What in the heck is “ragball” and why are the Detroit Tigers playing it?


New Detroit Tiger Joba Chamberlain taking part in rag ball. He would later win the game.

We’ve all been there before. A new boss comes into our workplace and tries to put his own mark on the staff. This is probably accomplished with rounds and rounds of boring meetings, PowerPoint presentations, conference calls, and working “lunches.”

The Detroit Tigers are experiencing many of these same issues as they began full-squad workouts earlier this week. After being a part of the Jim Leyland regime for eight seasons, it is quite a change for a new guy to be calling the shots. That “new guy” is Brad Ausmus, but instead of harping on the renewed vigor in getting TPS reports out timely, he is introducing a new game that not only helps the team workout, but also gets their competitive juices flowing–not something you’d typically find in Spring Training.

Ausmus’ new game is called “ragball” and is a drill to help Tigers’ pitchers prepare for their fielding responsibilities (I know, cue the 2006 World Series jokes) by having a coach hit choppers and grounders right at the pitcher standing about 30 feet away.

Isn’t it a little dangerous to have batted balls coming directly at highly paid starters like Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, and the staple of the bullpen Joe Nathan? Before you fire off the first volley of “Fire Ausmus,” it’s important to mention that it’s not a baseball being hit, but rather a softer ball that won’t do any damage if it strikes the player.

What would you think if your new boss tried to get the staff to do something like this? Would your eyes roll? Say, “the old guy never did anything like this?”

The Tigers actually loved it.

“I’m very happy we’re doing this,” Max Scherzer said. “We don’t get much of a reaction drill. It’s coming at you so fast, you have to be 100 percent on your toes.”

The drill is designed to keep the pitcher’s reflexes sharp. Ausmus, who brought the drill from his days with the San Diego Padres, believes it would help avoid the dreaded comebacker which has knocked pitchers out for a long time, like Tampa Bay’s Alex Cobb in 2013.

The pitchers enjoyed it so much that Ausmus split them into teams with the best performing pitchers moving to a “Final Four” of sorts. New Tiger Joba Chamberlain ended up coming out on top, edging out Scherzer, Kyle Lobstein and Eduardo Sanchez for the honor.

Hopefully it’s the first of many wins/holds/saves that Joba will experience in a Tigers’ uniform.

Spring Training can be long (six looooonnnnnggggg weeks), boring, and tedious to veterans like Scherzer, Chamberlain, Verlander, and others. As a recent player, Ausmus firmly understands this. By having a fun game with silly odds at stake can keep the players fresh and sharpen their skills along the way.