By: Holly Horning
We all know that making it to October baseball requires the usual great pitching and hitting. But why do all the oddsmakers fail year after year to predict who will raise the flag at the end of the season? Why do teams look great on paper but somehow fail to perform up to expectations?
Baseball teams are a lot like recipes. It’s not enough to simply have the ingredients. You’ve also gotta know how much of each element you need as well as understand when to add them to the mix, in what order and how long to cook.
So what about the Tigers? What recipe do they need to follow in order to be highly competitive this year? Other than the usual “pitchers need to pitch well” and “hitters need to hit”, here are 10 issues that held them back last year and need to be addressed in 2016.
1. STAYING HEALTHY
Remember the last time we had Tigers who weren’t limping around the bases? Me neither. The team needs a new approach to building and maintaining player health in order to prevent injuries. A proactive, not reactive, mindset as well as new trends need to be adopted.
2. BETTER BASE RUNNING
Despite their higher team batting average, the Tigers scored a mere 29% of the runners they put on base and ranked 29th in base running last year. It’s not just the speed, it’s about the ability to correctly read balls put into play and how to read opposing players. It’s not enough for Brad to push for more running, he’s got to have a coach who can effect change.
3. TEACH SITUATIONAL HITTING
Despite having MLB’s best team BA and the most hits in 2015, the Tigers ranked in the middle of the pack in getting runners in from scoring position. Some due to bad base running but also their failure to bunt, draw walks and hit sacrifice flies/beat the shift in order to advance runners. Can Wally Joyner shed his resume of working with teams who struggle to score runs? Which leads us to…….
4. WORKING THE COUNT
The team ranked in the lower third of MLB in walks and also total pitches seen with JD Martinez as the best Tiger – but ranking far down the list. Working the count offers huge advantages to hitters the longer they can stay in the box while also wearing down opposing pitchers. Again, this is an issue unresolved by Tiger coaching for more than a couple of years.
5. MANAGING THE MANAGER
All the excuses were used up last year – injuries, bad bullpen and a changing Front Office. Given how the Tigers had only 1 winning month (April) in 2015, Brad has to be on a short leash in 2016. Avila may have had ulterior motives for bringing him back but if the team doesn’t gel quickly this year, he’ll have to pull the trigger sooner than later.
6. BETTER BULLPEN STRATEGY
Bruce Bochy does it. So does Joe Maddon. They both use their closer during the most high-leverage situation which may not be the 9th inning. How many times did we see Brad save his best pitcher for the last inning, only to be blown out of the game in the 7th or 8th? The best managers don’t employ cookie-cutter rules. Which brings us to….
7. PLAYING TO WIN
There is a huge difference between playing to win and playing so as not to lose. Planning game strategy that is either too short- or long-sighted. Playing well against good teams or pitchers but dropping games against the weaker ones or mediocre pitchers. Many teams have a mental conditioning coach to enhance strategy development and consistency – and the Tigers should, too.
8. EATING INNINGS MUST INCREASE
The Tigers did not have an innings-eater in 2015 with Alfredo Simon at 187 IP as the best on the team. Studies show that the more innings-eaters (200 IP) a team has, the more games they win and the better the chance they have of making the post-season. According to these analyses, the Tigers need to have 3 of their starters step up in 2016.
9. LEADERSHIP MUST EMERGE
Some lead by example while others are vocal. Stars like Miggy need to focus on physical performance which is why it’s important to have extroverted players who can communicate often and well with their teammates. But Ian can’t do it alone. Let’s hope that James McCann and at least one other teammate can keep him from being too lonely in that job.
10. HUNGRY ALL THE TIME
Some days we saw a team on fire but more often than not, we saw players who looked disinterested, bored and complacent. This falls directly on the manager who is responsible for motivating players and inspiring their best performances. Is it a coincidence that managers like Bochy, Maddon, and Francona develop teams that turn out to be consistently passionate and driven towards success?
Are there other weaknesses the Tigers need to address? Let us know! As the season goes on, we’ll come back to see if these issues of concern are being addressed.