Jim Leyland IS ‘Old School Baseball’, You Guys

We all know Jim Leyland has been around for a while. I mean, people are shocked, shocked!, to find out he’s only 67 years old. Of course when you’re old AND you’ve been around the game for as long as Leyland has, the term ‘Old School’ is thrown in his direction.

Of course, Leyland embraces this phrase, in fact at the press conference announcing the Prince Fielder signing he proudly stated that the team would get back to ‘old baseball ways’ with their thumper’s at first and third. Honestly, I’m not sure what that means, and I’m not sure he knows either; I think he was just happy with the new bat he could stick in at the number four spot in the lineup.

After Jason Beck published this on his blog this morning, I’m convinced that Jim Leyland really is ‘Old School Baseball’. As in before television broadcasts, before recorded replay. Apparently neither he, nor his coaching staff, watches film.

From Beck’s Blog:

For much of these first five weeks, Tigers manager Jim Leyland has been watching his Tigers offense from the dugout and wondering why a team with so many dangerous bats has been struggling to get going. His first ejection of the season might have given him the angle to figure out why.

It came while he was watching the final six innings on TV.

“When you’re in the dugout, you can’t always tell [plate discipline], but one of our problems — and I was talking with [hitting coach Lloyd McClendon] after the game about it: One of our problems, and we’ve watched some of it, but we swung at a lot of balls,” Leyland said. “We’re not going to hit if we swing at the kind of pitches we swung at tonight after the third or fourth inning. I mean, we just did not show plate discipline, we did not grind out at-bats, and we swung at a lot of balls. We’re too good of a team to do that. Our hitters are too good to do that. We made a lot of outs on balls, and we swung at a lot of bad pitches. So that’s one thing we’re going to have to do a little better at, but we’re very capable of that, and we will.”

Of course, it’s the same angle most fans — and more than a few reporters who haven’t been at every game — have been watching all season. So now Leyland can say that he sees it the same way. It’s an angle available to players and coaches when they’re looking at video, but it’s different just watching the normal course of a game as it happens. In the natural sequence of a game, the regularity of the bad at-bats stands out.

I think Jim Leyland does a very good job as the Detroit Tigers manager but this is a bit concerning.

1) What is McClendon doing on a daily basis that takes Leyland one half game to recognize? A hitting coach (especially one who’s been in the game for 32 years) has a simple job. It’s to tweak the offense. Its to recognize when a specific player is  is it not your job to look at film after every game? It’s really not Leyland’s job, it’s McClendon’s. He’s the one who I’m really raising my eyebrows at. Does he simply look at his offense and say, “Ah! They’re professional’s, they’ll figure it out!”. It sure seems like it.

2) For three weeks the Tigers offense haven’t even been able to score at the league average. After the first week I, noted blogger, was looking at why the offense was sputtering and saw this exact issue. Austin Jackson, and Prince Fielder have been the only two offensive players who really have quality at bats day in and day out. Even Miguel Cabrera is chasing pitches all over the place. Why does it take Jim Leyland getting ejected due to an umpires inaccurate belief of the American League strike zone for people (specifically Tiger people) to recognize this?

3) Does it take Jason Beck looking up these stats – They’re taking just 52.6 percent of pitches thrown, the lowest percentage among AL teams. They’re swinging at the first pitch of an at-bat 29.1 percent of the time, which is a league high. They’re missing on 22.1 percent of their swings, sixth-highest in the league – to get people to realize that the Tigers are having horrible at bats?

Jeff Jones, the Tigers pitching coach made specific tweaks to the deliveries of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello this season.I don’t know the conversations that went on behind the scenes, but from what everyone has quoted it looks like Jones took it on himself to tackle the issue; which is why I am looking at McClendon here.

Lloyd McClendon, as many people are reminding me is a big reason Austin Jackson is improving himself this year. I’m not suggesting that he isn’t a good coach, he is, I’m wondering where the work is? That’s all. Just wondering. But, by god, baseball is a lot smarter than it was even ten years ago, guys. Video is your friend. It’s not black magic, it can help.

  • cestma

    You & Beck make a good point.  I wonder, tho, how much weight to give to whatever a manager thinks of to say after each game.  Of course they’re being paid for it, but I often feel for managers having to answer to the press after every game, which in baseball is a LOT of games; trying to strike the right note, find a way to say something constructive, and, most difficult, come up with a reason to explain poor results.  (By which I mean that most likely this isn’t the first time Leyland’s noticed this problem,  not that it’s not a problem!)

    At the end of last year when things were going so well, Leyland was widely touted as a manager-of-the-year candidate.  Now (as any manager in the same circumstances would be) he’s on the hot seat.  Leyland has always been the first to say, “I don’t change.  I manage the way I manage…”

    I wonder what’s being said to McClendon behind the scenes…?

  • suzinne barrett

    What a great photograph, and Jim Leyland always has been a firebrand. My memory of him is charging like a bat out of hell from the Pirates’ dugout (which seemed to happen regularly).

    His announcement that he’s through w/ coaching brought me here today.

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