QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS

By:  Holly Horning

It’s official. The Tigers have uttered the “r” word. Rebuild.

This means that the off-season will be more calm. The annual holiday presents in the form of splashy signings are no more. And trades will do an abrupt about-face with known players leaving and strangers replacing them.

As the team transitions from a high payroll to one much lower, as the veterans are replaced by the fresh-faced, as the manager once again transitions back to the traditional veteran, how do we follow along and translate the activities of the next 3 months?

If you’ve been reading my blogs for awhile, you know that they are often filled with questions, and not answers. Today is no different. As things start to heat up with the GMs Meeting this week, there are a number of issues I really want to understand to a greater extent. I’ve got 10 to start with…


1. Al Avila has said how difficult it has been to pare down the 40-man roster in order to protect some top prospects. Yet after 4 years of unimpressive results, several instances of fighting, repeated poor work ethic and bad relationships with his teammates, Bruce Rondon has survived 3 roster cuts so far. Is it only his velocity that keeps him hanging on?

2. Victor Martinez has yet to receive medical clearance to resume baseball preparation and activities. About to turn 39 and reported to have become increasingly problematic in the clubhouse, will the Tigers prioritize the money owed over replacing him with someone younger and with a future coupled with the ability to protect one more prospect on the roster?

3. Only today have the Tigers broached the subject of Miggy and his bad back after 7 weeks of post-season silence. Despite Avila’s reassurances that Miggy is back on track with a new workout program, Cabrera’s social media feeds do not document any of this as they have routinely and extensively in past years. In fact, recent pictures show Miggy looking noticeably heavier. Will the Tigers learn from past mistakes and responsibly monitor the health, weight and progress of their most expensive investment?

4. Speaking of Miggy, his closest friends – Anibal Sanchez and Omar Vizquel – are now gone. Other than Iggy, Machado, and VMart, there are no other established Latino players on the team. Conceivably, 2 of these 3 may be gone by Opening Day. How well will Cabrera adapt to this significant change along with the ever-dwindling number of veteran players?

5. No reason or qualifications were given re the hiring of Ramon Santiago, other than his playing connection to the Tigers. He has no coaching experience and as the first base coach, he will be in charge of baserunning despite not being known as fast or smart about the running game. Is he simply a similar version of Omar Vizquel who also lacked the credentials?

6. Theo Epstein has said it is imperative to get everyone within an organization on the same page re strategies – especially analytics. Those running, managing and coaching the Tigers are varied in terms of their beliefs in how this element improves the game. Who’s job will it be to make sure everyone gets on board?

7. The Cubs fired both their hitting and pitching coaches who had solid reputations of working extremely well with the young players. Why did the Tigers hire only Chris Bosio and not John Mallee, especially given McClendon’s less-than-impressive track record last year?

8. Al Avila has been trying to trade Ian Kinsler for over a year now and despite 2 teams claiming him off of waivers last year, pulled him back. Granted, Ian is coming off a weak year, but will Avila wait too long to pull the trigger and risk losing him to free agency and thus not obtaining any prospects at all in exchange?

9. With Justin Verlander gone, and Miggy’s personal life, combined with his worst season to date, once again taking a huge negative hit, the Tigers are in serious need of a fresh franchise face. Will Michael Fulmer be able to assume that role? If not, are there any other viable candidates?

10. Al Avila has said that the days of big payroll are over and that the Tigers will become “lean and mean” going forward. Just how lean does he mean?

Lots of questions. Let’s hope we see some encouraging answers by Opening Day.


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THE FINAL ANALYSIS – PHYSICAL & MENTAL

By:  Holly Horning

Did you think the multi-part blog analyzing the factors involved in the Tigers’ failure to win a ring over the past decade was over? Or that I had forgotten to finish it? Now that the World Series, the selection of a new manager and coaches and everything associated with Justin Verlander is over, it’s time to finish what we started.

So much information that needed to be analyzed and dissected that it was broken down into categories. If you haven’t read the series, or need to brush up on the factors (there will be a quiz later), here they are:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/previews-reviews-interviews/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/the-final-analysis-the-individuals/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/the-final-analysis-the-groups/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/14/the-final-analysis-the-priorities/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/the-final-analysis-the-2-as/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/24/the-final-analysis-the-habits/


Today’s final installment is a curious one. Two opposites. The factual and the intangibles. The physical and the mental. The policies and the emotional. Both equally compelling in just how much damage each did to a team wanting to win it all. Let’s jump in…

THE STRATEGIES

There’s no real need to explain the strategies embraced by owner, GM and manager since 2006. Overall, this was a team built around a couple of overwhelming strengths while ignoring others completely. It was a team built on old strategies with personnel who failed to acknowledge and adapt to what the competition was doing.

In short, the Tigers built their game around flame-throwing starting pitching and power at the plate. They ignored the importance of the bullpen as well as the running game and solid defense. They pretty much had a single formula for scoring runs and winning, not multiple options. And when they went up against baseball’s best, these strengths were severely compromised.

The ticking clock on winning also forced them to be impatient with young talent. Talent that is now showing great promise with other teams. And instead of developing players and growing a team culture, they bought ready-made pieces that often didn’t fit well together.

