Tigers retain coaching staff for 2022

December 9th, 2021

DETROIT -- The Tigers will head into 2022 with a bolstered roster, but their coaching staff will be unchanged from last season’s end.

Among the overlooked bits of news from last month’s moves, manager A.J. Hinch confirmed recently that he and the Tigers will retain the coaching staff in the same roles for next season.

“We will return the coaching staff entirely,” Hinch said a couple weeks ago.

While Hinch said at season’s end that bench coach George Lombard, hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh, assistant hitting coach Mike Hessman, pitching coach Chris Fetter, bullpen coach Juan Nieves, third-base coach Ramon Santiago and quality control coach Josh Paul would return in their respective roles, Hinch left the first-base coaching position open. Kimera Bartee, who ended the season in the role, was a candidate, but Hinch said he also wanted to interview additional candidates.

Hinch opened the process but came back to Bartee and is sticking with a coaching staff that worked down the stretch.

“It’s not an indictment on KB that I went and had a little mini-process, but I promised myself that I would,” Hinch said. “And I just returned to the fact that our culture that we were building, our chemistry on our staff, we had a really good thing going. I didn’t want to change that.”

That last part is interesting given the turnover Hinch’s staff had to make at midseason after coach Jose Cruz Jr. and third-base coach Chip Hale left for college head coaching jobs at Rice University and the University of Arizona, respectively. In both cases, Hinch filled the openings from within the Tigers' farm system. Hessman had been the hitting coach at Triple-A Toledo for the last few seasons, while Bartee had just joined the organization as a baserunning instructor after working as a first-base coach for the Pirates.

Despite the midseason adjustments, including moving Santiago from first-base coach to third, the mix worked. Bartee took an active role working with Lombard in coaching Tigers players on baserunning, and he blended in with the aggressive style Hinch and Lombard had been instilling. Hinch, who assembled his initial coaching staff last offseason with the idea of mixing experience with new ideas, liked the fit, especially with Hessman and Coolbaugh coaching Tigers hitters.

“Hess and Cooley worked so well together perfectly,” Hinch said.

The Tigers, who ranked last or next-to-last in on-base percentage in three consecutive seasons from 2018-20, improved to 10th last season with a .308 OBP. Detroit's .707 OPS ranked 11th, also its best showing since 2017. The team's OPS improved from .694 in the season's first half to .723 from the All-Star break to season's end, while its strikeout rate dropped.

On the baserunning front, Detroit took extra bases on hits -- two bases on a single, three bases on a double -- at a 41-percent rate in 2021, similar to the 42-percent rate the team recorded in 2020 and 2019. However, the Tigers' 88 stolen bases marked their highest team total since 2014, and ranked fourth-highest among AL clubs.

In the end, Hinch appreciated the overall impact, and decided to move forward with his coaching group as the Tigers head into 2022 with increased expectations and loftier goals.

“Everybody came here -- a couple carryover guys from last year and the guys that came here -- to make a difference,” Hinch said in October. “And I think this group did everything they could for the players.”