By Will Burchfield
The former Tigers manager sees something the current one doesn’t.
Jim Leyland may be right.
In an interview with the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket on Friday, Leyland said one of the Tigers’ biggest issues this season has been their inability to drive home runners in scoring position, particularly runners on third with less than two outs.
If so, it cost the Tigers again on Saturday afternoon, when Andrew Romine struck out with J.D. Martinez on third base and one out in the fifth. Martinez would be stranded on third and the Tigers would go on to lose by a run.
“I think we’re one of the worst in baseball at getting those guys in from third base with less than two outs. You gotta score guys, you gotta have people that can knock in runs. It’s that simple,” said Leyland, who serves as a special assistant in the Tigers organization.
When Brad Ausmus was asked after Saturday’s game if he feels the Tigers have stranded an unusually high number of runners on third this season, he said, “Last year I thought the same thing, and then you looked at it and we were right in the middle of the pack. It always seems like the team you’re focusing on has trouble doing it and then when you look at it across the league it ends up being pretty normal. But I have not checked that this year.”
It’s a hard trend to measure without knowing a team’s actual rate of success, but here are some good proxies.
With a runner on third and less than two outs, the Tigers rank 24th in the majors in RBI (71), 24th in batting average (.290) and tied for 28th in sacrifice flies (9). They also have the third most strikeouts (33).
It bears mention that they also rank 22nd in number of at-bats (94), so they haven’t had as many opportunities as most teams. Still, it certainly seems like Tigers hitters have had trouble bearing down when presented with perhaps the most golden RBI opportunity in baseball.
In terms of other situational scenarios – bases loaded, runners on second and third – the Tigers are more average. And they’re actually one of the best teams in the majors with men in scoring position and two outs, ranking fifth in RBI (97) and average (.274).
But they’ve left too many runners 90 feet from home when a simple fly ball or grounder would often suffice, and it’s starting to cost them.
“My contention is, if you listen to every losing manager in the major leagues night after night after night, a huge percentage of the time, what does every manager say when they lose the game? They say, ‘We had our chances, we couldn’t get a big hit.’ Every night, every manager,” said Leyland. “You have to score, and that’s what I’m a big believer in.”
The Tigers have had no issue scoring this season, if inconsistently so. They rank third in the A.L. with 4.9 runs per game. Still, that could be even higher if they were better in a key situational spot.
In all likelihood, this is a little aberration that will even out as the season wears on. But the strikeouts are worth keeping an eye on. It’s the one result a hitter truly can’t afford when trying to score a runner from third with less than two outs. And the Tigers are a strikeout-prone team.
The Rays topped the Tigers 3-2 on Saturday afternoon behind six strong innings from Chris Archer.