Paul Wezner, Executive Editor
While some had wildly strong opinions on the job Brad Ausmus did in 2014, I was relatively pleased with his first season. Let's not forget that he was a first-year manager, and before the season even started, he lost his shortstop, left fielder and setup man, and had his ace and his star hitter coming back from off-season surgery that likely hampered them for part of, if not all, of the year. Ausmus managed the clubhouse well, maintaining a positive atmosphere, despite significant issues to deal with on the field. Ausmus has not, and probably will never, receive enough credit for that. All that being said, I would love to see Ausmus in year two develop some more roster flexibility, especially when it comes to lineup construction and bullpen deployment. When you've got a stacked lineup or a clear 7/8/9, it can make more sense to stick with the group you've got. The Tigers, save for a few spots in the lineup, don't have that. Joba Chamberlain was not a shut down setup man and guys like Al Alburquerque and Joakim Soria were more effective over the course of the year, yet he got the ball without fail in the 8th inning - more than 49 of his 63 innings were the 8th. Don Kelly is a weak offensive player, yet 124 of his 185 plate appearances last year came with him hitting somewhere between the 2nd slot and 6th slot in the lineup. In the grand scheme of things, these are relatively minor quibbles. But the Tigers are likely going to have to battle for the AL Central crown up until the very last day of the season, and a key matchup here or there could swing a game. Maximizing your chances of winning every single game is going to take on greater importance this year, and it will be to the club's benefit if he can grow and adapt.
Mark Anderson, Director of Scouting
Coming from a guy that doesn't believe the vast majority of things Ausmus does during a game have much impact on the outcome, seeing him make substantial improvements in any area isn't something I see as having a significant impact on the 2015 Tigers. That said, I think Ausmus could stand to truly employ the platoons available to him on a more consistent basis. Whether that be truly platooning Avila with Holaday or McCann, and truly platooning Davis with Gose in center field, and even to a lesser extent, pulling Collins along on the roster -- rather than Perez and Romine -- so he can offset the right-handed J.D. Martinez against tough righties. I think we will see some of this in 2015, but it won't be used as a true and consistent strategy, which I believe it should be. Tangential to this, I would like to see Ausmus' lineup construction veer further from the rigidity of the Jim Leyland days; moving guys around based on the use of platoons and their tendencies against a certain pitcher or type of pitcher. When combined, the consistent use of platoons and the attention paid to lineup construction could sneak out an extra win or two over the course of the year; a win or two that could be the difference in what will be an increasingly competitive division.
Neil Weinberg, Senior Analyst
I would like to see Ausmus learn the strengths and weakness of his players much better than he did during his freshman season as manager. I've had plenty of negative things to say about Ausmus during his tenure, but what drove me crazy most often was how his explanations for why he made a decision wouldn't line up with the facts on the ground about the players involved. It's one thing that Ausmus has a different philosophy about how to run a bullpen or which players should bat second, but on many occasions he made decisions that were seemingly irrational. For example, he once pinch hit with Ezequiel Carrera because "if he got on he could swipe a base." The only two problems with that statement were that Carrera was far less likely to reach base than the other guys on the bench and that MLB rules do allow you to pinch run for a pinch hitter. There were other examples of the same flaw, but that really sums up Ausmus' biggest area for improvement in a nutshell. Your players have strengths and weakness and it's your job to put them in a position to succeed.
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