Autopsy Report: Detroit Tigers

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I prefer to think of this as an autopsy and not a eulogy, because an autopsy deals specifically with the cause of death. A eulogy, in contrast, takes in the deceased’s whole life and tries to draw some lessons from it. I don’t think anyone can draw any intelligent conclusions about the Tigers’ entire 2012 season based on these past four games, no matter how important they were. Four games is pure randomness and the Tigers performance in them is no more relevant to their legacy than a random fall off a cliff during a vacation to the Grand Canyon is to the life of a Nobel Prize winner.

So, what happened to the Tigers?  In a nutshell: everything:

  • The Giants were the better team: Before anyone casts this World Series as a Detroit failure, they had better first note that it was a Giants triumph. While they flew under the radar for so much of the year, the Giants won six more games than the Tigers in a tougher division. The Giants were and remained a well-balanced team throughout 2012, and history shows us that well-balanced teams do awfully well in the postseason where runs are harder to come by and defense matters more. They didn’t have a pitcher as good as Justin Verlander or a hitter as good as Miguel Cabrera, but there were few if any holes on the roster, and when a couple of potential weak links — like Barry Zito — came up big in the playoffs, it transformed a good team into a team that was great at the right time.  But, the Giants aside …
  • No one hit. Omar Infante and Delmon Young each got five hits, and each reached base via a walk or a HBT (Infante’s HBP, sadly, broke his hand). The rest of the lineup was deadsville. Prince Fielder was 1 for 14 with four strikeouts. Jhonny Peralta was 1 for 15. Miguel Cabrera hit a homer last night, but was 3 for 13 overall. Austin Jackson had three hits in four games. Quintin Berry had none. It was a top-heavy, all-or-nothing offense in 2012 for Detroit, and they picked a bad week for the nothing.
  • The layoff:  While the Tigers worked out every day in between the end of the ALCS and the beginning of the World Series, several Tigers said that not playing any real games during that time was disruptive to their rhythm and their mojo. It’s impossible to measure such things, but it’s not a stretch to say that layoffs lead to cold bats.
  • Verlander was mortal: It was only one game, but the only time the Tigers were blown away in this series was in Game 1 when Justin Verlander came out with poor command of has his fastball and Pablo Sandoval feasted on him for a couple of home runs. It’s harder to measure mood and momentum than in it is to measure rust, but it was probably somewhat dispiriting for the Tigers when their ace was popped in the nose right out of the gate.
  • The cookie just crumbled: luck should not have a major place in a serious empirical analysis, but a four-game series sort of defies serious, empirical analysis. The Giants got the bounces. Literally, at times: off the third base bag in Game 1 to set up a big inning, off Doug Fister’s head in Game 2 to give Gregor Blanco a single. Multiple hard-hit balls by the Tigers throughout the series that just always seemed to be right at a Giants defender.

A whole year can disappear pretty quickly in the postseason. The Reds and Cardinals were good teams that saw their good seasons end only one game away from advancing. The Braves and Rangers were good teams that had good seasons erased after just one game total. The Tigers, like the Yankees before them, saw a good season erased in four short games.  That’s how playoff baseball goes.

So, if you’re wondering what should be listed as the cause of death on the autopsy report, how about this: October.

Brad Ausmus out as Tigers manager

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The Tigers just announced that they will not be bringing Brad Ausmus back as manager in 2018. His contract was going to be up at the end of this season and they have decided not to renew it. Ausmus and his staff will manage the club for the final week of the season.

In the press release announcing the move, Tigers GM Al Avila said “[a]s we transition the ballclub in a new direction, I feel it’s best that we have a new approach and a fresh start with the manager position.” He went on to praise Ausmus for “doing an admirable job under difficult circumstances, especially this season,” a clear reference to the club’s decision at mid-season to blow things up. Justin Verlander and J.D. Martinez were traded in July and August, as were some more minor players. The club is clearly embarking on a lengthy rebuild of which Ausmus, who was brought in four years ago to lead a contending team, will not be a part.

In his four seasons at the helm the Tigers are 312-325. He won 90 games and the AL Central in his first season in 2014, but the Tigers were swept out of the ALDS in three games. In the past three seasons they finished fifth, second and will either finish in fourth or fifth this year. Injuries and poor bullpens have been the biggest problem, but clearly this Tigers team was supposed to win more over the past four years.

It’s unclear what direction the Tigers will take in their managerial search, but it’s clear they’re going to go outside of the organization, as Avila said in his statement that the status of the current coaching staff will be contingent on the wishes of whatever new manager they hire.

Happy trails, Brad Ausmus. Baseball’s Most Handsome Manager is now Baseball’s Most Handsome Unemployed coach.

The Mets are doing something really weird with Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey

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Anthony DiComo of MLB.com reports that the Mets are going to give Noah Syndergaard the start for tomorrow’s game. But here’s the hitch: he’ll only get one inning and then Matt Harvey will enter in the second inning and go from there. Harvey was originally scheduled to take the start. Syndergaard, of course, has been out since April. Harvey has been pitching under the loosest definition of the term.

I can see, if they are intent on putting Syndergaard in a real game, having him start one rather than come in out of the bullpen for purposes of preparation and routine. At the same time, however, if he’s only able to throw one inning at this point, with a little over a week left in the season, what’s the point of him pitching at all? As for Harvey relieving: he’s kind of a mess right now. Is he someone whose routine you really want to throw off?

I guess this doesn’t hurt anything — at least as long as Syndergaard doesn’t hurt himself throwing in a meaningless game at the end of the season — but it certainly is odd. It makes me wonder if this is some sort of “Dave” or “Moon Over Parador” situation in which the Mets are just trying to create the impression that Syndergaard is still alive.

Could Kevin Kline pitch an inning? Richard Dreyfuss?