And, of course, analytics were nowhere to be found….


CORPORATE CULTURE

We can’t talk about this enough. The single most important factor for any organization because everything is a result of the policies, mindsets, priorities set by those at the top. But I’m not going to address it again in this blog. If you’re new to Totally Tigers, or need a refresher about its importance, catch the rationale here:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/01/just-one-thing/


THE MENTAL(ITY)

How the team thinks is actually a subset of the corporate culture. A fingerprint identifying the team and its behavior. And the mental thoughts have held the team back, not just in the past decade, but going far back in Tigers’ history.

A team always among the very last to change. A team always reactive (and alarmingly late in doing so) instead of reaching into the future and being proactive. Not only a team slow to change, but a team afraid of change. A team, as a result, that is timid and cautious. Characteristics that don’t win you anything but keep you in a safe place. A team that disguised these problems with significant expenditures in payroll.

Detroit continues to have a traditional, outdated and erroneous belief that talent is the only thing that counts in a player. In fact, the human element is equally – if not more so – important. The Tigers dismissed mental fortitude, discipline, passion and leadership as qualities necessary for building a cohesive team. Witness the trades of players like Maybin and Hunter that resulted in unfocused, disinterested and underperforming play by the rest of the team.

And a primary reason why the clubhouse was rumored for years as being dysfunctional and promoting individuals instead of a team. When you don’t have a leader, you don’t have a cohesive group. And when you have individuals, there is no one to rein them in, which leads to……


MONEY AND EGOS

As they say, ‘mo money, ‘mo problems. And when you sign players who earn significant bucks coupled with long-term contracts, they can control how they play and operate to a certain degree. They can also ignore the manager – and if they are unhappy with said manager, they can influence the owner and GM. It’s happening more and more in baseball.

Miggy can repeatedly run through Dave Clark’s stop signs without repercussion, but Rajai Davis successfully steals a base on his own and gets benched.

And with the money brings a bigger focus by the player on his own personal needs and goals. Situational hitting, for example, was problematic and talented pitchers like JV often were left without run support. For a decade, the Tigers won the lion’s share of personal awards, yet never got close to the ultimate team goal. All of those MVP Awards, Triple Crown, batting champ, ERA leader and Cy Young Awards – one of the largest concentrations of stellar talent – couldn’t come close to winning that ring.

When you make the salaries that many of these players have been making, it often ends up facilitating a sense of entitlement and inflated ego. A different set of rules for different people. Not just in the clubhouse, but slopping over into personal lives as well.

We’ve now suffered through at least 3 instances of Miggy’s messy personal life impacting his focus and performance. No coincidence that his indiscretions have negatively impacted the team’s performance and competitive ability for at least a couple of these years.

And then there was the alleged clubhouse brawl between 2 players that resulted in fractured relationships and an injury to Miggy who attempted to break up the fight. Both players were traded shortly thereafter and Miggy’s injury effectively took the team out of playing baseball into late October.

More fights (of the non-physical type) created by inappropriate and conflicting personal love lives also resulted in a beloved pitcher being traded, as well as a popular employee being fired. The alleged incident involved no less than 2 starting pitchers and a cast of 5 supporting people within/outside the organization. The lesson learned is that even if you stand up for what is right, it may not matter if a player more important than you is unhappy and has more influence with ownership and the Front Office.

And there we have it. Going forward, there is now a new owner, new GM, new manager (and some new coaches) and most probably, almost a whole new team to be seen in 2018. Will things change? Will the corporate culture be different? Will the team learn from these many lessons and get it right the next time?

Only time will tell…..


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THE OLD GUARD(Y)

By:  Holly Horning

”As we transition the ballclub in a new direction, I feel it’s best we have a new approach and a fresh start….”

“It’s a new beginning, a fresh start. We’ll have fresh leadership, new leadership, as we move forward.”

“We’re also going to do an extensive search. We have a lot of names written up, and we’re going to do a lot of background checking. We’re going to do a lot of thorough background work.”

“We’re going to do a lot of thorough background work and we’ll have a good list of names that we’ll whittle down, little by little. So it will be an extensive search and it will take some time.”

                                                                                                                                                                    – Al Avila


Wow, Al sure does work fast. He beat his own stated deadline of a post-World Series deadline managerial decision and named Ron Gardenhire less than one month after making the above statements. And once again, the Tigers were the first team to name their new manager.

At least they’re first in something.

Is anyone surprised that Ron Gardenhire was the final candidate? Or that the “extensive search” was really interviewing somewhere around 5 candidates which included 2-3 of them Tiger coaches?

We know Gardy as one of Jim Leyland’s best friends. And then there are the quotes from JL himself stating that he told Gardy he wanted him to take over the Tigers once he “retired.” And of course, all the stories that had Ron all set to come in back in 2015 after the infamous “sweatshirt smackdown” – until he didn’t. Closely followed by multiple reports of Mr. I, and then Chris Ilitch, giving Al Avila the choice between Gardenhire or keeping Ausmus that dates back to the end of 2016.

