November 4, 2013 at 2:27 am

John Niyo

Brad Ausmus will likely heed the numbers as Tigers manager

Detroit Its my understanding that there will be some math.

Everyone was busy Sunday adding up the strengths and weaknesses of Brad Ausmus as the Tigers new manager the brightest and best of an expansive field of candidates, according to team president Dave Dombrowski.

But well have to wait and see just what the numbers say next spring. Or better yet, what Ausmus has to say about the numbers. Odds are, though, itll be addition by subtraction in that regard.

On the sabermetric scale, which seems to be baseballs most volatile fault line these days, his predecessor, Jim Leyland, was an unabashed dinosaur, which certainly charmed some fans while horrifying others.

The new guy a 44-year-old Ivy Leaguer who developed a reputation as one of the games smartest players over an 18-year major league career wasnt eager to categorize himself Sunday at his introductory press conference.

But even as he defused one question about advanced statistics and his view of their value, and later a couple more away from the dais, he answered the way some of us hoped he would: Yes, the numbers do matter.

In todays game, youd be a fool not to admit that. And understand why. If thats a new-school approach in an old-school game, so be it.

I dont think it has to be one school or the other, Ausmus said, which, to me, sounded like the smart way to side with the former while not offending the latter.

You dont have to be a slave to the numbers. But you do have to respect them and consider them. And the best managers in todays game Joe Maddons only the most colorful among them, really find a way to use them to their advantage.

Crunching data

The best organizations do, too, by the way. The San Francisco Giants were one of the first MLB teams to use new baseball tracking technology like Fieldf/x, while the St. Louis Cardinals have built one of baseballs best analytics departments over the last several years. The Boston Red Sox hired Bill James, the godfather of sabermetrics, more than a decade ago and they finally won another World Series twice. (And after losing their way a bit, they got back in good graces with the James gang, just in time to win another.) Dombrowski and his front-office staff certainly arent afraid of numbers, but it takes the guy in the managers office to fully utilize them to complement good scouting and personnel decisions.

I think theres some value to some of that, Ausmus agreed. I can tell you that players do not like to be inundated with numbers. They dont want to know what percentage of fastballs a pitcher throws in a 2-1 count. Its just not usable information.

But I think if you can take some of that statistical information and grind it down into a usable piece of information that you can hand off to a player, yeah, that can be important.

And I suppose its important to note, too, that Ausmus talked about his love for the cerebral side of the game more than once Sunday. He talked about it in his lengthy interview with Dombrowski last week as well.

I told Brad, I guarantee you the first day you put your lineup up, somebodys gonna ask you why youre playing that lineup, and youve got to be ready to answer those questions, Dombrowski said. Thats just the way the game is now.

Leyland certainly understood that. Its just that his answers often left something to be desired. Ausmus surely will have his saber-rattling moments, too. But listening to him Sunday, I dont expect therell be quite as many.

We talked strategy, Dombrowski said, when asked, for example, about that four-letter word that starts with b and rhymes with grunt.

Experience on the field

Ausmus, for what its worth, doesnt sound as if hes going to be the type of manager whos eager to give away free outs.

Like he said, Theres times you need to bunt, but Im just not a guy thats gonna believe in bunting all the time, Dombrowski said. He said, If it makes sense for me to do something, Ill do it.

And if it doesnt, well, my sense is the answer will be rooted in something more tangible than a gut feeling or a small sample size.

Theres a lot to like about Ausmus, obviously. He doesnt just look or sound the part. He acts it, even if he hasnt done it as a big league manager in the dugout. Ill settle for an open mind and nearly 20 years as a major league catcher, with an experienced coaching staff for support.

Ausmus, as expected, said hed keep Gene Lamont on as his bench coach. The two have a history Genes been praising him to me for years, Dombrowski said and they respect each others abilities enough that Lamont told the Red Sox last year when he was a finalist for their managerial vacancy that he planned to ask Ausmus to be his bench coach in Boston.

Ill also take a guy with fresh experience in the front office, which Ausmus has gotten in San Diego the last few years, and a guy whos willing to learn. Dombrowski was genuinely impressed that Ausmus on his own decided to learn to speak Spanish hes not fluent yet, but hes getting there to better communicate with Hispanic players.

And while sabermetrics remain a foreign language to some, Ausmus doesnt sound like one of them.

As I told him, Dombrowski said, we can supply you with any information you want statistics, film, anything. You tell us, once you settle in, what you want. So however he wants to use it, he will. But hes a very intelligent guy. Hes smart. So hell use what he needs to.

And, hopefully, ask for more.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
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During a press conference Sunday, new Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said he wasn't opposed to using statistical analysis to plot strategy. / Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News