Unfortunately, a couple of coaching decisions that happened minutes apart might have cost both teams their games.
Tigers strand tying run at third base
One important distinction between the two is that A.J. Hinch has proven himself to be an excellent manager by leading the Tigers out of their five-year rebuild. Since mid-May, the Tigers have been one of the best teams in MLB, and Hinch has gotten the most out of his players.
With that said, I think he made a mistake late in Sunday’s loss. Over the course of a 162-game season, it’s bound to happen.
The Tigers were shut out for eight innings and trailed 2-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Miguel Cabrera led off with an infield single, Eric Haase drew a walk with one out and Isaac Paredes crushed a double into the left field corner to pull the Tigers within a run.
Detroit had the tying run on third base, the winning run on second base and only one out. Coming to the plate: Niko Goodrum.
Hinch absolutely had to pinch hit in this position, especially with Harold Castro and Robbie Grossman -- two of the team’s more reliable hitters -- available off the bench.
With one out and the tying run on third base, the top priority is to make sure that runner scores and, at the very worst, extends the game. All it takes is a fly ball or a grounder in the right spot to score a run.
To put it simply, the Tigers needed the ball to be put in play at all costs. For that reason, Goodrum was the worst option on the roster to bat in that scenario.
This season, Goodrum has struck out in 33.2% of his plate appearances -- an incredibly high rate and well above league average. He strikes out more often than any other player on the roster. Here’s a look at the rest of the team’s strikeout rates:
- Zack Short: 32.4%
- Daz Cameron: 31.6%
- Eric Haase: 30.7%
- Dustin Garneau: 28.6%
- Akil Baddoo: 27.3%
- Jeimer Candelario: 24.8%
- Willi Castro: 24.6%
- Robbie Grossman: 22.9%
- Miguel Cabrera: 22.4%
- Harold Castro: 22.1%
- Jonathan Schoop: 19.8%
- Isaac Paredes: 9.7%
In a situation where the Tigers just needed the ball put in play, these numbers suggest Goodrum is the worst possible option. It’s not as if this is only a 2021 issue, either. Goodrum struck out in 38.5% of his plate appearances in 2020, meaning he’s whiffed in over 35% of his plate appearances since the end of 2019 -- a more than adequate sample size.
The manager’s job is to put his team in the best position to win, and Hinch has done that at pretty much every turn this season. On Sunday, he made a mistake.
Predictably, Goodrum struck out, leaving the tying run at third base. Only then did Hinch decide to use Grossman, and the Royals elected to intentionally walk him to get to Willi Castro.
Hinch pinch hit Harold Castro, who ultimately struck out to end the game. Regardless, it was a no-brainer to pinch hit one of the players with a 22% strikeout rate to replace Goodrum in a spot where the ball needed to be put in play.
Same Old Lions
The Lions coaching staff is much less proven than Hinch, and the franchise has a loaded track record of late-game blunders. So what happened at Ford Field shouldn’t be a surprise.
To Dan Campbell’s credit, his team fought back from a 13-0 deficit in the third quarter to take a 17-16 lead with 1:04 left on the clock. Jared Goff played well in the second half and D’Andre Swift carried the offense with 47 rushing yards and seven catches for an additional 60 yards.
The defense also stepped up, allowing just one touchdown in 10 drives. With the game on the line in the final minute, the Lions got a sack on first down, forced an incomplete pass due to pressure on second down and then dropped Lamar Jackson inside the 20-yard line on third down.
Facing a fourth and 19, the Ravens had no timeouts, and the situation was chaotic. The Lions’ pressure was rattling Jackson, and all they had to do was stop him from gaining 20 yards to lock up their first win.
What did Campbell do? He called timeout and allowed the Ravens to regroup. Then, even worse, the Lions only rushed three linemen on fourth down, allowing Jackson to sit in the pocket and wait for a receiver to break open. It was only a matter of time, and that’s exactly what happened, with Jackson hitting Sammy Watkins for a 36-yard gain across midfield.
The timeout was a bad call, but rushing three defenders was even worse. Pressure is what put the Lions in a position to win the game, and dropping back into coverage and giving a talented player like Jackson a chance to make one last play gave Baltimore life. Sure, it took an NFL record 66-yard field goal by Justin Tucker to shatter the Lions’ hearts, but they never should have been in that position in the first place.
The knock on Campbell when he took over in Detroit was that he’s more of a motivator than a football mind. It’s obvious his players fight for him until the final whistle, and that’s a breath of fresh air. But it’s also clear the end of the game was mismanaged, both by Campbell and his defensive staff.
That situation -- 26 seconds left, opponent facing fourth and 19 on the 16-yard line -- should result in a win every time. But the Lions gave it away.