Tom Brookens, Future Big League Manager

Many feel Tom Brookens will become the Detroit Tigers manager when Jim Leyland retires. How soon that might happen is anybody’s guess. The 68-year-old Leyland may choose to stick around for awhile. He could also call it a career once the Tigers’ post-season run is over.

Brookens has been speculated as Leyland’s successor for years. Currently the club’s third base coach, he managed in the Detroit system for five years before joining Leyland’s staff prior to the 2010 season. Playing under the legendary Sparky Anderson, Brookens was the Tigers third baseman from 1979-1988.

Another question looms large for the 60-year-old manager-in-waiting: What if Leyland decides to remain at the helm and another team expresses an interest in hiring him? It would be hard to leave his long-time home, but opportunities to manage in the big leagues are hard to pass up. Brookens said he would listen.


Brookens on what his managerial style would be: “I would like to think I’d be able to have good relationships with all the players. That’s a philosophy I feel a manager has to have. You have to figure out how to get the most out of each individual player. It’s all about performance, because at the major-league level it’s all about winning ballgames. Whatever you can do to get them to focus a little better, and compete a little better on a daily basis, is going to be to your benefit.

“I like to think I’d be an aggressive manager. I like to make things happen. But I’ve also learned, with a ball club like this, that you don’t necessarily do that. The pieces you have sometimes dictate how you manage. You can’t run guys — steal bases — if you don’t have that. You have to learn what you can and can’t do with the team you have.

“I’d expect my players to treat the game with the respect it deserves. It’s a great game and they need to respect that, both on and off the field. It’s an honor to be a big-league player. They’ve earned the right to be here, but it’s also an honor and privilege to be a part of Major League Baseball. Show up every day to play the game and win that game. As simple as it sounds, that’s really what it’s all about.”

On changing with the times:
“When I started coaching and managing in the minor leagues, I was more old-school than I am now. I’ve learned the value of some of the newer things, like video and the numbers game. There is value in that. Back when I first got in it, I was thinking, ‘We don’t need all this kind of stuff, you just play.’ But as you experience what’s available to you, and learn how to use it — I’m speaking of statistics and video — it becomes a valuable tool in a manager’s thought process.

“Am I old-school? Yes, old-school in the fact that the game is won between the lines and we have to go out there and compete. But don’t pass up avenues like statistical information and video. Don’t pass that up just because you consider yourself old-school. There’s too much value in it in today’s game, and the players are more apt to want it. It’s your responsibility to make sure they have everything they can possibly use.”

On defensive shifts; “I like defensive shifts. I’ve never put an outfielder into the infield in a game I managed, but I would say yes, there’s a time and a place for that. We use a shift here. Basically, it’s just an infield shift, and I believe there is definitely value to it. It could even be of value to bring an outfielder into the infield if it is a do-or-die situation.”

On playing the percentages: “Baseball is a game of percentages that is played on percentages and overruled by the gut feeling. Sometimes that’s how it works. Match-ups are big. I believe in match-ups. I look at their team, their guys off the bench, and my bullpen. If a guy matches up well, he’s probably in the lineup that night.

“A lot of decisions are based on statistical match-ups. Is that new-school? I guess it is, because we didn’t have that information when I played. Sparky probably wasn’t looking at a lot of sheets and thinking, ‘Brookens is pretty good against this pitcher.’ We didn’t have that available. Information is good. Too much can be too much, to some players and at some times, and becoming overwhelming. But good information is invaluable.”

On the sacrifice bunt: “There’s certainly a place for the bunt. You want a team that is fundamentally sound and capable of doing that. It has more value in the National League than it does here in the American League. There are times I see guys not bunt and think maybe I would have bunted in that situation. I’m willing to give up that out, but it has to be the right situation. A lot of times you don’t want to give up that out.

“I’m not big on sacrificing to try to tie the game on the road. I’m probably not going to bunt to tie the game 2-2 in the eighth inning, especially when we’re playing a team like Boston. I’m going to want to try to go ahead. I’ll want us to do some damage. I don’t want to take us out of an inning where we have a chance to score multiple runs and go ahead. Basically, it’s how late in the game are we, and are we home or on the road? I don’t want to bunt if they have an extra at bat and the middle of their lineup due up.

“You also want to make sure you’re not taking the bat out of the hands of your best hitters. I’m not going to have Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder bunt, or bunt in front of them so the other team can just put them on. I want those guys hitting the ball.”

On lineup construction: “Your leadoff man should be a guy who, ideally, has speed. You want him to be able to steal some bases and score runs. His on-base percentage should also be fairly high. That’s what you want. You want these guys to get on base on front of the boppers. That’s their job.

