Regarding the Tigers, there are two things everyone loves to discuss.
The lineup. And, why isn’t (random player) in it??!
Hey, that’s baseball. And I think questions about the lineup are fair game, because there’s always a reason a player is out of it, or moved down in it. Jim Leyland also thinks the questions are fair game — he just hates addressing them.
I get it. And here’s why: Because in Leyland’s mind, almost every answer about the lineup becomes a criticism about a player. Brandon Inge has been benched for Don Kelly and it wasn’t because Inge was all tuckered out from the All-Star break. Does Leyland really need to pile on about Inge’s abysmal .183 average?
Carlos Guillen is returning to replace Ryan Raburn and it’s fairly obvious Raburn isn’t an everyday second baseman, beyond his .214 average. Leyland is well aware of the Tigers’ second-half wobbles, and he’s taking a pledge of positivity.
“I’m not talking about negative stuff,” he said. “Last year’s last year.”
His manager-speak mantra doesn’t change: Whatever lineup he draws up is the lineup he thinks has the best chance to win that game. Period. Next question.
I can hear you shrieking already. How can it be the best lineup when a star player is resting, or Alex Avila isn’t catching, or Victor Martinez isn’t playing?!
Leyland isn’t making out the lineup to annoy you. Really, he isn’t. Sometimes I think he rests too many players in the same game, but he’s not doing anything unusual. And ahem, he has played Miguel Cabrera at least 150 games every year, and 160 games twice.
The Tigers have had an older roster, with guys like Magglio Ordonez, Guillen and Inge, and physical breakdowns have occurred. Leyland is especially concerned about the workload on his young All-Star catcher, Avila, whose scorching average slipped to .282.
I asked Leyland how he determines when to rest a player, and maybe you’re surprised to know he doesn’t just pull names out of a cap.
“You can see a guy treading water, maybe his bat is dragging a little bit,” he said. “Maybe he’s a little tardy on his swing, or the ball isn’t jumping off the bat. When a guy’s fatigued, you’re not saying he’s playing bad. But I promise you, some other player with more energy gives us the better chance to win.”
A simple philosophy that makes sense. Players don’t play 162 games, ever. The debate stirs madly when the replacement isn’t very good, and the star taking a rest is a lot better. That’s a conundrum that’ll never go away. But trust me, if the Tigers had a deeper roster of position players, Leyland wouldn’t get agitated talking about it.