I wanted to do a recap of the 2014 Tigers season, so I chose to tackle the often criticized Brad Ausmus.
The Tigers season is over and once again they fell short of their goal of winning the World Series. For the first time in franchise history, the Tigers lost an ALDS series, being swept by the Baltimore Orioles in 3 games. Much is being discussed on rookie Brad Ausmus' managerial skills and whether or not he is the right man for the job in finally giving the Tigers their first World Series since 1984.
Brad Ausmus had a roller coaster season. On May 18th, the Tigers had a 27-12 record, the best winning percentage in all of baseball and a 7 game lead in the AL Central division. Then they faltered, going 9-19 in their next 28 game and falling to 2nd place for the first time on June 17th. They would rebound nicely, though and win 17 of their next 23 games and once again had a 7.5 game lead over the KC Royals on July 12th. Then another collapse where they fell again to 2nd place on August 11th. They wouldn't be alone in 1st place again until September 9th and 3 days later they stayed in first place for good, winning their 4th straight division title.
It wasn't supposed to go this way. The Tigers were supposed to cruise into the playoffs, maybe even challenging for the best record in baseball. They were well on their way by the middle of May and then Brad Ausmus put it on autopilot. He refused to make adjustments in his bullpen, setting up inning roles and never switching them as some pitchers were struggling and others were getting better. Even when J.D. Martinez was crushing the ball, he hesitated to make him a regular in the lineup until Torii Hunter had to miss some games due to injury and then the trade of Austin Jackson forced him to be an everyday outfielder. Brad Ausmus was supposed to be an improvement over Jim Leyland, using stats and logic instead of gut feeling. Instead, we got a more stubborn version of Leyland.
Now the Tigers already announced that Brad Ausmus will be back for next year. Some are questioning if this is the right move (and would rather go with someone more experienced like Ron Gardenhire or Joe Maddon).
Looking back specifically at game situations, moments where you could just feel that the manager just made a wrong move shouldn't be difficult with an often-criticized manager like Ausmus. But I struggled, so I reached out to Tiger fans, posting the question. The lack of responses amazed me. I thought I would get at least 10, maybe 20 specific moments where Ausmus lost the game for the Tigers. Instead, only 3 stand out. And all were at the end of the season, where the game is magnified.
I'm not entirely sure what conclusion can or should be drawn from this. All I can say is I hope Ausmus learns from his mistakes. Here are the three bad managerial moves by Ausmus:
3. Game #152 - Refusing to take out David Price. The Tigers ended up winning this game, so how much blame should Ausmus really receive? David Price pitched 8 scoreless innings and the Tigers were winning 3-0 going into the 9th inning. The Tigers bullpen has been shaky all year long, so it made sense to stay with Price - but for how long? Singe, double, strikeout, single, flyout, single, single, tie game and then Aumus takes him out. Price was well over 100 pitches and from what I can remember looked like he was out of gas. No way should Ausmus have left him in long enough for the game to tie up.
2. Game #3 of ALDS - Pinch hitting Hernan Perez for Andrew Romine. The Tigers have already lost the first 2 games of the ALDS and were on the verge of getting swept. Baltimore had a 2-0 lead going into the 9th inning. Back to back doubles by Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez cut the score in half, giving Tiger fans hope that they will live to play another day. Bryan Holaday struck out, but they chose to put the winning run on base when they intentionally walked Nick Castellanos. Ausmus decides that Hernan Perez, who got all of 6 PA during the regular season, was not only good enough to put on the roster, but also good enough to try to at least tie the game in a do or die situation. Predictably, Perez grounded into a double play, ending the Tigers season once and for all. The counter-argument would be that Andrew Romine, who hit .227/.279/.275 during the regular season wouldn't have done much better anyway. However, the Orioles had the lefty Zach Britton pitching and Romine hit a surprisingly .333/.357/.389 in 56 PA against lefties during the regular season. So much for playing the percentages.
1. Game 2 of ALDS - Pitching Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria. The Tigers took a 6-3 lead to the 8th inning. Starting pitcher Justin Verlander only lasted 5 innings with Anibal Sanchez pitching the next 2, setting down all six batters he faced tossing 30 pitches. It looked like Sanchez could go another inning, but it was predetermined that he would only go 2 innings before the game even started (limiting his innings after coming back from injury). Taking out Sanchez isn't the real problem here, it's who Ausmus decided to put in. Less than 24 hours earlier Chamberlian and Soria got rocked, facing a combined 7 batters and only recording 1 out. All 6 of the baserunners scored. It seemed inconceivable that Aumus would go to them again in game 2, but sure enough he did. And predictably they blew the game, surrendering a combined 4 runs in the 8th inning leading to a 7-6 Tiger loss. Meanwhile, Al Alburquerque, who had a 2.51 ERA during the regular season, wasn't even warming up in the bullpen. This was Brad Ausmus' worst managerial decision and it came at the worst possible moment.