Culpability Mossisms: Dombrowski vs. Leyland

By Jeff Moss
May 24, 2012 

On January 25, 2012, news leaked out via Twitter that the Detroit Tigers were on the verge of signing free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder. On that same day, the Red Wings had one of the best records in the NHL at 33-16-1 and looked poised to make another run at Lord Stanley’s hardware. The Pistons were 4-15 and well on their way to the Anthony Davis Lottery.  And the Lions were coming off their best season this century, which included the franchise’s first playoff berth in a decade.

But in the 120 days since that fateful Wednesday afternoon in which the stars appeared aligned for all of the Motor City’s professional athletic franchises we have experienced a disaster that would make the Hindenburg crashing into the new World Trade Center while a Category 5 hurricane enveloped the rest of New York City look tame in comparison.  (Or as I like to call it, “Roland Emmerich’s Untitled 2013 Project.”)

The Wings collapsed at the end of the season under the weight of injuries and upper management neglect at the trade deadline and got humiliated by a hockey team from the land of Dolly Parton.   A Predators unit that was so incredibly gifted that they got bounced in the VERY NEXT ROUND by a Phoenix Coyotes team that eventually was easily eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings.

The Pistons decided as an organization that they had more of a moral compass than the rest of the NBA so they proceeded to play near .500 ball after 1/25 which probably guaranteed them the #9 pick in the June Entry Draft which means they most likely will draft John Henson out of North Carolina.

Well, at least that is the player ESPN NBA Draft Expert, Chad Ford, has the team selecting and I hope he is referring to the Tar Heel and not the comedian who replaced Greg Kinnear on E!’s “Talk Soup.”  Although, at this point of the franchise’s purgatory-esque existence near the bottom of the lottery does it even really matter?

(Yep, a team, mind you, owned by a man whose business model is patterned off of Bain Capital. Hell, EVEN Cory Booker thinks that Tom Gores’ business practices should be held up to public scrutiny.  But tank games at the end of the season to improve your Draft Lottery odds? Now you’ve gone too far, good sir!)

And the Lions infuriated a majority of their fan base by drafting a WIDE RECEIVER in the second round of the April draft and then made a recent announcement that they planned on utilizing cornerback Aaron Berry as a starter as opposed to looking outside the organization for much needed secondary help.

You might remember Aaron Berry.  The CB who dropped a sure interception in the New Orleans playoff game when the Lions were only trailing Jonathan Vilma, Boba Fett, IG-88 and Jack Walsh by a score of 24-21.  The same Aaron Berry who got toasted so many times by Drew Brees during the game that he should have been admitted afterward to the burn care unit at U of M Health System in Ann Arbor.

And finally, the same Aaron Berry who sent this message from his unwittingly ironic Twitter handle, Lockdown717, after that playoff defeat, “Y’all can go back to being Broke & Miserable … now back to regular scheduled programming…”

Well, I am not sure if we are all broke, but after the last four months we have endured from our professional sports franchises, it would be understandable if we were all as miserable as the lovechild of Chris McCosky and Brooke Shields.

Which brings us to our 20-24 Detroit Tigers who after a three-game sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians on Thursday are now SIX games out of first place.  A team that was approximately 1 to 5 to win the AL Central yet is currently closer to LAST PLACE on May 24th than FIRST!!!

An organization that now has lost 21 of its last 32 games even though their total team payroll is $36 million HIGHER than anyone else in their pathetic division and $54 million more than the Tribe.

Which, after 700 words of pure wretchedness, leads us to the point of today’s column.  Who is more to blame for this debacle? The man who assembled this roster (Dave Dombrowski) or the slovenly manager (Jim Leyland) he employs?

Now, before I spend the next several paragraphs laying most of the blame on Cancer Stick and absolving Dombrowski, let me first warn you that I am not some sort of DD slapdick.   I have been highly critical of his work in the past and if this team misses the postseason this year, I would have no problem with the team hiring a Sabermetric genius that attended an Ivy League school and who has the physical attributes of Michael Rosenberg to replace him.

I believe Dombrowski has done a piss-poor job of drafting positional players in his tenure in Detroit and even though I suspect that Mike Ilitch has a large say in Leyland’s continued employment, Dombrowski can’t be totally absolved from that abomination either.

But, folks, there is a reason that the Tigers were a prohibitive favorite to win their division.  Hell, after their 9-3 start to this year, I was more worried about the team going wire-to-wire than ACTUALLY not qualifying for the playoffs.

