Let’s continue the multi-part analysis about why the Tigers were unable to achieve their ultimate goal for over a decade. There are lots of moving parts, with some of them having greater impact than others.
If you didn’t read the intro and the first 3 installments of this series, catch them here:
Today, we’re going to cover 2 of the biggest factors. Let’s file them under “A” for…..
It’s interesting that despite different owners over the decades, the trend of the Tigers being among the very last to adopt the most important trends has remained a constant. The second-to-last team to integrate a full 11 years after the first. The last team to start using computers. Among the very last to include analytics and a correlating software program. Also near the bottom of MLB in developing a manual on the standard of play.
And the pattern of behavior carries out into the field as well. The continued failure to see the rise in importance of the bullpen for over a decade. The dependence upon using starting pitchers as long as possible and into the dreaded third go-around into the batting lineup when stats show this is where teams can lose games. Ignoring the importance of the defensive game and how it saves games. The list goes on.
This has been a team that historically is always the last to change. They are a reluctantly reactive team, rather than a proactive one. And teams that are slow to change are often those actually afraid of it. But is the failure to heed the lessons of adapt-or-die the result of the same established group in charge, the lack of knowledge, resources and even leadership? Or it is the result of all of them?
And now this failure to address the future has left the team significantly behind as they attempt to rebuild. How long will it take them to catch up? How long of a rebuild will this actually be?
Before we can even discuss this aspect that is now a major contributor to the sport, we need to understand what analytics is – and what it isn’t.
It’s not just number-crunching. It is not a system that ignores the expert eye or the human element. It is not a computer named Hal that takes over from an organization or a manager. It is also not a system that reduces the manager to sitting in a dugout tapping at his keyboard instead of looking at the field.
Analytics is an extremely thorough collection of data from a variety of mediums – scouts, coaches, historical data, trends, numbers, video and an assorted collection of stats that are correlated to performance. All of this is run through supercomputers and then shared among the Front Office so they can discover which potential players will fit their needs the best. It is shared among the manager and his coaches so they can determine lineups and in-game strategies. And it is shared with the players who use it to enhance their performance and help them develop a strategy about how to pitch to a batter or where to stand in the field.
And any member of that organization can request the analytics department to run a program that is specific to what they want to learn, correct or enhance. Which brings us to…..
We all know Justin has had the tools but didn’t have the success with the Tigers that correctly reflected his effort or potential. Now with the Astros – a team that has the best analytics in MLB – he is 8-0 with a miniscule ERA. Coincidence? Think he simply went to a team that gave him run support? Of course not.
Reporters are now doing stories on JV’s move to Houston. Interviews with him describe a system where he felt like a “kid in a candy store” when presented with what the analytics department could do for him. Their reports helped him add another highly-effective pitch to his arsenal – all in less than 2 weeks. They had a super high-speed camera that showed him every frame of his pitching form and that is where he saw how his grip could be improved to turn his forgotten slider into a highly nasty one. He spends days preparing for each start with all sorts of info he custom-orders from the analytics department.
And within these stories are quotes from an “anonymous” former Tigers pitching coach who said they were forbidden to use analytics in their work. A long-term manager who refused to use the tool or even look at any info given to him. And a former GM who didn’t believe in it. Let me now also refer you back to the ANCIENT category above.
This is what analytics can do for you if you have it. It is also a cautionary tale about how your current talent is not fully utilized or effective when you can’t offer them what other teams are giving theirs. And a warning about how seriously compromised your team becomes when they don’t have the tools everyone else does.
On Sunday, we’ll continue the analysis as we talk strategies, money and the intangibles.
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