McClendon to bench coach in staff shuffle

Liddle retires as Tigers' lone coaching departure

October 1st, 2019

DETROIT -- The Tigers have retained nearly their entire coaching staff for next season but shuffled many of the roles, including shifting longtime hitting coach Lloyd McClendon to bench coach.

McClendon replaces Steve Liddle, the one member of this year’s Tigers coaching staff who will not return. He is instead retiring after two seasons as bench coach for longtime friend Ron Gardenhire.

Joe Vavra, the Tigers’ quality control coach the last two seasons, will take over as hitting coach, reprising a role he had under Gardenhire in Minnesota from 2006-12. Assistant hitting coach Phil Clark will remain in his role, as will pitching coach Rick Anderson and bullpen coach Jeff Pico.

Base coaches Dave Clark and Ramon Santiago will swap roles -- Santiago moving to third base, Clark moving to first.

The Tigers will hire a new quality control coach to fill Vavra’s old role, a potentially vital hire as the Tigers continue working to implement analytics into their on-field strategy.

The moves preserve much of Gardenhire’s staff, a group to which he had become fiercely loyal over the last two years. Though the Tigers struggled to a 114-loss season this year, Gardenhire stood up for his coaches, saying it wasn’t for lack of work.

“Our hitting guys are in the cage every day doing their stuff and using as much of the new tools as we have,” Gardenhire said before the season finale Sunday. “Santiago's been relentless on hitting ground balls and doing drills. Joe's in there doing these charts, and Steve's in there telling everybody what to do and how to do it. And Pico, out in the bullpen, keeps all those guys straight. So they've all had their jobs.

“It's just a constant getting it done, and that's what these guys have done. As a manager, you have to have a good staff around you. And they're fantastic.”

McClendon is the longest-serving member of the Tigers’ coaching staff, including two stints as hitting coach under three different managers. Originally hired by Jim Leyland as a bullpen coach, McClendon served as hitting coach from 2007-13 before becoming manager of the Seattle Mariners. He returned to the Tigers’ organization as Triple-A Toledo manager in 2016 and then reprised his hitting coach role under then-manager Brad Ausmus.

Those years have earned McClendon a good amount of loyalty. However, the Tigers’ offensive struggles this year, despite a lineup that lacked proven impact hitters beyond and , led to a decision that a different voice could be helpful.

Detroit’s makeshift offense finished with the fewest homers in the American League, 149, just three more than the National League’s Miami Marlins, while also finishing last in the AL in runs scored, on-base and slugging percentages, and total bases.

The Tigers’ final out of the 2019 season was their 1,595th strikeout of the year, breaking the Major League record set last year by the White Sox.

Such numbers were part of the year-end discussion between Gardenhire and general manager Al Avila.

“Al and I, we had a good conversation,” Gardenhire said Sunday. “I know this for a fact: He gets it, he understands it. He's been in baseball a long, long time. But he's not going to just say, 'I think you guys did great.' I mean, we all are in this together and we still lost 100-and-what. I can't even say the number. And that's not been fun, and we all have to take a little of it on ourselves. But Al does understand that these guys put in the effort.

“Some guys got better, some guys didn't, but we knew where we were going to be. This is a rebuild, and there's going to be a lot of rough moments. Hopefully, Al sees right through that and understands it.”

By taking over as bench coach, McClendon will lean on his experience as a manager in Pittsburgh and Seattle. He’ll also presumably fill in when Gardenhire is ejected, a scenario that played out eight times last season.

The swap of base coaches puts Santiago in a higher-profile role after two seasons as first-base coach. The former Tigers infielder has impressed many with his work with Tigers infielders and his ability to blend in advanced metrics and video work with his teachings.

Dave Clark spent six seasons as Tigers’ third-base coach, having been one of Ausmus’ first hires.