Taking a Critical Look at Leyland's Lineups
I was all prepared to write a positive article about Jim Leyland and his lineup creation in Game 1 of the ALCS.
. . . and then I saw Neifi Perez's name in the #2 hole in Game 2. Yes, the guy who hit .243/.260/.316 in 2006 and just .200/.235/.215 in 21 games and 65 at-bats with the Tigers was elevated from the bench to the second spot in the lineup.
I realize Leyland's hand was forced a bit once he learned that Sean Casey had a partial tear in a muscle in his left calf and would be unable to play in Game 2. With backup Chris Shelton not on the ALCS roster, Leyland improvised by sliding shortstop Carlos Guillen over to first base and inserting Perez with a 6 next to his name on the lineup card. The veteran manager's only other realistic option would have been to put Ramon Santiago at short. However, the 27-year-old is more like Perez than not, sporting a .225/.244/.263 line this year and .227/.292/.299 in 793 career AB.
Leyland chose his poison and went with Perez over Santiago. I have no problem with that. Neither player can hit so why not go with the better gloveman? If nothing else, Neifi can pick it. An ounce of run prevention is always worth a little more than an ounce of run creation.
What I don't get is why Leyland wrote down Perez's name in the batting order between Curtis Granderson's and Placido Polanco's. He is a liability with a bat in his hands. I don't want to hear that Perez has a history of hitting Esteban Loaiza well. Three singles in 10 AB doesn't overcome a career of offensive ineptitude.
The only rationale for putting Perez in that spot is to hope that Granderson gets on base and Neifi moves him over to second via a sacrifice bunt or to third on a groundout to the right side. That's all well and good if one wants to employ a "little ball" strategy, but the bottom line is that the likelihood of scoring more than one run in a particular inning nosedives when using outs to advance runners. There is a time and a place for productive outs, but I'm not an advocate of designing a lineup in today's higher run-scoring environment with this stragegy in mind.
To wit, what if Granderson doesn't get on base, which is about two-thirds of the time? Now you're left with a batter who has a lifetime OBP under .300 coming up next. In fact, Perez has never even had a single season away from Colorado with an OBP of .300. With the exception of pitchers, Neifi is about as close to an automatic out as there is in baseball. Placing him in the order where he has roughly a 1-in-9 chance of getting an extra plate appearance over the course of the game vis-a-vis the #3 hitter (Polanco), a 2-in-9 chance over the #4 hitter (Magglio Ordonez), a 3-in-9 chance over the #5 hitter (Carlos Guillen), etc. makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Granted, the Tigers beat the A's on Wednesday night - but they did so in spite of Leyland's lineup. After upsetting the New York Yankees in the ALDS, Detroit has now won the first two games of the ALCS. Whatever it is that they're doing, they're doing it well. Kudos to Leyland and his troops. However, I would argue that Detroit's margin of error is rather small, and it gets even smaller by batting Perez second. Look, this is a team that doesn't put many runners on base. Oh sure, they can hit for power, but the Tigers need all the help they can get when it comes to generating base runners.
As long as the club's pitching holds up, the Tigers will be just fine. Leyland has four capable starters and can run Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya, and Todd Jones out there in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. That threesome reminds me of the 2002 Angels with Scot Shields, Francisco Rodriguez, and Troy Percival. A couple of young power arms and a proven veteran to shorten ballgames in a hurry.
Pitching and defense. This combo has always been a good recipe for success - and never more so than in the postseason. There was a reason why Detroit was 76-36 on August 7. But let's not forget the fact that this same team was 19-31 in its last 50 games. To their credit, the Tigers have stepped up in October and are once again playing as if the calendar read April, May, June, and July when they were the best team in baseball.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. I liked Leyland's Game 1 lineup because he loaded up the back end with low on-base and high slugging types. Given the same personnel, there aren't too many managers who would have had the resolve to bat Craig Monroe (28 HR), Marcus Thames (26), and Brandon Inge (27) seventh, eighth, and ninth. Unfortunately, there are way too many skippers who would bat Perez second as Leyland did in Game 2.