Tigers continue analytics lean with staff moves

November 12th, 2019

DETROIT -- While the Tigers’ on-field rebuild enters its third offseason, the long-term reshaping of their baseball operations and player development has entered perhaps its most important phase under general manager Al Avila, who announced several hires on Tuesday.

While former Angels bench coach Josh Paul joins manager Ron Gardenhire’s staff as quality control coach, more sweeping moves happened behind the scenes, a reflection of the Tigers’ effort to blend sports science and analytics into their scouting and player development efforts.

“I feel real good about the moves,” Avila said. “We've grown to the fullest as far as technology, analytical information with our hires as far as the analysts in the office. It puts us in a good position.”

Paul takes the role previously held by Joe Vavra, who became the Tigers' hitting coach when Lloyd McClendon moved to bench coach shortly after season’s end.

On the Minor League side, Tigers legend Lance Parrish moves from Class A West Michigan manager into the front office as a special assistant to Avila, joining former teammates Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson. He’ll apply his expertise and passion for teaching the game throughout the farm system after two years with the Whitecaps and four years managing at Double-A Erie.

“He'll be traveling around the Minor Leagues helping the staff on the field, helping with evaluations, similar to Tram, very similar to Gibby as well,” Avila said.

Parrish will work with a player development department that receives a makeover with new hires. Kenny Graham joins the organization as director of player development after spending the last four years as the Brewers’ Minor League hitting coordinator. Graham's first task, Avila said, will be to implement a system of hitting strategies throughout the system.

“We interviewed several people. We ended up feeling good about him and his background,” Avila said. “He had a strong background in player development and setting up the hitting strategies in Toronto and Milwaukee.”

Former player development director Dave Owen will now serve as Minor League field coordinator.

Dr. Georgia Giblin, who worked with the Tigers this past season as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan, joins the organization full-time as its first director of performance science. Her focus has been to build a system to help players stay healthy and reach peak performance by blending traditional baseball methods with advanced technology.

The hire does not change the Tigers’ partnership with U-M, but it will allow Giblin to focus on putting the Tigers’ new technology in place.

“She's the person that will do the athlete monitoring system that helps us assess fatigue, workouts and end-game situations,” Avila said. “As far as the training for the staff, using force plates, wearable technology, all these technologies that we're implementing into the system, she's the one that will be doing the testing and the monitoring.”

The Tigers will also have their first director of pitching development and strategies with the hire of former USC head coach Dan Hubbs. Like Graham, Hubbs’ first order of business will be establishing an organization-wide pitching protocol, something that has been discussed in past years. That program will include pitchers at the big league level, according to Avila.

While hiring college coaches has been an emerging trend in the Majors, notably on the pitching side, it’s a new move for the Tigers. The 48-year-old Hubbs coached three dozen MLB Draft picks during his six-year Trojans tenure, including Astros catching prospect Garrett Stubbs, before Hubbs and the school parted ways at last season's end. His previous 12 years as Cal pitching coach included work with former first-round Draft pick and veteran reliever Brandon Morrow.

“We liked him the best because he basically played professional baseball all the way to Triple-A,” Avila said. “He became a college coach and he's well-versed in the modern technology and analytics and the modern player per se that we're drafting. We believe that he'll be an effective communicator and he's up to date with what the college player that goes into the professional ranks goes through.”

Hubbs also implemented strategies his last couple seasons at USC from the Driveline Baseball program, where Matthew Boyd works out, to try to address arm fatigue.

“He's a guy that has been Driveline certified," Avila said, "understands the analytics and understands how to use the technology, and is basically challenged to create our pitching strategies and also see it through all the way from the beginning when a player comes in until a player leaves the organization.”

Beyond having a career-long strategy, Avila said, the progression will be measured and documented, from the observations of instructors to the data collected by all the technology acquired.

“It's no different than all the conversations that we have with general managers or agents or ourselves. We document everything,” Avila said Tuesday from baseball’s GM Meetings. “We go back to history and match up things. Well, with players, it's going to be the same thing. What did we do with him when he came in at the rookie level or A ball? And then the technology that we put on to figure out how to help him produce, we take that to the next level, and there will be a history there. If a player all of a sudden has some failure, we can go back to see what made him successful.

“So there's a series of things, and it involves the use of technology and analytics, to where our coaching staff can help that player better. And Kenny Graham has already set up that system in Milwaukee.”

With Parrish now a special assistant, another former Tigers catcher, Brayan Pena, will take over as West Michigan manager. He earns his second promotion in as many seasons since entering the coaching ranks two years ago and leading the Tigers to a Gulf Coast League title in 2018. Former Tigers Minor League catcher and bullpen coach John Murrian will join Pena as Whitecaps hitting coach.

“He's a high-energy guy, very positive, communicates really well with the players,” Avila said of Pena. “Players take to him real well, and the players perform for him. We like that aspect for him.”

Other Tigers moves:

• The Tigers will have an advanced scouting coordinator and an assistant next season with the promotions of Kan Ikeda and Kyle Lanczki to the respective posts. They’ll do most of their work out of the video room, with Ikeda also assisting with pro scouting in Asia. Austin Tripp, who had been the Tigers’ coordinator of Minor League baseball information, is the new Major League video coordinator.

• Chris McDonald joins the Major League medical staff as assistant athletic trainer after 18 seasons in the farm system. He had been the athletic trainer at Triple-A Toledo for the past five seasons.

• Matt Rosenhamer will work as the assistant Major League strength and conditioning coordinator. He spent this past season as the Erie SeaWolves’ strength and conditioning coach.

• Jordan Wergiles joins the Tigers full-time as the coordinator of player development analytics. He had been an intern in the analytics department.

• Bill Springman is the new hitting coach at Class A Advanced Lakeland after working in the same role this year at short-season Class A Connecticut.

• James Orr, whose scouting work included Tigers first-round Draft pick Riley Greene this past season, has been promoted to national crosschecker. Taylor Black has been promoted to East regional crosschecker. Darold Brown and Bryce Mosier have joined the Tigers as area scouts after working with the Blue Jays and Braves, respectively.

• Gabe Ho has been hired as a full-time analyst after interning with the Tigers over the summer through Major League Baseball’s Diversity Pipeline Program. Charlie Adams and Elora Strom join the organization as a data engineer and software developer, respectively.

The Tigers’ latest batch of hires did not include a manager for Triple-A Toledo, where Doug Mientkiewicz was dismissed at the end of October. Avila said the team is continuing to look at candidates, but managerial vacancies in San Francisco and Pittsburgh along with coaching vacancies elsewhere will probably have to be sorted out first. The expected promotion of several top prospects from Double-A Erie make it a particularly important hire.

“Obviously it's an important position,” Avila said. “It's a very challenging position.”