Pat Caputo: A.J. Hinch leading Tigers GM search? Why?


So general manager Al Avila has been fired. Now what?

As Tigers owner Chris Ilitch picks up the pieces, a drumbeat of ridiculous scenarios is being suggested by various pundits and fans.

The idea that manager A.J. Hinch should be the most integral part of the GM search is absurd. While Hinch has an exceptionally diverse baseball background and well-documented success as a MLB manager, his role in one of the most disappointing seasons in Tigers’ history has been equal to that of the dismissed Avila. He just hasn’t been here nearly as long.

The veteran position players the Tigers acquired during the offseason, Javier Baez, Austin Meadows and Tucker Barnhart, have all played far worse for Hinch than their previous managers. And their highly-touted prospects, Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, have done anything but thrive under Hinch’s watch.

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Hinch, deservedly, received kudos because the Tigers were so fundamentally sound while compiling a surprising 77 victories after a slow start in 2021. Yet, it has been the complete opposite in ‘22.

Tigers’ hitters have been the deer, opposing pitchers the headlights. It’s been unprecedented, especially considering what many of the same hitters accomplished in ‘21.

Akil Baddoo’s fall-off has been stunning. Even more alarming has been the regression of Jeimer Candelario. He was the Tigers’ top position player the previous two seasons.

The Tigers’ bullpen has been singled out as a bright spot. Statistically, it has been. In reality, though, it tends to fail under pressure, just like the rest of the team.

This is a club that has made rundowns and routine pop flies a mad cap adventure. The Tigers constantly run themselves out of innings by trying to score from third on routine grounders with less than two outs, or attempting to go from first to third, even seeing the ball in front of them in left field as they round second base.

In one recent game, an opposing runner on first noticed the entire Tigers infield had their back turned to the plate between pitches and swiped second.

These are not deep, analytical issues. These are basics taught in Little League.

Worse yet, the club checked out on Hinch.

It was a bad first few months, but this is a season, outside of the Yankees and Astros, in which parity rules in the American League. There are four playoff spots up for grab for rather mediocre clubs to claim.

The Tigers won six straight games in early July. While it remained a longshot to anticipate a playoff spot, respectability was within reach. They were 8 games out in the wildcard, and 9.5 in the division. The Tigers lost 12 of their next 14 games.

These weren’t hard-fought, tough-break or you-have-to-tip-your-cap losses, either, but rather the result of lackadaisical effort and questionable preparation.

In the meantime, the Twins have faded and the Guardians and White Sox, neither exactly a powerhouse, are right there vying for the AL Central.

Effort is a difficult aspect to quantify. But it’s obvious the Tigers have displayed little focus and are lacking emotional investment.

That is all a direct reflection on Hinch.

He should concentrate on the dugout and clubhouse. Period.

The notion of the Tigers leaning on their analytics department in a GM search is equally absurd.

Adding minds and allocating significant funds for analytics was beyond overdue, but the positive impact to this point has been nil in regard to astute player acquisition. A major part of analytics is injury prevention. The Tigers’ list of pitching injuries is disturbing.

If you think this is some rant demanding a total house-cleaning, it isn’t. Hinch is a terrific manager, but he’s had a poor season. The analytics department should have the opportunity to learn from its mistakes.

But it does seem like both entities got ahead of themselves because of a few months of decent baseball by the Tigers in 2021.

Ilitch has essentially been in his position with the Tigers since 2004. He should know what he is doing by now, and not depend on those who were part of the problem in ‘22.

His late father, Mike Ilitch, wasn’t a micromanager, but definitely faced up to the big organizational moments.

His best hires were from outside the organization as owner of both the Tigers (Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland) and Red Wings (Jimmy Devellano and Scotty Bowman).

The key isn’t cutting off your nose to spite your face and exacting a pound of flesh as punishment. A draconian purge would be counterproductive. But an independent voice is needed to examine and help correct the systematic breakdown of the Tigers this season.