Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday Morning Manager -- Season's (Almost) Over Edition

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 3-4
This Week: 9/29: at CWS

It's funny how fast coaches get dumb.

Two years ago, Chuck Hernandez was hailed as being a major reason why the Tigers had a league-leading ERA of 3.84. He was instrumental, they said, in the development of rookies Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya, and for the emergence of another rookie, Zach Miner.

Now Hernandez is a dummy. And he's also out of a job.

Hernandez and bullpen coach Jeff Jones were the first two lambs sacrificed in the wake of this most disappointing Tigers season.

Several things contributed to Hernandez's loss of pitching coach intelligence.

Injuries to: Jeremy Bonderman; Zumaya; Fernando Rodney; Todd Jones. Disappearing acts by: Nate Robertson; Dontrelle Willis; Verlander.

All those things, plus Kenny Rogers' age catching up to him, and the regression against lefties by Bobby Seay, made Hernandez stupid. So throw him out and find someone smarter, I suppose.

I laugh when the name Leo Mazzone gets brought up.

Mazzone was the Atlanta Braves' pitching coach for the glory years of the 1990s and into the 2000s. A veritable genius, that hackneyed sports word.

Hernandez: injuries, down years, and other implosions lowered his baseball IQ considerably

Mazzone was smart because he had the good fortune of having pitchers on his staff named Avery and Maddux and Smoltz and Glavine. And a reliever like Mike Stanton. And other competent pitchers -- way more than most teams could ever dream of having. Yes sir, Leo Mazzone was smart -- and lucky.

Then Mazzone was lured away from Atlanta to the Baltimore Orioles in time for the 2006 season. And by the time Leo got into Crabtown and looked around and didn't see any future Hall of Famers on his staff, it was too late: Leo Mazzone got stupid in a hurry.

The pitching genius coached the O's staff to an ERA of 5.35 in 2006. The next year he got a little smarter: 5.17.

Funny how talent will make a coach more brilliant.

So is Leo Mazzone a good pitching coach? Probably. To be fair, those big name guys gave him a lot of credit. But then again, what else are they going to say? "We did it despite Leo?" But is he great? Is he a genius? Can he make chicken salad out of chicken feathers? Can he bring results when his staff isn't filled with superstars?

I'm not out to get Mazzone here. I'm just saying, that so many things are out of a coach's hands.

Yet, this is a results-based business, professional sports is. And no one really cares, truthfully, what you were up against, if things go sideways.

The Tigers' bullpen, amazingly, turned 13 seventh-inning or beyond leads into losses this season. Someone's got to pay for such foolishness.

Funny, but I never heard how smart Hernandez was in regards to the surprising season turned in by Armando Galarraga. But one diamond in the rough wasn't nearly enough to save the Tigers' staff this year.

And it's true that a coach can prove how smart he is best when the odds are against him.

It's totally up to conjecture as to just how much influence a pitching coach or a hitting coach has on his charges' performance. I'm sure they get way more credit than deserved, and the same with the blame. It's the nature of the beast. And Chuck Hernandez and Jeff Jones know that.

You simply can't have the pitching meltdowns that the Tigers had this season and expect that everyone is going to get off the hook. It doesn't work that way, especially after a season in which many people thought the Tigers were going to be world's champions.

In 1968, the Tigers' pitching genius was Johnny Sain. Denny McLain won 31 games. The starters led the AL in complete games, and the staff was third in the league in ERA. Sain was hailed, and hailed loudly. Then, less than two years later, after a dispute with manager Mayo Smith, Sain got dumb and was fired.

One of the smarter ones being mentioned as a replacement for 2009 is Mark Wiley, who was the pitching coach for the great Indians teams of the mid-to-late 1990s. He was also Willis's coach with the Marlins in 2005, when Dontrelle won 22 games and had an ERA of 2.63.

Wiley, or whomever is hired, will have the luxury of being smarter than his predecessor, for the time being. Until he gets dumb, sooner or later. Then it's out with the dumb and in with the smart, once again.


I have mixed emotions about today's makeup game with the White Sox. I always want the Tigers to win, but in this case, a Tigers victory means the Minnesota Twins make the playoffs. And I absolutely HATE the Twins. So, best case scenario: Gary Sheffield hits his 500th home run -- in a losing effort. And the Twins lose the playoff with the Chisox Tuesday, and all will be OK in my world.



Blogger Brian said...

Your feeling about today's game is funny - the opposite of mine. I absolutely hate the White Sox. So today was yet one more let-down in a season of disappointments.

Why do you hate the Twins (just curious - not criticizing)? I lived in Chicago the year the Bulls set the record for victories and I remember seeing PSAs with Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan (who I ALWAYS hated, and still do) and Dennis Rodman urging fans not to riot "when we win this thing." Yes, they were going to win it, but you still don't go on TV and the radio acting like it's a done deal.

The whole city had this "we are so superior to all other sports cities" attitude and the Bulls were their "proof." So right then and there, I developed a hatred for all Windy City sports teams. That was 12 years ago and so far, only the White Sox have won anything. I hope the Cubs go another 100 years before they win a World Series. I'm not sure whom I would root for if it was a Cubs/White Sox Series, but I think it will be the Sox, just so the stupid Cubs fans can keep crying.

I'm sorry, what was the subject?

11:38 PM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

Hi Brian....

My hatred of the Twins is sorta conjoined with my disdain toward the Vikings, who are, by far, my most hated team in ANY sport. That one dates back to the 1970s, when the Vikes always beat the Lions (and in zany ways) and won the division while we finished second all the time.

The Twins thing, though, has a lot to do with that damn dome, and how they win these cockamamie games there. Wacky things happen in the Metrodome and they always seem to benefit the Twins.

Besides, I'm convinced that if the Tigers had the home field advantage in the '87 ALCS (which they deserved by virtue of their record), they would have beaten the Twins. The Twins got lucky in '87 AND '91 in that the AL got home advantage in those World Series, and that's how the Twins won the Series both years.

That's not baseball that they play in that damned Metrodome -- it's pinball!

1:28 AM  

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