You know what they say about “where there’s smoke….”.

So now we also have “new” coaches. And in the same manner, we really shouldn’t be surprised, for the most part, at the selection.

Even the Tigers realized how this would all look which is why they purposely rolled out the announcements in the order they did. Done to reassure fans, manipulate their emotions and placate the social media threads.

First up, Chris Bosio. A great choice and the logical first PR step in showing fans that the team was making real changes.

This was followed up with leaking “scoops” to the dailies that Lloyd McClendon and Dave Clark may just be staying. A strategy to mitigate the social media blowback and help ease the fans into accepting the official announcement.

Back to the new guys with the hiring of Joe Vavra, a former Twin, but now in a new position and one that involves analytics. Fans again feel comforted with someone from Paul Molitor’s staff.

Joined by fellow Twin Chris Anderson, former pitching coach but now taking one of the more secondary roles. It was never mentioned that Anderson had been unemployed in MLB for the past 2 years and also coincidentally Gardy’s former minor league roommate and good friend.

Back to the Tigers contingent with the hiring of Phil Clark. Afterall, it’s not wise to announce all of the former Twins joining the team at once.

After Phil comes Steve Liddle, Gardenhire’s former bench coach who was demoted to third base coach and hasn’t been employed within MLB for the past 5 years. As the “new” bench coach, he hasn’t held that position in 7 years.

But now we gotta add to this layer cake and announce a Tiger again. Ramon Santiago.

And finally, in hoping that fans have been soothed by the additions of Bosio and Vavra, the Tigers quietly announced that both Lloyd McClendon and Dave Clark are staying. Why, we don’t know. Proof listing their accomplishments was not offered.

It is rather ironic that four first place teams this off-season have fired some coaches. But in Detroit, coaches from the worst team in MLB are retained even with a new manager being hired. Crazy.

The end result is a Tigers/Twins cookie with a Cubs creamy filling. So much for Avila’s stated new direction and vision. The new formula is insular for the most part with 1 reinvention, 2 encores, 2 rookies, 2 retreads and 2 unemployed. Forgive me if I don’t get too excited.

So now we need to ask why these decisions were made. Why the choices contradict Al’s statements of “fresh” and “new”? Why it appears the same old, same old culture continues to hang on despite years of proof that the Tigers need to seriously update how they do business?


And as is often the case, it’s not just one answer. It’s usually multiple. Let’s explore some of the possible reasons…

1. Jim Leyland continues to exert significant influence on how this team operates. Cue the best friend and conveniently unemployed manager.

2. The expectations that this team will continue to trade off veterans and get a whole lot younger. The rebuilding team is best-suited for a manager and coaches with proven experience in working with rookies.

3. The Tigers are looking to focus on neglected areas such as fundamentals and situational hitting.

4. Loyalty and friendships triumph all.

5. Other than Bosio, the manager and most of the other coaches will not have higher salary demands. Payroll still needs to be cut. Potentially Avila was not given the money necessary to hire the people he really wanted.

6. After the Awful Ausmus Experiment (AAE), the Tigers have silently acknowledged that they need a manager with solid experience.

7. Given the stated dysfunction of the clubhouse and lack of accountability, the Front Office has specifically identified a manager who will correct and bring back the missing culture.

8. If the team is still being prepped for sale, this could be a way to give everyone that “last hurrah” while keeping the team stable and running efficiently. The equivalent of staging a home for sale.

9. The Tigers are a very conservative organization that does not do change well or willingly. Always have been. After Ausmus, they fear real change even more.

10. With the next couple of years expected to be really bad, the Tigers now need to focus on offering a product comprised of youngsters who are excited to play the game. They hired a manager who has a reputation of maximizing performance on a minimal payroll. In the end, it’s all about the ticket sales.

Are there any other reasons, good or bad, that could be used to explain the hires? Let’s engage in some extended conversations!


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THE SIGNS

By:  Holly Horning

For the first time in many years, we have very different expectations of the Tigers as they head into 2018. No longer is there any hint of being competitive and the word “rebuild” has now officially been uttered.

So how is a Tiger fan to remain sane? How should we be framing this coming year in terms of expectations? And how can we find ways in which to enjoy our team?

As we have discovered, we didn’t necessarily find a higher level of joy when the Tigers won games despite the clear lack of fundamentals, sloppy baserunning, defensive gaps and dumpster fire relieving. We certainly couldn’t find much emotion in enjoying the game when the players clearly appeared disinterested and unfocused on most days.

But now there is a new sheriff in town who brings hope that some of these things will get better. The winning certainly will be much less but potentially there will be greater passion seen and guys who will be trying harder in the field and at the plate.

Ron’s reputation as a motivator is certainly encouraging, but we need much more proof that the Tigers are serious about jettisoning their old ways and adopting proven strategies that they have ignored for the past decade.

We need signs. We need to hear that changes are being made. And we need to hear them before spring training begins.


Here is my list of the top 10 things I want to see – I need to see – happen. Signs that will allow me to sleep at night. (FYI, this was written 24 hours before the Tigers announced their coaching changes.)

