Detroit Tigers: Pitching Director Dan Hubbs out

Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila and manager AJ Hinch participate in a news conference Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, at Comerica Park in Detroit.
Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila and manager AJ Hinch participate in a news conference Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, at Comerica Park in Detroit. /
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The Detroit Tigers have made a number of changes to their development staff over the past few months, but one of the few outstanding staffing questions was what would become of Dan Hubbs, their Director of Pitching Development and Strategies? Today MLB.com beat reporter Jason Beck answered that question:

This isn’t a particularly shocking development, given the recent hire of Ribas as the organization’s new Director of Pitching. But, the lingering questions Beck alluded to likely come from Hubbs’ bona fides as a “modern” pitching instructor.

When Dan Hubbs was hired by the Tigers in late 2019 it was generally viewed as a step in the right direction for an organization looking to modernize. Hubbs had spent all of his coaching career in college, but  he was a convert($) to the cutting-edge throwing programs embraced by Driveline Baseball. His hire seemed to be one of the first real signs the Detroit Tigers were serious about embracing modern player development.

Hubbs stepped into a pretty enviable position, with the Tigers boasting three of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, and a handful more very intriguing arms. But Hubbs’ run with the Tigers was more star-crossed than star-powered, beginning with the Covid-19 pandemic shutting down the 2020 minor-league season.

Important depth arms Alex Faedo, Franklin Perez, and Joey Wentz all suffered season-ending injuries during Hubbs’ tenure, while former first-rounder Beau Burrows fizzled as a prospect. Both Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal struggled in their 2020 MLB debuts, and Matt Manning was shut down as a precaution.

The 2021 season brought a new set of challenges, with teams struggling to find innings at both the major- and minor-league levels. Fans saw Mize and Skubal improve in the Majors, and injuries forced Manning into the rotation as well.

All those graduations and injuries created something of a talent void in the minors for Detroit, but a number of pitchers stepped up in 2021. Austin Bergner, Beau Brieske, Wilmer Flores, Garrett Hill, and Brendan White all showed signs of being helpful arms in the future, but it’s hard to know what role, if any, Hubbs had in their development.

In the absence of any real explanation for the Detroit Tigers and Dan Hubbs parting ways, we’re left to make assumptions. Rogelio and I saw Hubbs at multiple minor-league venues over the course of the season, so it seems unlikely it was an issue of work ethic.

In the end, Dan Hubbs’ fate was probably sealed in late August. That’s when the organization chose to transition Dave Littlefield from Vice President of Player Development into a special assistant role, and elevate Kenny Graham into the head of development on an interim basis.

It’s possible the Detroit Tigers weren’t happy with Dan Hubbs’ performance. But it seems just as likely he is simply a victim of circumstance in a fairly common situation, particularly in the sports world: Hubbs’ boss was fired, and the new guy wants to bring in his own people.

That was likely the case with most of Detroit’s staffing changes. Triple-A manager Tom Prince, who led the Toledo Mud Hens to a first-place finish this season, was also fired after the season.

When it comes to the minor-leagues, records and on-field achievements take a back seat to player development. Dan Hubbs seems to be the latest casualty in Detroit’s effort to build a sustainable player development program that fuels a real contender at the MLB level.

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