I’m on record as saying the Tigers are going to be fine. My definition of fine is that they’ll finish around 85-87 wins, so maybe we shouldn’t use “fine” and should use something like “as expected.” I’m going to use fine because it seems easier to type.
But let’s set aside “fine” and “expected” and “scoring runs,” to talk a little bit about what happened on Sunday night. I won’t rehash the entire thing, but David Price took the mound in the 8th inning and the score was tied. Okay, fair enough. Everything checks out. He was at 99 pitches and he was facing hitters 4-6. Ideally, you’d have a very quick hook in this situation because your pitcher is getting tired, facing the lineup again, and the score is tied.
Already, when the inning starts, you should have your finger on the trigger. The bullpen trigger. I get that Price is a horse and he’s been pitching pretty well. The Tigers, despite their performance, don’t have great relievers, so I’m totally on board with a little more leash. In a normal situation, you give a guy one base runner, but I’m okay with a little more slack.
Let’s check in on what happened.
- Infield hit
Alright, so a walk isn’t a good sign but we were going to give Ausmus some room here because it’s an ace on the mound. The infield hit adds a runner, but it’s safe to say that it was a weakly hit ball. I would still be weary of leaving him in, but it’s not like he made a bad pitch and was showing a clear sign of fatigue. But he had now tossed 11 extra pitches. He’s at 110. Two on, no out. Game on the line. At this moment, the leverage index sat at 3.04. If you don’t know about leverage index, essentially that 3.04 means this situation was super important for the outcome of the game.
I probably want to pull him, but there’s some issue because Calhoun is a lefty and the Tigers LOOGY options are just okay.
- Sacrifice bunt
Now it’s second and third, one out. Leverage up to 3.28. Ausmus calls for the intentional walk which is very well justified in this situation. Dial the leverage up to 4.86. This is an insanely important moment in the game. Bases loaded, game on the freaking line.
Ausmus leaves Price in. Okay, the bunt and the walk don’t tell you anything, so he hasn’t shown a flaw yet. He’s tired and they’ve seen him plenty, but he hasn’t forced the pull. You can defend it a little. Fine.
- Infield fly
Wow. So the leverage index is now 5.40. This is off the charts. Two outs and bases loaded in a tie game, on the road, in the 8th. Game hangs in the balance. Should you pull Price? Again, I’ll give Ausmus the benefit of the doubt. He thinks he should. He’s at 121 pitches. He’s labored. It’s tough. I’m on board. I probably get him sooner, but he’s done a fine job since the walk to leadoff the inning. We’re cool.
Here’s the flaw in the whole damn thing. The leverage index is 5.40. The bases are loaded. It’s a tie game. There is no better situation for the best reliever on the team than this. The odds of you having another situation as critical as this one in the game are small. Now is the time to go to Joakim Soria.
Out came Joba Chamberlain.
Now of course, Joba got a grounder that found a hole and the infield botched. It’s not Joba’s fault the Tigers lost the game. Not at all. But that situation called for Soria and Soria didn’t pitch.
He didn’t even warm up.
So hey, that’s fine, it’s a long season. Can’t always use your best relievers. But Soria didn’t pitch the whole series. He was well rested. It was late in the game, so it’s not like he wasn’t mentally ready (say, in the 4th inning). No, instead Ausmus had Joba and Hardy loose instead of Soria. Why?
If Ausmus had wanted to use a lefty, you could defend it. Soria is good against both sides but lefty specialists are specialists for a reason. Ausmus had Joba up and used him, so there goes that.
If Soria was over-worked, it would make sense. No one game is worth blowing out his arm. But Soria hadn’t pitched since Oakland.
So the only explanation here is that Ausmus was holding Soria back for a more important moment later in the game. He was holding him back for a future inning. Out of context, sure. You don’t have to use him in the 5th inning because you have four more innings.
Except it was the 8th inning on the road. You blow this and it’s over. And the leverage index was 5.40, so you know the odds of a bigger moment are almost zero. And this developed very slowly. Price was methodical and there were lots of hitters, so it’s not like Joba was already hot and there was no time for Soria to get loose. It wasn’t a surprise.
Put another way, Ausmus saw this inning develop, chose to go with a well-rested righty, and he didn’t even have Soria warming up.
The explanation? It wasn’t a save situation. That’s all it could be. Soria pitches in save situations and this wasn’t one of them.
Except Soria was the setup man as recently as two months ago. And last summer. So it’s not like this would be putting him in situation he doesn’t know.
This was a completely indefensible move by the manager. The only logical conclusion you can reach is that he was saving him for a save situation (a stat that doesn’t matter!). Except this was the absolutely worst game in which to make that choice. Ausmus does a lot of things wrong, yet somehow, this one seems among the worst. He had the time to think it through and it was so obvious to everyone watching.
Choosing when to pull Price was tricky. The guy who should have pitched, and at least should have been warming up, was not tricky at all.
Maybe Ausmus is a great instructor and a brilliant leader, but on Sunday he showed again why so many of us consider him an awful tactician.