The Tigers have exercised their option to retain manager Brad Ausmus for the 2017 season, according to the team. Despite missing the postseason in somewhat heartbreaking fashion, Ausmus and the Tigers will work together for at least part of the upcoming season.
While the Tigers finished 86-75 and missed the postseason for the second consecutive season, it appears that isn’t being put on Ausmus—at least not completely. After all, the Tigers were not looked on as particular powerhouses coming into the 2016 season as they were in previous years. And without an eight-game winning streak in early August, the team would have finished much worse.
Heading into the last series of the year, the Tigers sat just one game back of the Orioles for the second Wild Card spot. Furthemore, with the 65-92 Braves as their opponent for a season-ending three-game-set, the Tigers’ probabilities seemed high. According to Depth Charts at the time, the Tigers had a 35.4 percent chance of clinching a Wild Card spot. In retrospect, it would have taken a sweep to force a three-way tie with the Orioles and Blue Jays for the two remaining Wild Card spots.
In Ausmus’ favor, the Tigers have actually out-performed their expected win-loss record under his management:
Fun fact: the Tigers have outperformed their pythagorean expected W-L record by 12 games under Brad Ausmus— Rob Rogacki (@BYBRob) October 3, 2016
That means that, based on runs scored and runs allowed, the Tigers should have lost an extra 12 games over the past three seasons. Whether that is attributable to Ausmus’ abilities though is largely conjecture.
While Ausmus’ tenure with the Tigers cannot be marked entirely as a failure, it is somewhat puzzling that his option was picked up. Following the game that eliminated the Tigers from postseason play—a 1-0 loss to the Braves—Ausmus was asked about whether the Tigers would retain his services:
“You might want to ask whoever's managing next year.”
Not only does that sound like a manager with one foot out the door, but it also sounds like a manager that Al Avila—the Tigers’ GM—wouldn’t want representing his club anymore. It doesn’t paint a picture of a confident manager who has control of the clubhouse.
According to a poll run in September at Bless You Boys, Ausmus’ approval rating among Tigers fans sat just over 60 percent, which was up substantially from the two months prior—which seemed to bottom out just above 30 percent. It was an up-and-down season for the Tigers for sure, but granted that the team made substantial free agent investments in Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann, ‘ten games above .500’ might not cut it for some fans.
Despite being named the manager for the 2017 season, Ausmus’ seat is likely to remain hot once play resumes in April. A bad showing in the first two months could result in unkind media focus on Ausmus’ option being exercised to begin with. For now though, the Avila and the rest of the Tigers front office can focus on other aspects of their franchise.