“I like our set-up here, with Torii Hunter batting second. He’s an ideal guy for that spot, because he likes to go to right field. His swing takes him that way a lot of times, so a speed guy like Austin Jackson can go from first to third in front of him. Torii doesn’t strike out very often; he puts the ball in play. He also has power and can drive in some runs.

“You want your best hitters to get at bats. Jim moved Cabrera into the third spot awhile ago, and it was a really good move. You want to get guys like him up to the plate as many times as you can. Of course, we’re talking about a special player. But in general, I like to see the best hitter — the guy who hits for a high average and has some gap power — hitting third. He’s your best all-around hitter. He puts the ball in play, and with some pop.

“Your number-four hitter is maybe more of a power guy. He may strike out a little bit more, and he might not have the on-base percentage, but he’s going to bop balls into the gap or over the fence, and drive in the guys hitting in front of him.

“You want your three-four-five to be guys the opposition doesn’t like to see come to the plate, no matter if it’s a right-handed or left-handed pitcher. Your number-five should be a threat. They can’t pitch around your fourth-place hitter to get to your fifth if you have that. You want a guy capable of putting a quality at bat together against either a righty or a lefty. But again, it depends on your personnel. We obviously have a great scenario with Victor Martinez. He’s a switch-hitter, so we don’t have to worry about righty-lefty match-ups.”

On match-ups and platooning: “I’m not afraid to move a lineup around a little bit. Jim likes to stay pretty set. Our one-through-five stays pretty solid — until you get through Victor — until it starts to move. I would be open to a platoon. You’re leaving yourself an opportunity to bring in that other guy off the bench to give you a favorable match-up later in the game. If you don’t have a Victor Martinez, but you have a platoon in that spot, you could do that.”

On the nine-hole: “I like the idea of a second leadoff hitter in that spot. Now, you have that argument that you’ll have one of your lesser hitters up more times than your nine-hitter, and that’s true, and I don’t like it. But I do like the idea that the nine-hitter in front of my one-hitter can help set the table for two, three and four. I wrestle with that question at times, because like we were talking about earlier, you want the better hitters up as many times as you can. The game could be on the line, and your eight hitter is up with a better hitter behind him. Of course, maybe got you’ve that bat off the bench you can use in that situation.”

On pitching and pitch counts: “I’m all about pitching. As a manager, I like a pitching staff. When we draft, I think we should draft a lot of pitchers. They’re the most important aspect of the game, quite honestly. Good pitching usually stops good hitting.

“I like strong up the middle. I’m old-school in that. I like defense up the middle with a solid catcher, shortstop, second baseman and centerfielder. And I like starting pitching. Of course, we all would like to have a closer we can depend on in the ninth inning.

“As for pitch counts, they’re here to stay. I didn’t use to agree with them as much as I do today. I’ve been converted into more agreement with pitch counts. I believe you do save arms by having pitch counts. It’s just part of the game today. Any manager would have a hard time overruling an organization that likes pitch counts. You have to stay within whatever guidelines the organization wants to go with.

“A guy might really struggle in the first couple of innings, and now he’s getting up to 90-95 pitches. He’s been doing OK since early on, but you have to think back to how he stressed himself in those first couple of innings. You might want to get somebody up, because you may not be able to go too much longer. If he’s been cruising along the whole game, without any situations where he’s had to work hard to get out of anything, then you probably go higher. I’d say 120 pitches would be about the limit. That’s the norm I see around the league, and I’m on board with that. There are certainly exceptions. Maybe he’s your horse.”

On bullpen usage and leverage:
“If I knew he was rested enough, I would bring my closer into the game in the eighth inning with men on base. I’d be willing to do that if I felt I could do that and then bring him back in for the ninth inning. Now, if he pitched the night before and threw 25 or 30 pitches, I wouldn’t do it. But if he hadn’t pitched the day before, and all of a sudden we’re in a jam… it has to be a certain situation, but I would be open to bringing him in to finish the eighth inning.

“Ideally, you’d like your set-up man and closer to be one-inning guys. You’d like to have that man for the eighth inning, and a closer for the ninth. You can always flip-flop them if they need a rest. But your sixth- and seventh-inning guys need to be able to go out there and give you a couple of innings. They need to be flexible.

“One concern is that a lot of pitchers aren’t use to going multiple innings. It isn’t so much that you’re going to wear them out, so to speak, but when they come in with men on base and then have to sit around in the dugout, then come back out — they’re not accustomed to that. That could affect how they perform.”

On conviction and accountability: “You open yourself up to criticism sometimes, but you can never manage a game worrying about what someone is going to question after the fact. You have to manage by what you think is the right call at that particular time. If you make decisions based on knowing you might be crucified after the game if something doesn’t work, you’re not going to be much of a manager. You go with what you feel is best for the team, and then you answer for it.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Lex Logan
10 years ago

Hope the Reds give this guy an interview.