Friday, October 4, 2013
Chess match: Tigers versus A's
By Christina Kahrl
Our final look at the managers ...
Detroit Tigers versus Oakland Athletics
What Jim Leyland likes to do: While the Tigers stole the fewest bases in baseball, barely averaging an attempt every three games, Leyland has been exceptionally aggressive trying to compensate for his regulars' lack of foot speed, getting his runners moving with the pitch 180 times (only Mike Scioscia had his Angels doing that more often).
What Leyland doesn't do is sweat pitch counts, you should also know by now -- Tigers starters went past 110 pitches an MLB-leading 50 times (and perhaps to some statheads' consternation, the world did not end). He also doesn't have to freak out over his bullpen. Maybe he did earlier this year, leading to the brief comeback of Jose Valverde, but these days Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly are working out just fine as the Tigers' tandem in tight spots. With the Tigers' starters routinely get into the seventh inning, Leyland may not need more than that.
The one interesting roster addition is Jhonny Peralta, back from his suspension. He's been working out in left field, although with Oakland having an all right-handed rotation does that mean Andy Dirks stays out there?
What Bob Melvin likes to do: Get the platoon advantage, since he managed to do that with his lineup cards an MLB-leading 77 percent of the time. And as a function of that, Melvin has been one of the most aggressive managers in the AL when it comes to sending up a pinch-hitter, second only to the hyperkinetic Maddon. And as a function of that Melvin uses his bench enough to blur the distinctions between starters and reserves: Alberto Callaspo and Eric Sogard double up as the team's starting second basemen and utlity infielders, Brandon Moss backs up in right, and fourth outfielder Chris Young started in half the A's games.
Melvin may very well be the perfect A's manager: He doesn’t bunt (just 21 successful sac bunts on 32 attempts) and he doesn't run (with an MLB-low 74 occasions runners moved with the pitch). With Melvin's readiness to pinch-hit, even with three catchers on the roster it's unlikely that he'll burn a position player on a pinch-running assignment -- no AL skipper used fewer than Melvin's 14 Herb Washington specials.
In part because of his young rotation, he doesn't ask too much of his starters. He's the perfect antithesis to Leyland in his starting pitcher usage pattern, because with just seven outings with more than 110 pitches thrown, Melvin's A's tied with Clint Hurdle's Bucs for fewest in the majors. In the bullpen, he won’t stick with any reliever too long, leading to a lot of switching things up; all five of his top pen men averaged less than an inning per appearance. Ryan Cook struggled in September so we'll if Dan Otero instead joins Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour as the late-inning trio that Melvin likes to employ.
Advantage: Another tough matchup between another good pair, but I'd favor Melvin just slightly because he might be able to steal a late run or two in a tight game.