By: Holly Horning
Fourteen years as a GM deserves more than one blog which is why an analysis of Dave Dombrowski’s tenure necessitates an in-depth look. After all, just because he’s gone, doesn’t mean his work no longer impacts the Tigers.
In the first two blogs, we addressed the issues Dave did, or didn’t tackle, as well as his approach to constructing the roster. If you haven’t read them, catch up at:
In this installment, we’ll turn to addressing Dave’s overall approach to the farm system, which is one of the main indicators of a team’s future success.
The first question to ask is what did Dave do to enhance the farm system? Was it capable of providing its MLB team with the necessary resources? Did it have depth or MLB-ready players who were primed and ready to step in when injuries occurred to some of Detroit’s finest?
Dombrowski had the remarkable ability to consistently use the farm system as currency to obtain the players he wanted. Year after year. He was undoubtedly the best at trading.
But signs that the team was in trouble began to appear. At first, small and invisible. Then last year’s signing of Alfredo Simon and the one-year rentals in Price and Cespedes were the first big clues. Signs that the Tigers no longer had the larger currency to get players of the caliber or length needed.
The well had been tapped dry. Players were dealt faster than they could be signed and developed.
But we also saw the entire 40-man roster being impacted. The bench had no depth for the past couple years. And given that trends show the best relievers come up through a team’s system, are we surprised that the bullpen was so bad for so many years? It was filled with other teams’ cast-offs and reclamation projects because there was no one left on the farm.
In the past 13 years, and with over 6,000 innings of relief work, the Tigers’ bullpen ranked 30th in strikeout rate, 28th in walk rate, 20th in HR rate, 21st in BABIP and 25th in stranding runners. Not a single aspect of that BP excelled during Dave’s tenure. All because the better farm prospects were being traded to other teams.
Player injuries at SS and 1B also had the Tigers scrambling to find adequate replacements. None of which were successful. Isn’t it sad when a team doesn’t even have a backup for first base?
And the Tigers had a league-high number of starting pitchers last year. Twelve. A record only matched by their 2003 year. A revolving door of pitchers due to injuries and rookies rushed from farm to table and well before their expected maturation time.
Is it any surprise that AAA Toledo had 6 consecutive years of losing? How much of that was managing/coaching and how much of it was due to that club being stripped of its players? Players who were either traded or called up to Detroit.
But as we look into the farm system, we also see that the majority of managers and coaches were with Dave for most or all of his tenure. That’s a long time for such a large group of individuals to have the same jobs.
And we never really discussed concerns over the farm system until Al Avila assumed his role as GM. Within the first month, he broomed most of the management and coaches. That action is telling.
Digging deeper into the system, our final analysis revolves around the drafting system. While fans are quick to criticize the Tigers for “bad drafting”, it’s actually not as poor as we may think. Stats put together over the past 10 years shows that the Tigers sit smack in the middle of drafting and developing players who made it to the majors. Yet, only 4 from last year’s team were drafted by the Tigers.
Again, Al has shown that he and Dave have little in common. Within his first month, Avila rearranged the scouting system and modernized the Tigers’ Front Office. With Dombrowski, Detroit sat at the very bottom of MLB teams with its refusal to recognize the importance and usefulness of analytics.
Who knows how the Tigers would have operated if Dave had added this resource to the club. Maybe payroll would have been smaller. Maybe players like Nathan wouldn’t have been signed. And maybe certain prospects would still be with the team.
It will be interesting to see who the Tigers draft and sign in the coming years. The more-comprehensive system has certainly worked well for the Cards, Astros and Cubs.