1. The rumors of a new pitching coach are great, but everyone else on the coaching staff needs to go. No more signings of men connected to Jim Leyland or for that matter, old retired Minnesota coaches. Unfortunately, Jim Leyland will be staying because afterall, Gardy is one of his closest friends. But the Tigers need to at least put a restraining order on Gene Lamont to stay 1,000 feet away from the dugout.

2. New coaches. Younger coaches. Successful coaches from teams not named Tigers, Marlins, Pirates, Twins or Mariners. And no coaches who have remained unemployed since getting fired.

3. Miggy needs to get his personal life under control and eliminate the distractions. Then he needs to get serious about his physical condition which should include seeking the advice of his own independent medical specialists and personal trainers armed with the latest proven training regimens. Which brings us to……

4. Saying “buh-bye” to the entire training/conditioning department and seriously rethinking the medical team. No need to rehash why. Somehow, I can’t imagine Kevin Rand, Doug Teter and Matt Rankin incorporating pilates and yoga into their training program which the majority of MLB now require their players to take.

5. Ron Gardenhire being interviewed about his meetings with the analytic department. Al Avila offering more info about how the analytic department works and the tools they use. Increasing the analytic employees hired would be a good thing, too.

6. A statement of intent about how the Tigers are going to change things. Details such as a focus on fundamentals, hiring new baserunning coaches and how the team is going to focus more on adapting to Comerica’s field.

7. Job announcements that show the old faces moving out and being replaced by outsiders from top teams. Extra points for guys who worked with Theo Epstein and Farhan Zaidi and bring MBA backgrounds in analytics, sports economics and psychology.

8. A partnership with a training/conditioning specialist group that develops, oversees and monitors every player’s off-season training regimen. The Nats did it several years ago to combat the rash of injuries and look what happened to them since.

9. An interview with Gardy stating his principles for managing and focus on fundamentals, smart baserunning, defensive improvement and team-building skills. We need to know just how differently he is going to manage.

10. A statement, any statement, by Chris Ilitch about his vision, intent and goals for the team. No cookie-cutter, legalese comments but something that hints of interest and passion. And if it’s not forthcoming, if he remains an enigma, then we know what that’s about, too.

What’s on your list? What one thing do you want to witness before the team gathers in Lakeland?


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TIMING IS EVERYTHING

By:  Holly Horning

Everyone has one…..That friend with absolutely no sense of rhythm or timing. Can’t dance or snap fingers to the beat of the music. Awkward movements initiated just before the downbeat or after-the-fact.

Substitute “managers” for “music” and you have the Tigers. They never could manage to hire someone at the right time. Except back in 1979. And we know what happened as a result.

But in a scenario eerily opposite to what has recently taken place with a number of East Coast teams, the Tigers held onto their manager after 2011 despite only 1 first place finish in their division for the 6 years since 2006. Despite having a mandate from Mr. I to get that ring. Despite being unable to perform well late in the playoffs.

Jim Leyland did not have a contract in the years he spent with the Tigers. It was all done on a yearly basis and by a handshake with the promise by both sides that either the Tigers or he could end his tenure as manager. And despite winning the division for the first time, the Tigers lost out to the Texas Rangers in the playoffs for 2011.

And right around that time, the Boston Red Sox were imploding within all divisions of their organization from ownership all the way down to the clubhouse attendance guys. Theo Epstein resigned as did the majority of the Front Office. Manager Terry Francona asked ownership not to pick up his option so he could also depart.

The same guy who just won yet another Manager of the Year award this past Thursday to bring his total to 3 (and a couple near-misses). The same guy who has been repeatedly voted Best Manager by fellow managers, coaches and players in MLB.

And you’re not alone in thinking that if the Tigers had snapped him up either in 2011 or 2012, there would be at least 1 flag flying over Comerica by now.

Leyland only stayed 2 more years after Tito became available. The same guy who sports a .562 winning record in 5 years with the Indians and did it on a payroll that ranged from a third to a half of the Tigers’.

Then the Tigers over-corrected in the winter of 2013 with their quick selection of Brad Ausmus as their manager. The same guy expected to take them to the World Series, and win it, in his first year of managing. And Dave Dombrowski later said that they snapped him up because he was afraid Brad would go elsewhere. For such an important hire, you would think they would be more thoughtful about the hiring process.

Fast-forward to Fall 2017. The names have changed but the modus operandi remains the same. The Tigers made this season’s first managerial hire. And once again, the official explanation included a statement that they wanted to make sure another team wasn’t going to grab Ron Gardenhire.

It’s not the best reason to use to help explain your selection process.

And this is why it’s wise to delay your hiring until the maximum applicant pool is achieved. Especially when legitimate rumors surrounded some of the top managers in the business. Managers like Joe Girardi, Dusty Baker and John Farrell – two of whom did not have contracts beyond this year. And when you don’t have a contract by the All-Star break, it means something is going on.

The rumors started in September and continued. The Tigers had to know that some of these managers would possibly be leaving.

And there were scores of accomplished candidates currently managing and coaching in the playoffs. Yet another reason to wait. In fact, Al Avila said he planned on taking his time and hiring someone after the World Series because some of these people were on his list. But true to form, they again jumped the gun.

