My (Backwards?) View on Team Development

This afternoon, on Twitter, MCB’s Garret Craig discussed how nice it would be to add Dustin Pedroia to the Tigers roster.  I replied with a bit of snark, essentially saying “well yeah, duh, it would be nice to add Felix Hernandez to our rotation too”.  His point was obvious though.  Pedroia, more than the vast majority of other All-Star caliber players, is exactly what the Tigers roster needs.  He plays a position of great/severe/huge/overwhelming/pick an adjective need and provides substance to the top of the batting order, something the Tigers lacked most of the year (how exactly Miguel Cabrera got 100+ RBIs still baffles me).  Garret’s conversation re-ignited a thought I have had from time to time.  It probably is not original, but I wonder what the feeling is towards it.


@garretkc What they need is to find a player LIKE him, similar tools and so forth. I think each position should have player “models”

Perhaps many teams already do this in a way.  While some positions seem to define themselves (a CF needs to be good at defense), others vary more widely.  As an example, some teams opt for a big bat at 3B while others go for defense…and some teams have both like the Rangers with Adrian Beltre.  Other times teams have overall philosophies where they just try and find the player at a position who fits into their team mentality (this is probably an over generalization of the Oakland A’s and their famous “Moneyball” theory).

I don’t really know where the Tigers fall in this though.  While we know what their thinking is on pitching (Yes, please, I’ll take another power arm, thank you), it is not as clear as to what they look for in a hitter.  It has been suggested that they tend to skew towards players with a high BABIP and good power numbers, a theory that certainly has merit when you look at the current composition of the 25 man roster.  We have also seen a couple wild swings from heavy offense to heavy defense and then back again.  We all know that Jim Leyland seems to have a slotting system for certain positions.  More often than not during his tenure with the Tigers, the CF hits 1, 2B hits 2, and a corner OF hits 3.  In some instances, this works out well (Placido Polanco circa always, Magglio Ordonez circa 2006-2008) and in others it does not (Austin Jackson circa 2011, Curtis Granderson circa 2009).

What I would like to see is for the Tigers go with a position by position approach to each player.  If they are going to continue to adhere to the “a certain position must bat in this pot in the order” then they need to be selective of what types of players they put at that position.

  • “Our 2B needs to be a quality fielder with a good OBP and high contact rate.”
  • “Our CF needs to have good speed, with solid baserunning skills and high walk rate in addition to defensive acumen.”
  • “Our 3b needs to be a big bat, capable of the 3 run HR”

Maybe we already see the Tigers doing this – it seems that ever SS in they system, aside from Jhonny Peralta, fits the “amazing range, couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat” profile and every 1B in almost every system is the same – big power can’t play another else defensively.  Obviously I have my own views on what certain positions should look like (and Pedroia is obviously the 2B model).  It would be interesting to get some insight on how the Tigers feel though.  While there is merit to just taking the best athlete and hoping that guy turns out (certainly a philosophy the Tigers have had, if they don’t still have it) something can be said for looking for very specific skill sets for certain positions across the diamond.

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  • ChrisHannum

    I would like all these things too, but team development is less like a trip to the grocery store than it is like Bear Grylls foraging for bugs or that Survivorman guy being forced to drink his own urine to stay alive.

    • Sam Genson

      @ChrisHannum in some ways you are right, you have to take what you are given – but when you look at all of the Latin American players and Draft players available, the opportunity exists to find the qualities you seek at each position. The discussion then turns to actually developing the potential that exists.

      Also, to clarify – the above examples were not exactly what I would seek, just generic examples of seeking a somewhat specific model for each position. I know that to a degree this occurs in MLB already – if you listen to the TigsTown podcast they will mention how a player’s bat doesn’t profile “here” but it profiles “there” and so on. I was suggesting it could be even more specific though.

      • ChrisHannum

        @Sam Genson I think that the Tigers and most if not all other teams really do do what you suggest as far as evaluating talent at different positions. The problem is that 18-year-olds are so raw that you have to project not only performance but what tools you think they will actually have when they are 23. Sometimes they fail to develop into the role you expected, sometimes they develop in ways you didn’t foresee. So you wind up years down the road with a second baseman tearing up AAA with a worse glove than you wanted and too many strikeouts but more power than you expected. He may still be the best all around player at that position that you’ve got, and in some sense you’re just happy that he developed into something at all.

        • Sam Genson

          @ChrisHannum Really, there are two differnet discussions here that I have lumped into one – One is about drafting athletes vs. ballplayers (and to some degree HS vs College). The other is the slotting of specific positions into certain batting order spots.

          To some degree, every position is manned by a similar guy. So yes, I think there is a profile for most positions out there. What I was suggesting is that the Tigers should perhaps be MORE specific as they like for certain fielding positions to hit in certain positions. I don’t know that other teams operate in such a manner – fielding is independent from hitting while with the Tigers it seems to be tied together.

          We know right now that the Tigers take BPA as we see them take players who are 3Bs right now and end up at LF. I think there is a need for that, but I think they go to much towards getting an “athlete” in some cases and less towards getting a guy with certain (semi)polished skills. This past drafted seemed to swing the other way, in a rather dramatic fashion.

          Perhaps this phenomenon of positions, rather than players, hitting in certain spots is what I should have explored more in-depth.

        • ChrisHannum

          @Sam Genson That is true, if your center fielder is going to lead off – period – then patience at the plate seems a lot more important. Same goes if your second baseman is going to bat second – period. Kind of a Leyland quirk, I think.