By: Holly Horning
Last week, we started the process of dissecting the past decade of the Tigers. A way of giving us closure as well as identifying the factors that prevented the team from winning it all despite the immense talent.
The first blog identified the individuals coupled with some examples of their actions. If you didn’t catch it last week, shame on you. Here’s your chance for redemption: https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/the-final-analysis-the-individuals/
Today, we’ll continue the journey by looking at some of the groups, or departments, that contributed to the missed opportunities.
The first thing you notice when you look at how the Tigers’ organization is structured, is the traditional hierarchy most teams had a decade ago. The power is concentrated among a handful of people who oversee multiple areas of the organization. The Executive Office is rather skimpy compared with other teams – roughly half the size of the majority of other organizations. Al Avila holds 2 full-time positions (VP Baseball Operations and GM) instead of the typical separation seen with other teams – President (not VP) of Baseball Operations with a different individual as GM. Right away, someone doing 2 jobs is at a disadvantage when compared to another team who has one person per job.
What is truly telling is how Detroit has structured the list of their personnel which is usually based upon which departments they see as being more important. And unlike most other teams, they list their sales, marketing and media departments near the top of the pecking order and the medical, training and conditioning departments closer to the bottom.
Three things stand out as you peruse the resumes of those in the Front Office:
1. The majority of the decision-makers have been with the Tigers for a decade+. A good number of them go all the way back to the Marlins when Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila were there.
2. The few who are new(er) have ties to Jim Leyland from his Pittsburgh days.
3. There is a pattern of employees who have returned to Detroit, often after being terminated by other teams.
Overall, there is a pattern of staying within the Old Guard – either long-term employment of the same people or hiring those who have spent years doing the same work for other teams. No outside-the-box hires of young minds with backgrounds in sports-related fields. (Exception: Analytics, which will be covered shortly.)
It is an older, ageing and insular group of individuals. Please don’t misconstrue this as ageism. It is about having only 1 group of individuals without the influence of the newer, younger and outsider employees who would bring a modern, updated and different voice to the mix.
The Analytics Department is too new to be able to bring into this discussion. And they are the only department with a new influx of people outside of the Tigers’ organization. Let’s simply mention that the lack of analytics was a factor in this past decade. The Tigers were the last team in MLB to adopt them, putting them at a distinct disadvantage.
Again, most of them long-term scouts for the Tigers with many of them dating back to the Marlins days. Not known for great signings since Justin Verlander but then potentially Dave Dombrowski wasn’t concerned with signing and developing talent as he used all his prospects as trading chips. (Remember that some of the best Tigers like Miggy and JD were scouted primarily by Avila himself.) And given that the Tigers weren’t using analytics at a tool for evaluating, the scouts were also working at a disadvantage. Given that the organization is now attempting to develop “Caesar”, it stands to reason that new scouts, equipped with the latest analytic tools, should be hired. And just recently, Avila hired 2 from outside the organization.
One of MLB’s oldest collections with the primary members ranging in age from 50 to 70. Again, it is not about the age, it is about not having a range of ages which represent different views and experiences within the game. All of them Jim Leyland coaches with the exception of Omar Vizquel who was recommended by Jim Leyland’s best friend, Tony LaRussa. Four of the 5 are former managers. Sense a pattern here?
Year after year, injuries were used as the excuse for why the Tigers couldn’t get it done. And increasingly, players have had injuries linger throughout the year. We saw an increase in not knowing what was wrong as well as players who traveled outside the organization, on their own dime, to see specialists. JV, Miggy, Zimmermann, Norris, VMart and others spent the better part of at least one year where their injuries could not be resolved.
Other teams, like the Nats, fire entire medical staffs when injuries dominate. But the Tigers don’t. They also have an outdated health system with only 4 medical-related personnel on staff. The average number for each MLB team is around 10 with some teams having 15-20 – all of them specialists – on board. It’s telling that the medical and training/conditioning programs are listed near the bottom of the Front Office directory. Most of the other MLB teams list theirs closer to the top.
(See MEDICAL.) The same regular number and types of injuries indicate a lack of attention to proper conditioning esp. concerning the team’s emphasis on strength training and no programs addressing core and stretching (specific exercises, pilates, yoga, etc.) like most teams do now in MLB. More than a couple of players getting injured in the weight room from lack of supervision. And a pitcher who was allowed to pitch from the mound recently with a broken leg. A head trainer who has been with the Tigers for 25 years – again, since the Marlins. Two assistant trainers with 25 years and 20 years experience with the Tigers. There’s that darn pattern again…
Arguably, the best and strongest departments within all of MLB. Listed near the top of the organizational chart, they recruited the best talent from NY to ensure that the Tigers maintained one of the mid-market’s strongest attendance figures. They actively pushed the right messages and countered problems and social media angst promptly and thoroughly through several local newspapers and sports tv. They completely control the message and spin every potential negative story. Which brings us to…
THE LOCAL MEDIA
More than a couple of reporters outside of Detroit have pointed to a cozy relationship between the PR department and certain reporters within several of the local papers. Which helps explain why the best journalist arguably among the major dailies does not write about the Tigers more than a couple of times a year and why another, who won a major journalistic award, was “laid off” one week after winning it.
Also the reason why there is rarely criticism of anyone connected to the team and why recent grades for the worst team in MLB were, on average, high-C’s. Even the manager was given a “B.” This simply wouldn’t fly in any major city (but especially on the East Coast) where the media regularly critiques everything and everyone associated with the team in question. And failure to criticize with a rationale of having access to the team, is simply unacceptable. When feet are not held to the fire, there is no accountability. And without accountability, there is no championship.
But the factors that contributed to the team’s failure to reach that ultimate goal don’t stop here. On Sunday, we’ll tackle the non-people related elements. And most of them have 1 thing in common.
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