And now there is a candidate pool better than the one-handed to the Tigers. There’s that snap just before the downbeat hits.

In all fairness, the Red Sox GM – the same one who moved too soon with hiring Ausmus – also replaced his manager too quickly. Can you imagine if he had waited and potentially signed Joe Girardi?

Then you have the polar opposite teams – Washington and the Yankees. Teams who have no time to waste and appear to be seeking perfection. Who else would fire their manager after his teams won 95 and 97 games in each of his years as skipper? In this case, it was because of the playoff record.

NY fired their manager, because, well, we’re not quite all that sure as to the exact reason. A manager who took a “rebuilding” team and got them back into contention in less than a year.

Both these teams pulled their respective triggers much too soon. And the Tigers? Much too late. Eight years with the same manager that earned only 1 World Series game win. And a team that is now warning fans the rebuild will take an unknown number of years.

One thing we do know. Teams who are bold in their decision-making are much more successful. They have more trophies. The Tigers were bold once back in 1979 and it paid off.

But they are a safe team. A conservative team. And they will make safe choices that will slowly and cautiously move them forward. The only problem is that other teams may speed past them in the process.

And finally, there’s another strategy to consider regarding the Tigers’ decision to once again be the first to hire a new manager. Maybe they wanted Gardenhire all along. Maybe they had made their decision weeks, even months ago. Maybe it didn’t really matter that they interviewed other candidates. Maybe the hiring process was simply a way of appeasing MLB’s suggested protocols.

And if that’s the case, then we’re talking a whole different can of worms….


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THE FINAL ANALYSIS – THE HABITS

By:  Holly Horning

We’re getting closer, folks. Ten+ years of failing to get that ultimate prize keeps us busy trying to identify the myriad of factors involved. It’s never 1 or 2 factors that are responsible. It’s many.

Baseball is such a simple game but complex in its makeup. And it’s impossible to list all of the factors, but we’ll try to get the more significant ones identified. Some big, some small and some more damaging than others.


So far, we’ve covered some of the tangibles as well as the intangibles. If you didn’t read the intro and first 4 installments of this in-depth series, catch them here:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/previews-reviews-interviews/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/the-final-analysis-the-individuals/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/the-final-analysis-the-groups/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/14/the-final-analysis-the-priorities/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/the-final-analysis-the-2-as/


Let’s continue the countdown and identify the habits of the Tigers that repeatedly got them into trouble during the past decade. Some of them chipped away at the team every year and have now put the Tigers into a hole from which they can no longer dig out. The biggest and most deadly of the organization’s habits has been the inability to learn from history. They have made the same mistakes over and over with each new year – while achieving the same results. Let’s dig into more of their habits, shall we?

FOCUSED ON THE PRESENT

The drive for a ring had the entire organization focused no more than 1-2 years ahead. The farm system was savaged for tradeable parts and rookies like Robbie Ray, Eugenio Suarez, Corey Knebel and Devon Travis, to name a few, were traded for immediate needs. Because of this, the farm system became barren and until the July trade deadline, ranked near the very bottom of MLB. Eventually, the team had no more viable prospects to trade for proven talent and injuries created long-term problems of viable roster solutions and inflexibility. This is what happens when you continue to focus on the fruit of the tree, instead of regularly feeding the roots.

LOYALTY OVER ACCOUNTABILITY

When people aren’t held accountable, there is no motivation to perform at a higher level. It goes for players but also for everyone else in the organization. Scouts who made failed recommendations on expensive signings remain. As do coaches and managers who were unable to motivate players to play to their potential. Much of the organization dates all the way back to the Marlins and most of the coaches were retained from manager to manager.

And there is the nasty habit of taking in failed former managers at an alarming rate. With apologies to the quote written on the Statue of Liberty, (sic) ““Give me your tired, your dated, your huddled former managers…, the wretched unwanted of your MLB team, send them…. to Detroit.” Six former managers and counting…

MANAGING THE CLUBHOUSE

For 15 years now, the Tigers have see-sawed back and forth on the importance and influence of a manager. From Alan Trammell’s failed attempt to earn the players’ respect to Jim Leyland regaining control. But the lesson was not learned and the team guaranteed failure by adding a rookie manager to a clubhouse filled with some of baseball’s most highly paid, veteran egos. And once again, the pendulum swings back to the hire of Ron Gardenhire who will be responsible for regaining control of the clubhouse and controlling the dynamics created by 25 competitive personalities.

FAILURE TO PULL THE DAMN TRIGGER/ NO SENSE OF URGENCY

Not building a decent bullpen. Keeping managers past their prime, especially when great candidates become available. Continuing to play guys with problematic personalities or systematic performance failures. Ignoring the trends and tools most other teams have adopted. Not making changes when the current system (the lineup, closer, etc.) is no longer working. Ignoring the problems seen in the playoffs. The same players getting injured every single year and allowing the injuries to linger most of the season. The list goes on.

But the pattern has always been about waiting until the problem becomes so bad that it is untenable. Problems and issues which are allowed to grow and get out of control before anything is done. Being reactive instead of proactive will always put you behind everyone else.

