Detroit Tigers: The American League Manager of the Year is AJ Hinch
The Detroit Tigers have won six in a row and continue to outperform advanced analytics. How much can be contributed to AJ Hinch and his staff?
Baseball data has become more refined as the years go on. It isn’t just batting averages or wins for a pitcher, there is wRC+, FIP, WAR, the list goes on and on. For any baseball fan or any Detroit Tigers fan, depending on how you watch the game, they could mean something or nothing at all.
But stats are stats and depending on how you want to use them, they can paint a picture. To quote the great Sparky Anderson, what we are witnessing since the beginning of May is something to behold.
"“I’ve given everything I had in 26 years as a major league manager and feel good about the direction I provided and the accomplishments we achieved. A manager is only as good as his players, but there has to be direction. Look at the records of guys like John Wooden, Dean Smith and Don Shula. They had a different group of players almost every year, but established a direction and stayed with it."
Hinch is doing exactly that. Establishing a direction.
The Detroit Tigers are defying the stats.
As Shea Norling pointed out yesterday in his article, the Tigers offense is putting up a wRC+ of 92, which is below the league average. 94 different lineups in 97 games (not including today’s game). Think about that for a second. There are two lineups that have been used twice.
As far as division rivals go, the White Sox has used 88 with five games having the most common batting orders, Cleveland with 80 with three games having the most common batting orders, KC with 76 with four games being the highest amount, and Minnesota with 92 and two games having the most common batting orders.
Hinch’s outfield balancing act, led by Akil Baddoo and Robbie Grossman since May 6th according to FanGraphs, is ranked 8th with home runs at 38 and a wRC+ of 106. But defensively, the outfield as a collective since the beginning of the season has a DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) of -13.
If we want to use it from the start of May 6 till now, what has Hinch done to improve the outfield? Victor Reyes and JaCoby Jones are not playing on a regular. (Reyes -4 and Jones -3). While Baddoo is a -2, considering he is a Rule 5 pick from Low-A, there is a slight learning curve. Both Grossman and Haase have been at 0 so they have been able to hold down left field. Haase behind the plate is at 0 with a defense fWAR of 1.3. The loss of Jake Rogers till mid-September is a huge blow (he was a 3.7)
The biggest defense deficiencies have been well documented at shortstop with Zach Short being the one player who was in the positive DRS with 1 and the “Chris Fetter Effect” on the pitching staff continues to show through in the numbers. But if you think about it, Hinch has had an effect on the bullpen. He has asked guys to go multiple innings and they have responded.
Granted, you may not know what version of Joe Jimenez you will get but to use him in low leverage situations and slowly give him chances to come through in the clutch, speaks to Hinch’s understanding of how a ballplayer works as he discussed in the Atheltic’s article back in March. ($)
His psychology degree and reading the room have paid off. Have the Tigers benefited from a soft schedule since the All-Star break? Absolutely. Does Detroit still have ways to go to be a playoff contender? No doubt.
But considering this roster is much of the same in the previous two seasons and you are seeing breakout performances from Kyle Funkhouser, who has been given up by Tigers fans (myself included). Clutch performances from the “next guy up” and with two different coaches leaving in the middle of the season (Jose Cruz Jr and Chip Hale), AJ Hinch has the team using words like “happy” and “fun”.
The Detroit Tigers are making baseball fun again. Even if they struggle as they look for innings eaters, whatever happens from here, Hinch has made it clear. The Tigers are not going to be pushed over anymore. From 9-24 to now, the fans are coming back to the ballpark. As cliche as this sounds, it is Detroit vs Everybody and Hinch should get some recognization for what he has done in such a short time period.
The advanced numbers say one thing about Detroit but their record and their demeanor say otherwise.