By: Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder
Jeff Jones, the long time Tiger pitching coach announced his retirement this week. It’s been our opinion on this site that a couple changes could or should have been made with Brad’s staff, and pitching coach at this particular juncture, might be a place where they should start.
Maybe Jeff Jones saw himself that it was going to be a huge task for the Tigers to improve a pitching staff that took a huge dive last season.
So he has called it a career and we will take this opportunity, as suggested by a reader, to evaluate his performance.
With Jeff Jones retirement, how should we evaluate his legacy?
(Question from Matt C.)
Holly – Coaches are much harder to evaluate because, unlike the manager, we don’t see or hear from them as much. Given that, I believe waiting one year will give us a much better indication of how much he contributed once the new pitching coach has established his record.
But if we’re going to credit him with the Cy Young Awards won under his watch, it’s only fair we include the entire history, good and bad.
What we do know is that Jonesy was made pitching coach, in part, because the Tigers felt he could handle the strong-willed JV. And handle him he did. Since coming on board midway in 2011, Justin jumped significantly in performance – winning 24 games, the Cy Young and MVP that year. You can tell when they interact on the mound that there is a bond between these two.
In 2012, JJ was credited with tweaking Max’s delivery and pitch arsenal. It also appears that Jones had some success with Rick Porcello given how Rick has fared since leaving the team. However, there is nothing to be found about Jones’ influence or work with David Price and fortunately, responsibility for that dumpster fire known as the bullpen falls under Bullpen Coach, Mick Billmeyer.
But excluding injury issues, the Tigers’ starting rotation this year was highly inconsistent, and that is Jones’ responsibility. Only David Price had a respectable ERA. Three-fifths of the starting rotation had ERAs of 4.99 and higher. Anibal Sanchez seemed lost the entire year and Alfredo Simon did his best impression of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Unknown is whether Shane Greene’s injury had anything to do with his travels on the express elevator down.
How much of Jones’ reputation hinges on working with solid, great talent?
Would other pitching coaches have had similar success with these top pitchers?
How much of an impact did Jones have on lesser pitchers? Great coaches in the history of the game have excelled at developing lesser pitchers who exceeded expectations.
Did this year’s significant drop in performance have anything to do with team leadership or was Jeff tired and already thinking retirement?
All good questions and something we should revisit next October 4th once the new guy has left his mark.
Kurt – It’s the toughest of tasks for fans to evaluate the performance of any coach. It is especially tough to judge the performance of a bench coach or hitting coach or pitching coach.
It’s certainly easier to get a feeling for how a manager is performing based on decisions made during games, what he says in a news conference, how he says it, how he carries himself, how he leads.
But with the retirement of Jeff Jones, it’s only right that we give him a fair assessment based on what has been achieved. From the way the pitchers interacted with Jones, it appeared they liked and respected him. And the few times we did get to hear from him, he seemed to have a calm and carefree demeanor, which is the probably the #1 priority for a pitching coach.
Every time a coach comes out to the mound to meet with his pitcher, it is normally because they are in trouble. And Jeff Jones seemed to provide that calmness and comfort needed to relax a pitcher while reminding him to trust his stuff.
Overall, I would say that Jeff Jones had tremendous success with the Tigers. But coaches more than anything ride the wave of talent that may or may not exist on their team. Jones was blessed with some great pitching staffs. But even the good ones need to be reminded not to fall in love with one pitch.
In time, when all the good about the staff turned to bad, Jones’ performance was more and more in question. Funny how that happens isn’t it?
I doubt there are many bad pitching coaches in this league. If nothing else you need someone to make sure your guy on the mound is mechanically sound. Even the best pitchers need to be counseled when their mechanics get out of whack, causing issues with control and location. And there have been indications over the years that Jones was very good at making those adjustments.
A couple of those pitchers went on to win Cy Young Awards, so it’s only fair that Jeff Jones be given some of the credit for that success.