And then there is the question of that window that kept closing a little bit more every year. And hiring a rookie with no managerial experience to oversee the final, crucial years of solid contention. That decision will never make any sense.

COLLECTING THE SAME TYPE OF PLAYERS

Flame-throwing starting pitchers. Big, slow guys who can wallop home runs but have problems fielding and running. Lots of one-tool guys but few who can win you games in multiple ways. And guys not built for the ballpark in which they play. Winning came down to a single formula of lights-out pitching combined with HRs – with little deviation.

NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO THE DETAILS

Players who come to spring training out of shape and overweight and management is surprised. A pattern of the same type of injury happening to multiple players or to the same guy over and over. An emphasis on muscle-building and not on developing strong cores, reaction time or flexibility. No set standard of play or enforcement of the fundamentals. Sloppy play that does not get called out or corrected. Players who struggle much of the year and don’t understand or get help concerning what the root problem may be.

Details make the difference. Always have, always will. Just look at how the best teams behave and play, especially this post-season.

SAME PEOPLE, SAME DECISIONS

The majority of the decision-makers from the GMs to the scouts to the Front Office to the training/conditioning departments have been together since 1991 and the Marlins – 27 years! Some have been together even longer than that going all the way back to their playing days. The same insular group with very few additions from outside organizations. No new ideas, no different ideas, no different perspectives. It’s a tight, little, exclusive – and insular – clique that refuses to broaden their thinking and open themselves up to new possibilities.

These are the biggest and most influential habits. On Sunday, we’ll finish by identifying the mental, strategic and corporate culture patterns that served as roadblocks to that ring, so please save your thoughts about them until then.


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WE INTERRUPT THE REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG …

By:  Holly Horning

For those of you hoping to catch the latest installment of our in-depth analysis of the Tigers’ past 10+ years, you’ll have to wait another 3 days. Today is a special day because Detroit has a new manager! And how often does that happen?

It is rather ironic that my favorite team changes skippers approximately once every total eclipse and I live in a town with another team that changes them at a frequency more akin to that of my car’s oil change schedule. Maybe the two teams should get together and allow each other’s habits to rub off on one another.

Ah, but I digress………

The hiring of Ron Gardenhire is an interesting one. It wasn’t surprising given the Tigers’ regular behavioral patterns, but it comes at a time that is very different from when he was first considered.

While Jim Leyland initially wanted one of his best friends to replace him back in 2013, the rumors that Gardy was coming to the Tigers really started in earnest back in 2015 during the time known as the Sweatshirt Smackdown. It was extensively reported that Mr. I was pushing for him to replace Brad Ausmus. And Al Avila talked him out of it. Remember all the reports saying it was a done deal until it wasn’t?

Then again at the end of the 2016 season, Al faced another push by Chris Ilitch who gave him the choice of keeping Brad or hiring Gardy. Again, Al stayed with Ausmus.

Whether the recent signing of Gardenhire was all Ilitch remains to be seen. Potentially, Al Avila may be on board this time because, quite frankly, the team is in a much different place than it was even a year ago.

The stars are now, for the most part, gone. The team finished worst in MLB and unsurprisingly, we are now reading how fractured and dysfunctional the clubhouse had become over the past years. The veterans will be an increasingly endangered species and the team is at risk of becoming completely untethered without someone to step in and introduce a new structure. And someone not afraid to command and earn their respect.

If you are rebuilding and trying to accumulate as many talented young bodies as possible, you don’t want to waste any promising players. You need to change the status quo and develop a program that is centered around maximizing their potential – both physically and mentally.

And now the clock is ticking towards 3 very short years in which to demonstrate real progress. It’s not a coincidence that both contracts for the GM and new manager expire at the same time. This, combined with the silent acknowledgement that an inexperienced manager didn’t work, is why Al Avila has focused on hiring someone with a track record and known for developing young players.


So why Gardy? Why now?

1. The priorities and profile of the team have changed from contender to rebuilder, from veteran to developing talent.

2. He has a successful record of developing young players and bringing out their best.

3. Gardy has the ability to develop relationships and team cohesiveness. Currently, the clubhouse is divided with players doing their own thing while cliques have prevented the team from working together. There is tension between a number of players.

4. Gardy will put the “fun” back in fundamentals. He is known to place an emphasis on how to play the game properly. And on a team known for very sloppy play, we’ll start seeing a more solid style.

5. For a team still looking to trade players and cut salaries, he has the experience in successfully maximizing results when faced with fewer resources and lower payrolls. Chris Ilitch will continue to chop payroll but better play and youthful energy will help slow the erosion of attendance.

6. The Tigers need someone who can motivate Miggy and help him return to a semblance of his former self. Miggy is by far the Tigers biggest investment and will remain so for the next 6-8 years even as both his age and salary continue to climb.


And there is also another reason why hiring Gardy this year, instead of last year, may be better timed. Analytics.

He spent his first year in Arizona working with manager, Torey Lovullo, who is very invested in the program. He got his feet wet. He even visited the Analytics Department on his first day at Comerica. The guy who used to be anti-analytics now uses them. Most importantly, he believes in them.

