Detroit Tigers News

Detroit Tigers: Hitting Coach Joe Vavra Has Made a Early Impact

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 07: Victor Reyes #22 celebrates after scoring with Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers during het fifth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on August 7, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 07: Victor Reyes #22 celebrates after scoring with Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers during het fifth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on August 7, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /
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The Detroit Tigers are the league leaders in hard-hit % in all of Major League Baseball.  It seems early on, Joe Vavra has made a difference in the Tigers’ offense.

If you watch a baseball game on TV, there is a lot of data that is been presented to the fans. Analytics and stats are being thrown out there non-stop. For the Detroit Tigers so far, one number stands out that has raised a few eyebrows since yesterday.

If you are Twitter and you have not followed Mike Petriello, you should. He writes for MLB.com and gives out the great information on Statcast. How does that translate for the Tigers’ early success? According to Jason Bernard, who ran the data on this for Mike, more hard-hit balls translate to success.

Who or what is responsible for this? You could factor in the fact the season is starting later and pitchers are getting back into the groove of things. Sure, that is logical and makes total sense. The upgrades on the left side of the infield with Cron and Schoop? Ok, that makes sense too but a smaller part than you think.

There are the stories of JaCoby Jones reworking his swing outside of the organization last year and Jeimer Candelario worked on his swing mechanics by building leg strength. It falls in line into what new hitting coach Joe Varva believes in which is simple enough, having a plan.

In an article in the Freep written by Anthony Fenech, he spoke about his main goal for each player:

“Our goal is to try to get them to use more of the center part of the plate and there’s some things, per guy, per individual that we’re going to have to do and understand themselves and it’s case by case, but everybody’s going to have to come up with a solid plan on a daily basis and they’re going to have to give us answers and do their homework on what they’re up against.”

Tigers fans saw under Lloyd McClendon and his hitting philosophy of swinging down on the ball to create backspin as the not the correct way to go while at the plate.  Varva comes from a strong track record. The Twins led the league in batting average in 2006 (.287) and former Twins MVP Justin Morneau credited Vavra for helping him turn his career around. His MVP season in 2006 was Vavra’s first season as the Twins’ batting coach.

A hitting coach is supposed to notice if a swing is off, provide suggestions and reading early on in the spring, he was sending out emails and videos to players.  He wanted the players to take advantage during the break to dive into analytics more. The results show in small sample sizes.

  • Victor Reyes: .334 XBA, FB% 19.4 (near the league average of 22.4% and up from 15.9% from last season) K rate is just 7.9%, which puts him near the top 3% of the league currently and he has a slight increase in exit velocity and launch angle
  • Christin Stewart: Barrel% of 20% is up with four barrels already, his walk rate is at 8.8%, near the league average and his launch angle is up to 24.7%.
  • Jeimer Candelario and Miguel Cabrera are also among the leaders in hard-hit percentage. Austin Romine has also seen a tick up on that same measure.
  • The Tigers are second, only to Atlanta in Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) at .418 and their exit velocity is among the top 10 in the league.

You can draw to a reasonable conclusion for Miguel, he is healthy. Why mess with greatness? It could be just me but granted while Detroit has struck out quite a bit, they appear to be taken more pitches at the plate. Another stat that pops out. Check out Detroit through first 13 games from last year and 2020

  • 2019: .191/.277/.296 81 hits, 25 doubles, 5 HR 46BB in 476 plate appearances
  • 2020:  .231/.303./434 98 hits 21 home runs 37BB (ok, they walk less) in 475 plate appearances

It’s early in the season but you can see already the differences in Detroit at the plate. Analytics mixed with good instruction is a combo that Joe Vavra has delivered so far this season. Let’s hope it continues.

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