Roundtable: Assessing Ausmus's First Season

With just a few weeks left in the season and the Tigers battling for a playoff spot, discussion has turned to the performance of Brad Ausmus in his first year as the Tigers' manager. This week's Roundtable question: How would you assess Brad Ausmus in his first year as the Tigers manager?

Paul Wezner, Executive Editor

Overall, I'd say Brad Ausmus has done an acceptable job as the team's first year manager. The club is in competition for a playoff spot despite a myriad of injuries forcing Ausmus to improvise in his lineup, or limiting the ceiling of the club with subpar performance from Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. The clubhouse has remained harmonious, and there has been no hint of dissension. Of course, he was taking over a team that was a veteran group with established leaders, so the situation was probably more about not rocking the boat (seems simple, but plenty have failed at it, see Bobby Valentine and the Boston Red Sox). I have been somewhat disappointed with his management of the pitching staff, especially the bullpen. He has relied on traditional roles and pitcher vs. batter history to make decisions, even when in many cases it doesn't make sense, like not using your setup man or closer when losing a close game, or going with a pitcher's history of success against a batter, even if a simpler analysis (i.e. lefty vs. lefty matchup) would likely yield better results. Some of his lineup decisions have been curious as well, like pinch hitting with Ezequiel Carrera in Saturday's game. But, he's also limited by the roster he has, and it's not like he has a plethora of alternate options.

They often say that 80% of a manager's job happens elsewhere that the fans can't see - player instruction, managing people, the sort of thing that happens in the clubhouse before the game, not in the 8th inning of a one-run game. But I have noticed frequently throughout the season that it has felt more like Ausmus was just trying to oversee this group, rather than lead them. That might be fine for this sort of veteran team, but eventually, those leaders will be gone, and it'll be up to Brad to do the leading.

My overall take on Ausmus is that he's done about as expected as a rookie manager. I was optimistic given his education and background that he might have a greater penchant for utilizing more advanced metrics, but that hasn't materialized. I also fully expect Ausmus to learn from some of his mistakes and avoid some of the distractions he created or let happen (the "beat my wife" comment or the misbehavior of closer Joe Nathan) in the future. So, he's been fine and has dealt with quite a bit of adversity, but he'll need to get better if he hopes to have a long-tenured managing career.

Mark Anderson, Director of Scouting

It's really difficult for me to get a true handle on what Ausmus has done in his first season as a Major League manager. On the one hand, I've had a hard time with some of his in-game decision making. On the other, he's taken a clearly flawed roster -- one without a reliable bullpen and limited depth -- and guided them to the tenth best record in baseball, and within two games of the Central Division lead with less than a month to go. Expectations may have been higher than tenth in baseball or second in the division, but that's still nothing to sneeze at.

When you combine the flawed bullpen and lack of depth with injuries to Jose Igelsias, Miguel Cabrera, Andy Dirks, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Bruce Rondon, and after his acquisition Joakim Soria, it is not hard to understand how the Tigers have come up short of expectations. I have long been of the belief that managers get too much credit for team success and too much blame when a team comes up short, and with that, I don't think Ausmus has done anything egregious that would warrant a harsh opinion of his first season at the helm. He's just kind of been there, for better or worse, and the Tigers are in the thick of things despite flaws and unfortunate twists of fate. I'll take that from the manager of a team any day.

Neil Weinberg, Senior Analyst

Despite very high hopes for Ausmus going into the season given his comments and thoughts from those who knew him, I think Ausmus' first year at the helm has been something close to a disaster. Managers only have so much impact on a team's success, but everything we can observe from the outside points to a first-year manager who is in way over his head. I don't know if Ausmus will improve as time goes on, but things haven't gone well so far.

Certain problems are more debatable than others. Ausmus' bullpen usage has been very poor, but this isn't something managers are typically very good at in general. He is far to rigid in the roles he assigns to players. It's one thing to say Joba Chamberlain is your 8th inning guy, it's another thing entirely to refuse to use him in the 8th with a one run deficit even though he is well-rested. But it's more than the roles, which I understand are heavily socialized into baseball. Ausmus' real bullpen flaw is that he never plans ahead for the next move and seems totally flabbergasted when his first reliever doesn't get the outs he expected. On numerous occasions, he's failed to have a reliever warming up because he figured the current one would get out of the inning before he need to switch to the other platoon side.

Ausmus has also seemed to have a horrible communication problem. His recent comments about James McCann show a lack of understanding about Bryan Holaday's deficiencies and a blatant disregard for McCann's ability to do his job. Additionally, the entire organizational response to the Verlander and Cabrera injuries have been odd. Some of this is probably due to Ausmus' lack of clarity.

When it really comes down to it, the part that makes you pull your hair out is how much he believes in batter-pitcher matchups despite the fact that they have been shown to have almost zero predictive value. This isn't to say having experience against a pitcher doesn't help you, but the statistics (Player X is 8-15 against Pitcher Y) are useless. Every time he makes a weird lineup call, he defends it with "well Rajai has good numbers against..." even though there is no empirical basis to believe that matters. He also makes strange choices when it comes to deploying his bench, like using Ezequiel Carrera as a pinch hitter while much better hitters wait on the bench for pinch running chances that might never come. And this is to say nothing about the Tigers reckless and costly base running and their inability to play defense which is part coaching and part roster organization.

All told, he doesn't seem to use his personnel well and doesn't seem like he has a good grasp of the basic tactical principles of the game. While his demeanor seemed charming early, his communication since has suffered and there's no indication that he's a Ron Washington/Jim Leyland type whom the players particularly love. Maybe he can get better, but he's done nothing this year to demonstrate his value other than keeping Jeff Jones on staff and bringing in Matt Martin. Fortunately, he was dealt a pretty decent hand because he doesn't seem to play his cards well.

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