We are talking about a franchise that won 95 games last year and added the second most prized free-agent on the market to an already impressive lineup.  Even if Prince for Victor Martinez was going to be a wash there was no reason to believe the team’s offense would drop off almost ten percent.  Which it has.

Like, the Tigers won 95 games last season with Brandon Inge, Magglio Ordonez and Ryan Raburn stinking up the joint until August.  They won 95 games last season with Brad Penny as their NUMBER FOUR starter until the Doug Fister trade.  They won 95 games even though at one point they were 4-19 when their fifth pitcher started.

So it wasn’t unreasonable to think that the current team Dombrowksi assembled would win AT LEAST that many games with the services of Fister for the entire season, the addition of Octavio Dotel to clean up the seventh inning and the relegation of Inge to a part-time player.

You know how I know it wasn’t unreasonable? Because EVERY SINGLE PERSON READING THIS THOUGHT THE TIGERS WERE GOING TO RUN AWAY AND HIDE FROM THEIR AL CENTRAL COMPETITION.  Not to mention, 99.9% of the so-called baseball experts picked this team to make the playoffs.

So, are you telling me that after 44 games, the roster that Dombrowski provided Leyland went from the most sure thing in all of baseball to play in October (Seasons Never Change and I’m on My Way) to an utter third-trimester abortion?

And, for a moment, let’s look at the players that Dombrowski provided this coaching staff at the beginning of the 2012 season:

1)     A first baseman that possesses a career .924 OPS and who in the prime of his career averages about 35 HRs and 110 RBI a season.

2)     A shortstop that in 2011 made the All-Star team.  A 30-year old who had an OPS of .824 last season which was among the best at his position in ALL OF FREAKING BASEBALL.

3)     A third baseman that might be the greatest hitter in the team’s HISTORY.

4)     A catcher that in his second year of professional baseball finished 12th in MVP balloting, made the All-Star team and who also had the second best OPS (.895) in the majors at his position in ’11.

5)     A defensive wizard in centerfield who had a quality rookie season and then slumped in 2011.  Would it be cheating if I mention that ESPN JUST voted this guy the third most valuable player in the AL through the first quarter of the 2012 season?

6)     A RF who in his second season in the big leagues had a .341 OBP and .458 slugging percentage and who projected only to get better with time.  Also, a kid whose absence during the playoffs caused many fans to moan “What if Boesch were healthy?” during the ALCS.

7)     An outfielder that was instrumental in the team’s late season success and who by the way, hit FIVE home runs in the 2011 postseason.  While injured.  In NINE GAMES!!!!

8)     A platoon at second of a guy who has historically hit fairly well vs. LHP during his career and a righty that had a .967 OPS after the All-Star game in 2011.

9)     A fourth outfielder who during the offseason was a national hero in the Dominican Republic winter league.  Would it be cheating if I mentioned this player currently has a .904 OPS?

10)   An ace who one day will be enshrined in Cooperstown and who won the AL MVP, the AL Cy Young and also filmed a commercial with Kate Upton during the offseason. (Mentioning Upton was just a total excuse to post this …..)

11)   Modern Day Doyle Alexander.

12)   A righty starter that won 15 games in 2011 and who entered the season with a career ERA of around 4.00.  A hard-throwing former first round pick that averaged over a strikeout per inning in Arizona at the age of 24 before being handed over to Leyland’s staff.

13)   Another over the Bud Selig slot, bonus baby who in his rookie season in 2009 put up a 3.96 ERA and who had won 38 MAJOR LEAGUE GAMES before the age of 23.  And a young pitcher that was only expected to be the team’s FOURTH STARTER.

14)   A bullpen that consists of a closer who didn’t blow a save in 2011, an 8th inning set-up man who was nearly perfect for the last half of 2011, a key relief pitcher from the reigning World Series champion Cardinals and a pretty damn good situational lefty.

That is the group of players that Jim Leyland was handed to start 2012.  There isn’t another manager in the American League Central who would NOT HAVE traded rosters with Cancer Stick on Opening Day or even RIGHT FUCKING NOW!!!

The fairly impressive resumes that I just provided to you are exactly the reason we thought this was going to be the Summer of Paws.

Now, the roster OBVIOUSLY isn’t perfect and we all knew the team would be defensively deficient.  And it would be nice if we had at least ONE positional prospect closer to Detroit than LAKELAND.

