May 3, 2011

Your Disjointed Tigers

Chemistry.

You’ve all heard Jim Leyland address the role of chemistry in Major League Baseball. He’ll tell you on and off the record that it’s completely meaningless.

Well, coach, I have trouble believing that the Tigers cliquey clubhouse is meaningless. I may buy the notion that the best team unity may not translate to more wins, but I won’t buy the notion that a disjointed team doesn’t translate to more losses.

When I had the incredible opportunity to cover the Detroit Tigers on the road last year, thanks to the amazing people at WDFN, I observed a very awkward clubhouse.

It’s kind of an unwritten rule that sports reporters stay away from writing about this kind of stuff. It’s really no secret that there’s a much different relationship between sports reporters and athletes than, say, the president and his press corps. There’s obviously more chummy behavior. I mean, heck, it wasn’t until after the departure of Ivan Rodriguez that we learned what a diva he was in the locker room.

Recently, however, with the impact of Twitter and Facebook, you are hearing more and more about player personalities, albeit very subtle.

Unfortunately, while I’m not exactly comfortable revealing some of the shocking things I witnessed in clubhouses while covering the Tigers, Indians and Red Sox, I will say that there is a weird, almost tangible feeling of disconnect. Given, as my luck would have it, you can count on one hand the number of games the Tigers won while I was covering them, so one would certainly expect these competitors to be unhappy, but it was more than that.

And there in lies the problem. I wrote a column the other day, Identity Crisis, in which I said this team won’t be able to put anything substantial together until they figure out who they are. I think we can all agree that the Tigers don’t know who they are. Their bullpen, their starting pitching, their offense, their defense, their style of play, literally everything, has been either to credit or blame for wins and losses. The question then becomes, how do you figure out who you are if, as a team, there is no chemistry?

Sabermetricians will tell you of all the major sports, baseball is the least dependent on the idea of chemistry. They’ll say that stats are stats, and players will perform within a certain range of predictability. While I agree with that to an extent, I can’t accept their assumption that everything is statistically measurable. Being able to rely on each other, trust each other, I mean, just liking each other, would logically lead you to believe that players would perform to their potential.

Now I’m not saying the Tigers don’t “like” each other. They do. What I’m saying is, when you introduce any polarity into any situation, it creates tension. And from what I’m hearing, and what I’ve seen in the past, I truly believe that this team is disjointed.

If they are going to figure this out, it’s going to take an identity. To create one, it will be a tremendous task for Jim Leyland. But, for all his faults, he’s the guy that can get the best play out of every athlete on the club. I have some faith left, but it’s waning.

 

6 Comment(s)

  1. Joe | May 3, 2011 | Reply

    Chemistry? So who is calling Pudge a diva? Not his teammates I am sure. Would have him back in the Tigers lineup in a heartbeat. Have you watched him with the Astros, Rangers and Nationals they love him in the clubhouse, he by all accounts brings a winning vibe to the clubhouse and field. He has accepted whatever role, place in the lineup as a professional. He would whip some of these Tigers pitchers back in shape, ask Valverde he had Pudge catch him, ask Avila he was inspired by Pudge. Could use some of his energy around Comerica.

  2. Adam | May 3, 2011 | Reply

    We need to get rid of Leyland. Period. We NEVER have the same lineup. Last year we had more lineups than any other team in baseball. Its ridiculous! Anybody that is pro-Leyland say “He won a World Series with the Marlins!”. Look what happened to that team afterwards. They gradually got worse. Its exactly whats happening to the Tiggers. We got to the World Series early in his tenure as manager and then gradually have gotten worse. The sad thing is, the Tigers have talent! Just need a manager that will let them play ball.

  3. John | May 3, 2011 | Reply

    I could not agree more. I was just talking with a friend and fellow tigers fan a few days ago. I made the comment that I missed the Tigers of 2006. Not because those Tigers were winning…but because those Tigers were winning and having FUN! Thats something I have missed these last few years. I also think Leyland is wrong to say chemistry does not matter. Maybe to a team like the Yankees it does not but look at the success of teams in the last decade that had great chemistry. The “Idiot” Red Sox of 2004 and The Giants of 2010 come to mind. Frankly I think the Tigers need someone to step up and be a Kevin Millar, Brian Wilson or Tim Lincecum for our team. Until then I don’t see the Tigers succeeding.

  4. Matt | May 3, 2011 | Reply

    Maybe we can re-sign nate dogg and stock the bench with big league chew. In all seriousness, players get paid to produce and the manager can only do so much. If Ajax and rhymes/santiago/sizemore arent producing in front of cabby, whos fault is that? The only possible change i could see would be to use peralta in the two hole with v-mart cabby boesch and maggs/raburn to follow. That still leaves us with no viable leadoff hitter. Were sorely lacking in production from the third base position as well. The bullpen is too good to keep struggling and the rotation (coke to the pen, oliver to the bigs) is more than adequate. For all of the people who say this is an offense-first club i just don’t see it. Try this lineup on for size: Sizemore/santiago 2b, Peralta ss, V-Mart dh, Cabby 1b, Boesch rf/lf, Raburn/Maggs rf/lf, Avila C, Inge/Kelly 3b (straight platoon), Ajax cf.

    P.S. Im not going to throw a stupid lineup out with hopeful additions to the club (David Wright), but the position crying out for an upgrade is 3b. Two possibilities are to get an offensive threat at 3b or a high obp (leadoff) ss and put jhonny at 3rd.

  5. Willy Trencher | May 9, 2011 | Reply

    Given that you decided to imply you know information about the disharmony within the Tigers clubhouse but have chosen not to impart details of this to those of us reading your blog, it makes it very difficult for any of us to know if you have a point or not.

  6. Wade Fink | May 11, 2011 | Reply

    Fair.

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