And now he has the ability to use his experience in the Diamondbacks’ organization with the Tigers. The same team that has one of the best analytics programs in MLB. To provide feedback about what worked for AZ. To share information he learned. And how the Tigers may potentially tweak Caesar.

What a difference a year makes. Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks?

But there is one crucial hurdle Gardy must pass before we consider him a viable manager for Detroit. Who does he select for his coaching staff? This will tell us how much of Leyland’s Old Boys network is still influencing the decision-making.

How many of the same faces will return? How many will come from outside the Tigers’ organization? How many are older coaches from his days in Minnesota?

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see new faces, younger faces, unfamiliar faces and different perspectives sitting in the dugout and standing in the coaches’ boxes? Men who are not tied to Jim Leyland, Al Avila, the Marlins or former Detroit rosters? And guys who stress the details of the game as well as the latest strategies top teams are using.

We can only hope.

Let us now pray….


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THE FINAL ANALYSIS – THE PRIORITIES

By:  Holly Horning

Today, we continue the multi-part analysis of why the Tigers were unable to achieve their ultimate goal for over a decade. As goes for most things in life, it’s never due to one reason, one person or one decision. Very simply, it’s complicated.

If you didn’t read the intro and the first 2 installments of this series, catch them here at:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/previews-reviews-interviews/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/the-final-analysis-the-individuals/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/the-final-analysis-the-groups/

As with everything in business, priorities dictate the direction of an organization and it’s the owner who decides them. But don’t assume that those in charge are going to disclose every priority. Transparency can be a tricky thing.

Now that Mr. I has left us, and Chris is in charge, the priorities have changed. Unfortunately, the younger Ilitch has yet to speak publicly about his direction going forward with the Tigers. From reports, we know that he was in charge briefly back in 2013 and then again from 2016 until today. But let’s focus on those years when his father was making the decisions.


Let’s address the known – and unknown – priorities that dictated the path of this team.

THE RING

It’s well-known that Mr. I wanted that World Series ring. The ultimate goal. The ultimate trophy. And as he got older, he realized that he needed to make up for lost time. Thrifty habits and weak personnel decisions gave way to open wallets and the hiring of a GM Golden Boy.

Rather than develop a long-term thoughtful plan of building a contender, Mr. I fast-tracked a strategy that ignored developing from within and opted for bringing in established talent from elsewhere. And in many cases, it was big talent for big bucks.

And it worked – to a certain extent. Sure, there were some duds, but the Tigers got markedly better due to his willingness to spend. The only problem was that he was collecting pieces – players from a variety of other organizations who all had different perspectives and training and were thrown together suddenly with other athletes. Pieces that didn’t necessarily all fit together.

And Mr. I ignored the historical data showing that larger payrolls weren’t more successful at building World Series winners. On average, the team that wins the World Series has the 8th largest payroll, not one of the top 1 or 2.

MARKETING – FILLING THE SEATS

This is the category where the Tigers really shine and the priority placed on this endeavor is the one that the Tigers don’t advertise to fans. And for obvious reasons.

Let’s start off with Comerica Park. A ballpark developed in size to sit at the top alongside several other AL Central fields. A park with seating that eerily parallels the other new parks within their division. A park that since the end of 2006 (ding! ding! ding!) has been adding extra seating – and more expensive seating – to the venue at a small but regular clip.

And then there is the park itself. Despite the size (average when compared to the rest of the parks around the country), the dimensions of the park are among the largest. Even with the infamous bringing in of the outfield walls. To this day, the CF distance ranks as MLB’s largest expense of grass. And it is a park that is built for the speedy and defensive wizards.

Which brings us to that eternal debate about why such a large park is mismatched to the slow, lumbering and defensively-challenged players the Tigers have signed to play in it? And again, marketing rears its head.

Studies have shown that teams with “sexy” players – power pitchers and HR hitters – attract more fans. Teams filled with guys who have speed and solid defensive skills – even the “small ball” guys – don’t sell as many tickets. It’s hard to get excited over a runner going from 1st to 3rd or making a double play when most would rather see them launch one into the seats. This is a marketing plan made for the masses, not for the smaller percentage of fans who are knowledgeable and appreciative of the level of skills.

It appears the Tigers wanted their cake – and to eat it, too.

But the actions to sign stars to expensive contracts set off a chain reaction. When payroll skyrockets, you better have a plan to pay for it all. And ideally, you get the fans to pick up the lion’s share.

And you do that by marketing the heck out of your team. A plan to put as many fannies in the seats as you can. And a plan to attract the non-fan (can you say amusement park?), the casual fan and the ones who can reel off the starting lineup and players’ stats.

And you keep the fans coming by controlling the message. By giving out positive stories to the newspapers. But cutting off access to the media members who don’t fall into place. And by keeping a vigilant eye on the social media threads and spinning negative stories into gold before the sun goes down.

And finally, by understanding that the seats continue to stay filled when you promise the fans big stars. New stars. Even if it means a yearly flashy signing. From the Pudges to the Miggys to the Prices to the Princes and finally the Uptons. A big new shiny toy every year keeps the fans happy and spinning those turnstiles.

