Tigers Fans Left Confused At Break

Justin Verlander image taken from Google Images via Zimbio

If you’re a Detroit Tigers fan right now you probably don’t know how to feel. On one end of the spectrum your team is actually in first place. On the other, questionable coaching and personnel moves have haunted you on a nightly basis. Most recently, Detroit decided to fire (scapegoat) Rick Knapp after an abysmal week where the pitching staff gave up over 50 runs over six games. Replacing Knapp is bullpen coach Jeff Jones, whose bullpen has ranked in the bottom five all season in ERA and WHIP.

And herein lies the problem. There aren’t many places for this Tigers team to turn. Is it a talent issue or a performance and coaching issue?

We’ll start with talent and what Dave Dombrowski has created.

For every great player on the squad there seems to be an equally awful component. Miguel Cabrera meet Ryan Raburn. Neither can play a position in the field that well, but there’s no explanation needed as to the differences each brings to a lineup on a nightly basis. This team has three starters fighting to reach or stay above the Mendoza line, but also four players above .300. You’d be hard pressed to find another team with such an odd discrepancy. On the pitching side Justin Verlander needs no introduction. But the other starters all have ERAs above 4.50. Jose Valverde has been a solid closer and the rest of the bullpen leaves you so desperate you wonder if Joel Zumaya is ever coming back.

And that leads us to Dombrowski. For every Jhonny Peralta trade, there’s a Jair Jurrjens scoffing at the notion that a team believed Edgar Renteria was a more vital component to their franchise. The Victor Martinez signing was nice, but imagine if Placido Polanco, who moved to third base without problem, would have been resigned instead of Brandon Inge. When four former Tigers (Polanco, Matt Joyce, Jurrjens, Curtis Granderson) make the All Star team and nobody they were replaced with did, it’s not hard for a fan to second-guess. His one trade this season, Scott Sizemore for David Purcey, has not been one Detroit fans can be too happy about. Sizemore is now an everyday 2nd baseman, same position Detroit is desperate to fill, while Purcey has had no troubles adapting to a struggling bullpen.

Which leads us to Jim Leyland, his decisions and the performance of his team.

On the surface they have one of the best offenses in baseball and one of the worst pitching staffs. But, some of the issues fans have brought up more than pitching are glaring weaknesses in the offense. And the loudest screamers talk about base running.

To start, the Tigers and Jim Leyland don’t like to try stealing bases. They currently rank in the bottom five and since Leyland took over they’ve only had one season (2007) where they weren’t in the bottom 10 in total stolen bases. Their success rate has hovered around 70 percent. In ’07, they amazingly squeezed 22 stolen bases out of a quickly depreciating Gary Sheffield. Maybe the staff hasn’t taught proper base running savvy, but are Brennan Boesch and Raburn really slower than Sheffield was at 39 years old?

As for that base running savvy, third base coach Gene Lamont has taken much criticism for his extremely conservative approach. Detroit is dead last in the percentage of extra bases taken after a hit. For example, a single is hit with a runner on first and the runner is told to hold up at second instead of stretching to third. So far with the offense hitting so well it’s worked this season, but how many more victories could have been squeezed out with some riskier base running?

The other complaint is the way Leyland goes about his lineups. He has a system and he sticks with it. That means Boesch and Al Avila will not see the field every game, regardless of how well they have been playing this season. He likes to play lineups based on who is pitching and if they’re lefty or righty. He also uses a traditional bullpen approach that he doesn’t like to stray too far from regardless of how a certain guy is pitching at the time.

But even if those things might be frowned upon, they are still winning enough games to be above .500 at the All Star Break.  And this is why so many fans are confused, angry and left asking questions.

Should this team be running away with the AL Central or are they simply overachieving? Are the days of Dombrowski and Leyland ending or will they be extended after returning to the playoffs for the first time since ’06?

There’s plenty of baseball left and if you’re a Tigers fan you might want to call a psychologist because more confusion and swings of emotion are on the horizon.

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  1. J.J.

    July 12, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Such thoughtful, balanced writing. Really sound ideas, and with a dash of penache.

  2. Xena

    August 20, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    I await the biggest match soon. I am a tigers fan and would love to see them make their opponents busted out in the field!

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