When the general manager stepped into Jim Leyland’s office after the game on Sunday, you knew something was up. Dave Dombrowski delivered the news that the organization had just parted ways with their pitching coach, Rick Knapp. Knapp leaves the club after two and a half seasons. My his own recollection, Leyland said it was the first time in his 20 years as a manager that he’d fired a coach midseason (Unless you count Chuck Hernandez, who was actually fired with one game to go in 2008, but stayed on with the team when they made up a game in Chicago on the final day). Lon-time Tigers bullpen coach Jeff Jones will take over in the dugout and Mike Rojas, who had been working in the front office, will stepo into Jones’ role as bullpen coach.
Given how poorly the vast majority of the pitching staff had been performing lately, you almost had to figure a change was coming soon. Phil Coke had already been removed from the rotation and the I-75 shi=uttle had been running non-stop to bring up fresh arms from Toledo in order to replenish a bullpen decimated by disastrously short starts from Max Scherzer, Coke, and Rick Porcello in recent weeks. This past week, the Tigers were on the wrong end of a 14-3, a 16-9, and a 15-3 loss. That was in a stretch of five games.
When you look at the performance of a coach like Knapp, or even at Lloyd McClendon and his hitters, it’s easy to look at the poor performances and forget about the good ones. For every Ryan Raburn that hasn’t been able to put it together this year, McClendon’s supporters can point to Jhonny Peralta, who is having a career year after being left for dead by Cleveland just last year. Yes, the Tigers have a few underachievers on the offensive side, but the guys that are exceeding expectations far outnumber those falling below. You’d have a hard time looking at the resurgence of Brennan Boesch, or the breakout seasons by Alex Avila and saying that McClendon hasn’t gotten through to anyone.
Unfortunately for Knapp, the same can’t be said of his pitching staff this year. Leaving Justin Verlander aside (simply because he’s Verlander. I’m sure Knapp did some good things with JV, but he could have had the worst coach on the planet and Verlander would still be pretty good, I think.), the rest of the starting staff has not only failed to meet expectations this year, they’ve fallen drastically below, especially recently.
The damage isn’t limited to the starters, either. While it may be unfair to give Knapp any part of the blame for Joaquin Benoit‘s early season struggles, it did happen on Knapp’s watch. Benoit was other-wordly as a Ray last year, so he was bound to regress a bit. If that was the only damning evidence against Knapp he never would have been fired. Additionally, however, when you consider that Knapp was hired thanks to his success in the minor leagues in teaching young Twins hurlers to pound the strikezone, you’d have been expecting that he could have taught the same to some young Tigers in his time in Detroit. Instead, guys like Daniel Schlereth and Ryan Perry seemingly haven’t progressed at all in the two seasons under Knapp’s guidance. When you look at the entire staff, whether you think he was given the right kind of talent or not, it’s tough to argue that Knapp’s peformance this season was an effective one.
I know he can’t go out there and pitch for them, but right or wrong, they cannot replace all the pitchers, so the easiest move is to replace the coach. Maybe a new voice will be all that needed, maybe not, but this move feels like it was necessary to me.
As for the throngs of fans filling up the comments sections of every newspaper website, message board, and even on MLB.com that are screaming for the heads of the rest of Leyland’s coaching staff, along with the manager himself; folks, that’s just not gonna happen, at least not until after the season. While your bloodthirst is quite evident, even if the Tigers hit a 12-game skid real quick here, I can’t see Leyland being shown the door before October. Then again, I guess, I didn’t actually expect them to let go of Knapp right now, either.