When Jim Leyland was hired to manage the Tigers in 2006, he was taking over an organization that for the better part of two decades knew only one thing; losing. It had reached the point that it was almost ingrained in the culture. Something needed to be shaken up.
That something was Leyland, who instilled a new sense of urgency and ushered out the complacency that lingered for so long in and around Comerica Park, and Tiger Stadium before that.
Add the new culture to some key free agent acquisitions, a couple of fireballing youngsters in Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya, and some good health and the Tigers rode that momentum to 95 wins and the AL pennant.
However, as time has gone on, it appears the Leyland way might not necessarily be carrying the same effectiveness that it once did, and Leyland’s tactics might not just be getting old, but actually hurting the ball club.
The leader of a team or group is of course limited by the talent that he has around him, and Leyland is no different. That being said, in certain situations, a certain style fits best, and as a group or team moves out of that situation, the leader and his style may no longer fit what the group needs.
For Detroiters, look no further than one of our corporate flagships; General Motors. Once it was clear, even after emerging from bankruptcy, that the leadership in place wasn’t getting the job done and dramatically shifting the culture was needed, the board of directors ushered out Fritz Henderson and brought in Ed Whitacre.
Whitacre, an experienced CEO that oversaw the transition and merger of telecom conglomerate AT&T, remained in his post for almost a year, helping the internal transition, getting the internal focus aligned properly and encouraging the organization to focus on what it should be focusing on; building and designing cars.
When the focus of the organization shifted as the company poised itself for its new IPO, the organization again transitioned its leadership. This time, they appointed Dan Akerson as the new CEO, a former global asset manager and experienced financial manager to help guide the organization through the next step.
Think of Whitacre as Leyland, an experienced leader that could lead a difficult transition and re-focus the organization. The difference is, Whitacre stepped down when the organization was ready for the next step, while Leyland continues to hang on.
Look no further than Tuesday’s transactions and comments for proof.
Leyland announced that Will Rhymes would be the organization’s starting second baseman, at least to start off. Leyland justified the move by pointing to how Rhymes showed well in his late summer call-up last season, and claiming that he deserved the first stab at the spot.
Of course, there are a number of issues with that logic.
For starters, Rhymes only got that opportunity after Sizemore struggled while recovering from ankle surgery and Danny Worth hit the disabled list. Rhymes seized the opportunity and should be commended for that, but it’s also difficult to in essence punish the other competitors due to injury.
In addition, while both Worth and Sizemore out-hit Rhymes this spring, Leyland made the case that 200 big league AB’s are more important than 40-50 spring training at-bats. Completely a fair argument, but at the same time, does 200 big league at-bats out-weight 2,000 minor league at-bats? What about every scouting report in front of you?
In all likelihood, the reality is that Leyland prefers Rhymes and his style of play to Sizemore’s. That’s his call to make, but his justification is lacking on multiple levels, and could well be hurting the team.
Continuing on, a number of quotes attributed to Leyland in an article with Lynn Henning were quite a cause for alarm. In the article, Leyland stated:
"We've got so much talent right now in this organization, it's mind-boggling," said the manager, continuing, "The organization is full of talent right now. If a bunch of organizations are rated ahead of ours, then I don't know what I'm talking about."
Well, not to be an alarmist, but the reality is right now that the Tigers do not have a ton of talent in the organization. Most national prognosticators are pegging the big league club to finish third in a still relatively mediocre AL Central.
The story actually gets worse when you examine the farm system, where the Tigers currently rank near the bottom. According to scout.com’s organizational rankings, the Tigers’ farm system ranks 23rd of the 30 in baseball. If you check with Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus, the story remains the same.
Yes, Leyland is paid to evaluate baseball talent, but so are all of the above organizations, and unlike Leyland, investigate and evaluate all of the organizations before making such a judgment. So, as much as Leyland may think he has an incredibly talented group, the support just isn’t there to make that claim.
With examples like these, coupled with the always questionable game-to-game decisions (why did the team’s utility man Don Kelly play in 119 games and get over 250 plate appearances last year?), it’s not too hard to make a case that we may be reaching a point at which the game has passed Leyland by.
And if that’s the case, at what point do the Tigers need to pass by Leyland?