And signing a big, expensive star, rather than building a decent bullpen, always wins as a result. The masses don’t get excited over a 7th or 8th inning guy. They’d rather see the slugger.

And the Tigers clearly won the attendance race (minus one new stadium opening) in their division every year for a decade as a result. Too bad they don’t give trophies for that.

On Wednesday, we’ll continue the analysis as we talk strategies, money and the intangibles.


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THE FINAL ANALYSIS – THE GROUPS

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 STRUCTURE

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.

THE EMPLOYEES

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.

THE SCOUTS

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.

THE COACHES

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?

MEDICAL

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.

TRAINING/CONDITIONING

(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…

MARKETING/COMMUNICATIONS/PR

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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THE FINAL ANALYSIS – THE INDIVIDUALS

By:   Holly Horning

Last week, we started the closure process – a formal way of coming to terms with the Tigers’ failed mission to get that ring despite over a decade of monstrous talent and payrolls just as large.

It’s important for fans to get on the same page regarding the factors that stopped the Tigers in their quest. And like most things in life, the answer is not simple. Nor is the issue due to one factor. If it was, teams would have figured out long ago what they needed to do to win a World Series.

There are at least 10 different variables that impacted the Tigers during this time. And each variable has multiple factors contained within each. The initial list was identified in the earlier blog https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/previews-reviews-interviews/.

So why do we want to “rehash” the issues? Don’t we want to move forward? Why do we want to stir up old memories?

The answer is simple. For the team to move forward, and for us as fans to identify and weigh the issues of importance, we need to look back before we can move forward. We need to understand what happened. And hopefully, the Tigers do as well so they don’t repeat the same mistakes. History is an excellent teacher if we allow it.

Today, let’s identify the individuals who impacted the team and made the decisions. Some more influential than others.


MIKE ILITCH

A complicated tale of a man who started as a thrifty owner and evolved into one of baseball’s most generous. But his strategy of trying to buy a world championship with a monetary fast-track approach is historically a failed one. Too much evidence that he often bumped heads with Dave Dombrowski over the signing of certain players. And his goal of winning was often contradicted by his desire to bring in more star power for marketing purposes despite substantial evidence they were not a good fit. And his focus on acquiring big, expensive stars resulted in clubhouse chaos, unchained egos and a group of players who received many individual awards, but much less that was team-based.

DAVE DOMBROWSKI

No one was better at trading, but scratch below the surface and see that Dave did little else to improve the organization. Other than Leland’s retirement, he made almost no personnel changes and depleted the farm system so completely that the Tigers had to resort to acquiring rentals in his last year as GM. He was anti-analytics and refused to acknowledge the importance of the bullpen year after year. Dombrowski solely focused on the statistical part of a player and ignored the importance of the right mix of character, leadership and mental fortitude – resulting in an unhappy, often combative and rudderless clubhouse. Under his direction, the Tigers became one of baseball’s most antiquated organizations with no attempt to adopt the techniques the rest of MLB was already using.

AL AVILA

Not a good showing so far but let’s be fair and ask how much of what he wanted to do earlier was prohibited by the decline of Mr. I and Chris Ilitch taking over? Will we finally start to see proof of the promises made to rebuild the farm system and put more of an emphasis on the right way to play? Or will Al continue to avoid making the big decisions as long as possible? It doesn’t look good when a new GM fails to make any personnel changes including that of a manager everyone connected to the game fully expected to have seen fired back in 2015. His inability to pull the trigger until things turn so bad is not reassuring.

JIM LEYLAND

Dave Dombrowski’s former manager brought back from retirement and representing an old, outdated standard of play tossed aside by most teams years ago. A man who was quoted as saying that HRs solved everything and put all the eggs in the pitching and bashing baskets while ignoring fundamentals, defense and running. Despite having such immense talent, including multiple Cy Young Award, MVP and Triple Crown winners, he managed only 1 World Series game win. Absolutely criminal. But it’s his tentacle-like reach into all areas of the Tigers that is most worrisome. His personal selection and recommendation of Brad Ausmus as his successor, the gentleman’s agreement to keep Gene Lamont employed, the staying power of his own coaches (past and present) and his continuing influence since 2015 to get best buddy Ron Gardenhire-“d.” A team cannot move in a “new direction” when the old guard is still allowed to have any input.

BRAD AUSMUS

No need to rehash what everyone already knows. A man with zero MLB managing experience hired to take a team to the World Series in his first year and with a window starting to close. A rookie manager who accepted a job because he didn’t know what he didn’t know and showed very little improvement or even a real desire to learn from his mistakes over 4 years. But despite his inability to manage, we need to put the majority of the blame on those who thought he was a better candidate than his competition, Torey Lovullo and Bud Black. But equal scorn should also be directed at those who signed off on his hiring as well as those who refused to replace him.


So there we have it. Five individuals who impacted as well as impeded the team over the past decade+. But there are more. On Wednesday, we’ll identify the departments within the organization that failed to support the team more often than they helped. And you may be surprised at which one had the most impact.


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