Mensching: Dombrowski, Ausmus both to blame for awful bullpen
Was this season's downfall a case of Brad Ausmus mismanaging the bullpen or general manager Dave Dombrowski putting his manager into a no-win situation?
A little of A, and a little of B.
To blame Ausmus for every bullpen disaster wouldn't be fair. The Tigers' bullpen isn't the worst in any meaningful statistic -- they're just near the bottom of all of them.
You try to get a lead to the ninth inning when your choices for middle relief included at points this season Tom Gorzelanny (6.38 ERA), Joba Chamberlain (4.09), Bruce Rondon (7.62), Ian Krol (5.49) and a handful of players with even worse results like Neftali Feliz or Angel Nesbitt.
Ausmus isn't a miracle worker. He's got to use the players his boss gives him. He can't rely on the same three arms in every situation, every day, and expect to get through the season that way.
If you want your manager to look like a genius managing the bullpen, give him one like the Royals have. You can hardly go wrong there.
Kansas City's bullpen ERA is 2.27. The only Tigers reliever with a better ERA than an average Royal is Alex Wilson (1.89).
The easiest thing in the world to do as a baseball fan or analyst is to sit back and wait for something bad to happen, then criticize the manager for the decision.
Starting pitcher gives up a critical run in the seventh or eighth inning? The idiot left him in too long! Why didn't he go to his bullpen?
Starter gets the hook too early and the bullpen blows it? Clearly, this guy doesn't know what he's doing. Why did he insist on going to his bullpen? It's awful!
The position Ausmus was in this year involved a club whose starting pitching -- excluding David Price -- was inconsistent from game to game, and whose bullpen is bottom-five in MLB.
Danged if you do, danged if you don't. And the roster wasn't Ausmus' fault. He didn't make it.
He didn't sign those players who didn't pan out. He didn't put together an organization void of better arms waiting to burst through the minor league ranks.
That's all on Dombrowski.
This was among the worst bullpens he's put together during his tenure in Detroit.
But Ausmus wasn't exactly the innocent skipper just along for the ride on a foundering ship.
He didn't help his case greatly with some of the curious choices he made.
Two of his best bullpen arms belong to Wilson and Blaine Hardy. Which, again, says a lot about the situation Ausmus finds himself in.
Hardy has a 2.54 ERA, matching his 2.54 Fielding Independent PItching (FIP) stat. Wilson's 2.88 FIP is pretty good, too.
Both players frequently found themselves pitching in situations in which the game wasn't even close to being on the line. The leverage index statistic measures that, based on inning, outs, score and runners on base. Both players entered games at below-average leverage indexes, despite being two of just a handful of relievers (including Joakim Soria, Al Alburquerque and Rondon) who've done more good than harm in the pen, per Fangraphs' win probability added stat.
Meanwhile the highly ineffective Joba Chamberlain often found himself pitching with a lead in the eighth inning, before he was ultimately released. It didn't always turn out so well. Or a more recent example, Feliz was added to the Tigers' roster after being released by the Rangers. He instantly found himself pitching in the eighth inning, and failed while Wilson and Hardy sat on the sidelines.
Ausmus may not have had much to work with, but he compounded the problem by using the only effective relievers in his quiver at times it didn't matter, and the failures at critical moments.
You didn't have to be a second-guesser to predict the outcome in more than a few bullpen meltdowns.
So Ausmus isn't exactly an innocent party here, either. He was the poker player who when dealt a bad hand only made matters worse for himself.
For that, manager and general manager alike should receive a share of the blame.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.