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Tigers building strategically, with park in mind

Front office, Gardenhire want to emphasize speed, defense, effort to maximize Comerica Park
October 19, 2018

DETROIT -- Ron Gardenhire built his managerial reputation on the style his Twins teams played with. They couldn't outslug every team, but they could put pressure on them -- by outhustling and outrunning them, by putting more pitches in play and pressuring defenses to execute. Likewise, they could turn balls

DETROIT -- Ron Gardenhire built his managerial reputation on the style his Twins teams played with. They couldn't outslug every team, but they could put pressure on them -- by outhustling and outrunning them, by putting more pitches in play and pressuring defenses to execute. Likewise, they could turn balls in play into outs by playing strong defense.
It's a style that fit their ballpark, with the fast, bouncy turf and cavernous dimensions of the Metrodome. As the Tigers move ahead in their rebuild, it's a style of play Gardenhire believes can work in Comerica Park.
"It's a big ballpark. It's not conducive for home runs, unless you're a really big shooter," Gardenhire said last month. "But there's a lot of room out there for doubles, and a lot of room for triples. I like that kind of speed game. That's a fun game to watch."
It's a game that Tigers officials have talked about using more for years. As far back as Jim Leyland's managerial tenure, team officials have discussed the potential strengths of more speed and aggressive baserunning in the lineup, more hitters who could slash the gaps for doubles and triples, and better defense.
That idea waned as the Tigers accumulated sluggers from Jose Cabrera to Prince Fielder to J.D. Martinez to Justin Upton. Those days are gone, as are all those hitters except Cabrera. And as Detroit looks to rebuild an offense around young talent from its farm system, it has not only its share of power hitters such as Christin Stewart, Jake Rogers and Parker Meadows, but gap slashers like Daz Cameron, Jake Robson, Danny Woodrow and Kody Clemens.
Cameron and Robson were promoted aggressively up the developmental ladder, ending the season at Triple-A Toledo. Cameron, Rogers and Woodrow are getting extra at-bats in the Arizona Fall League, while Robson is playing winter ball for Estrellas Orientales in the Dominican League. None is expected to open next season in Detroit, but any of them could be in line for a promotion next season.

Gardenhire wants to make sure they, and other Tigers prospects, are ready for what he and his staff expect.
"When you watch a Tigers team in the Minor Leagues," Gardenhire said, "I want people to say, 'These guys bust their tails. These guys get after it. They don't miss a cutoff man.' That's what you eventually want. We had that in [the Twins' system], where even through the Minor Leagues, people could say, 'These guys, they run the bases. They get a single and if they're on first base, they're going to third.' I got that attitude from the Angels when I was playing against [Mike] Scioscia's teams. We tried to mirror them because they ran everywhere."
The topic came up during Tigers organizational meetings last week in Lakeland, Mich.
"We welcome kicking around the information and hearing his thoughts and tightening things up with what we've been doing," Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said. "We have to get better, improving our teaching and getting our guys better prepared."
What that means for the Tigers Minor League staff remains to be seen. That hasn't been finalized, and probably won't be announced until next month.
On the fundamentals aspect, Littlefield said the Tigers have been incorporating new ways to reinforce points to a new generation of players. They've used drones and cameras to provide an overhead view on defensive and baserunning drills, showing defensive positioning on shifts, cutoff throws and baserunning efficiency in a video-game style. For hitting, they've used a Rapsodo system to measure launch angle and exit velocity during hitting work, along the lines of what Trackman provides during games.
"Believe me, Littlefield gets it. He wants it," Gardenhire said. "And [general manager] Al [Avila] has talked about it. Our people have to be better in the Minor Leagues. They have to pound it in."
On style of play, Comerica Park has been an enigma since the Tigers' resurgence. Though it has deep dimensions, it has statistically been a hitter's park in many seasons, an issue MLB.com's Mike Petriello explored last winter. Detroit again hit significantly better at home than on the road this year, including for slugging percentage, thanks to doubles and triples.
Detroit's Park Factor for home runs ranked near the bottom among AL parks this year, according to Baseball Prospectus. It has wavered from slightly above average to below average in past years. It has been more consistently friendly for triples, the latter often among the friendliest in the league. Tigers players have led the American League in triples in five of the last 12 seasons, including Nicholas Castellanos in 2017.

Cameron, who has hit 17 triples over the past two seasons, could be next in line.
"I mean, you're not going to sit here and go draft all these speed guys when there's a home-run hitter out there, a guy that's got a chance to be a 40-homer hitter," Gardenhire said. "But speed does play, too. That should be part of the process, too: guys that can run, leadoff-type guys, batting-second hitters, contact guys. When you're looking at a baseball player, how can he help your team at the Major League level?"

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.