlander was fantastic last season, and he's been fantastic this season. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello were shaky last season, and both have been shaky this season. Rookie Drew Smyly's been quite solid, and Doug Fister's pitched well when not on the Disabled List. On balance, the Tigers' rotation is probably slightly better than it was last year. While the relievers are relievers; fine, if variable. It would be nice, but not necessary, to get Al Alburquerque back.
There simply isn't any statistical or analytical case for firing the manager or the hitting coach. If there's a case to be made, it must be made by someone who knows what's happening inside the clubhouse, inside the dugout, inside the tunnels beneath the stands. It must be made by someone who believes that Leyland has lost control of the club, that McClendon's hitters aren't listening to him. It must be made by general manager Dave Dombrowski, when he tells owner Mike Illitch that it's time for a change, or changes.
The Tigers do need to make a move. If they don't win today -- and as I write this, they're in pretty good shape -- they'll fall into a fourth-place tie with the Royals. Which wasn't where anyone thought they'd be in early June. But the season is young, and the Tigers probably do still have the most talented team in the American League Central. Not by a lot, and they are now underdogs to the White Sox in the Central. But the best thing management can probably do at this point is essentially ... nothing. Except wait for Austin Jackson and Alex Avila to come off the DL, and stay on the lookout for a second baseman who can hit his weight.