But there aren’t any perfect teams out there and most benches SUCK ASS.  And the conventional wisdom was that Dombrowski would be able to tweak this roster for the pending playoff run at the deadline by dangling Jacob Turner or Nick Castellanos as trade bait.

But are you going to tell me that it is Dombrowski’s fault that Fielder and Cabrera have OPS’s 100 points lower than their career averages right now?

Is Dombrowski’s culpable for fucking up Alex Avila’s knees by wearing him down at the end of last season by playing him almost EVERY DAY and even refusing to pull him from blowouts?

I mean, Avila and Peralta were ALL-STARS in 2011, should DD have gotten RID OF THEM!??!?!

Delmon Young was one of the team’s few clutch hitters during the playoff run last year and he did it while BANGED UP.  Let me see the long line of people who didn’t want to bring Young back for one more season after he had an OPS of .954 during the ’11 postseason and did his best Reggie Jackson impression.

Dombrowski’s biggest fault is that he didn’t fire Leyland after the 2009 collapse and NONE Of US even know if he had or has the authority to do so.

But what do you expect from a young staff when the PITCHING coach has been fired THREE TIMES as the organization’s BULLPEN coach?!?!?! Do you think there is any way in hell that Jeff Jones would have a gig as a pitching coach anywhere else in baseball other than this country club that Leyland is running?

Do we need any further proof that Lloyd McClendon is woefully incompetent? Everyone in Detroit thought Curtis Granderson was destined to be a platoon player if he remained in Detroit.  The guy goes to New York, modifies his approach with Kevin Long and becomes an MVP candidate.

This season, the man who couldn’t hit a lefty in Detroit if it was Phil Mickelson tossing off the Comerica Park mound, has an OPS of .936 vs. LHP and .892 vs. RHP.  I mean, that was totally inconceivable when the centerfielder was being tutored by Leyland’s Pittsburgh pal.

Leyland and McClendon employ an aggressive hitting philosophy, which in turn leads to less walks and deficient on-base percentages.  I was listening to the final game of the Cleveland series on the radio and heard Dan Dickerson and Jim Price lamenting the fact that the Indians have walked 60 times more than the Tigers in the same amount of games.

That isn’t an accident, people.  That is the result of a coaching staff that totally despises plate patience.

This team with a $132,300,000 payroll is managed by a 67-year old man who couldn’t care less about advanced metrics, admittedly REFUSES to watch game video and according to DSR sources basically runs an Off-Track-Betting Parlor out of his office with his coaching staff.

It is pretty sad that Leyland, McClendon and Lamont spend more time in the clubhouse watching Laffit Pincay, III, Todd Schrupp and Simon Bray than Karl Ravech, Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds.

So to summarize, the manager now has lost more games in the major leagues than he has won, the hitting coach presides over underachieving batters on a yearly basis with ZERO ramifications, the pitching coach is in a race with Keith Olbermann for career firings and the mere mention of Gene Lamont’s name in this town sends chills down the spine of most.   And I am not even referring to proprietors of All-You-Can-Eat buffets.

There shouldn’t be one Tigers fan who places a preponderance of the blame on Dombrowski as opposed to Leyland unless that person is willing to admit that he or she thought a 20-24 record would even be possible after 44 games with THIS roster.

This team was good enough to win the AL Central in March.  This team IS GOOD ENOUGH NOW to win this division even after a disastrous start.  I am guessing MOST of you still believe that which is ANOTHER reason Leyland is more culpable than DD.

If it was me and my job as the highest paid General Manager in all of baseball might be on the line because of incompetent coaching, I’d be on the phone with Terry Francona, Orel Hershiser and Ted Williams’ cryogenically frozen head in an effort to assemble a new staff ASAP.

Because if this team does the unthinkable and actually MISSES the playoffs this year, Dave, and you get fired from this cozy and extremely lucrative post, you will only have yourself to blame.

And it won’t be due to your failures with Cale Iorg, Ryan Perry, Daniel Fields among other expensive draft blunders.  Or the idiotic trade of Scott Sizemore.  Or the failure of those ten big league ready bullpen arms to develop.

It will occur because you failed to stand up to the man signing your paychecks and insist that someone from the 21st century manage your 2012 team.

Do it Dave or this will be the last time I waste 2,500 of my well-crafted words defending your lily-white ass.