Detroit Tigers: Chris Fetter Hired as Pitching Coach

The Detroit Tigers are hiring Chris Fetter to be team’s new pitching coach. Here’s why that’s great news for fans.

A few weeks back our own Dan Hasty wrote a list of potential names to be the next pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers, and at the the top of the list was Chris Fetter, who Dan described as “The potential home-run hire…”

Consider this one over and gone, because on Friday morning Jon Paul Morosi tweeted this:

Chris Fetter doesn’t turn 35 until two days before Christmas, but he’s already considered one of the brightest pitching coaches in all of baseball. Morosi mentions how his approach will help the young pitchers on the club, but let’s dig in deeper.

Who is Chris Fetter?

Chris Fetter did his prep pitching in Indiana and then matriculated at the University of Michigan. He redshirted as a freshman but spent the next four years as a rotation stalwart, and he finished his Michigan career as the Wolverines’ all-time leader in innings pitched.

Despite standing 6’8, Chris Fetter wasn’t a hard thrower and he didn’t take great advantage of his height. But according to Baseball America ($) he made some changes as a senior that foreshadowed what would eventually make him such a hot commodity as a pitching coach:

After raising to a high three-quarters slot and doing a lot of work with weighted balls and long toss, Fetter threw 90-93 mph with good run on his fastball as a fifth-year senior.

That was enough to get Fetter drafted in the 9th round by the San Diego Padres in 2009. He struggled in pro ball, failing to get to the Double-A level, and retiring in 2012. But while with the Padres he crossed paths with their head of pro scouting, who happens to be new Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch.

Chris Fetter quickly moved into coaching, joining San Diego’s Double-A affiliate in 2013. That San Antonio Missions club featured future big-league pitchers Matt Andriese, Burch Smith, and Matt Wisler, among others.

The Los Angeles Angels then hired Fetter to be a minor-league scout, but in 2016 he took his first collegiate job, serving as the pitching coach for the Ball State Cardinals, where he helped coach current Cleveland righty Zach Plesac.

Then it was back to Los Angeles, where Chris Fetter was hired as the Dodger’s minor-league pitching coordinator in 2017. In that capacity he helped with the development of key arms for the 2020 World Series winners, including Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, and Julio Urias.

Fetter’s alma mater called in late 2017 and he moved once again, this time to become the pitching coach for the University of Michigan. He wasted little time transforming the Wolverines’ pitching staff, culminating in the club’s electric run to the 2019 College World Series final. Michigan pitchers Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffman were both drafted in the 2nd round in 2019, while Jeff Criswell went in the 2nd in the 2020 draft, and lefty Steven Hajjar is expected to go in that range or higher in 2021.

Plenty of MLB teams have come calling for Chris Fetter in the last few years, including the Diamondbacks, Giants, Mets, and Yankees. But with a young child and a seeming desire to cease his peripatetic lifestyle, Fetter remained with Michigan through the 2020 season.

The Detroit Tigers job is ideal for him. He’ll get to stay home, he’s familiar with Hinch, and he’s got a stable of impressive young arms to help mold.

What Makes Chris Fetter So Good?

Well, there’s the age, the experience, and the track record, but Chris Fetter shares one other thing with many of the best coaches: he wasn’t quite good enough as a player. Fetter’s physical ability fell a bit short, but he excelled in college and made it to pro ball thanks to hard work, intelligence, and, as Baseball America alluded to in their draft profile above, a willingness to try new methods to get better.

The Detroit Tigers become the second team from the American League Central to hire a pitching coach directly from the college ranks, joining the Minnesota Twins, who hired hired Wes Johnson away from Arkansas in 2018. It’s an increasingly viable strategy, as many college programs have more practical experience applying modern, technology-driven development techniques.

Chris Fetter may not be the final piece of the puzzle for the Detroit Tigers, but after making big investments in technology (Edgertronic cameras, Rhapsodo machines, and TrackMan) and personnel (Dan Hubbs, Georgia Giblin), he represents the biggest step yet when it comes to turning their investments into production.

Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic wrote a terrific profile ($) of Chris Fetter in January, and it includes some awfully promising details:

In the beginning, Fetter was careful not to disrupt upperclassmen who were used to a different style. But especially with younger players, he began using analytics and technology to shape pitch arsenals.

 

Stavenhagen goes on to describe how Fetter used video and data to help Jeff Criswell transform from a four-seam/curveball/splitter pitcher into a much more effective two-seam/slider/changeup pitcher.

Now, imagine that sort of personalized development happening with Detroit Tigers pitching prospects like Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Joey Wentz, Alex Faedo, and Franklin Perez.

There’s never a guarantee things will work, but in hiring Chris Fetter as their new pitching coach, the Detroit Tigers gave themselves the best possible chance to succeed in the future. A home-run hire, indeed.