Just three days after the World Series ended, AJ Hinch was sitting in a barren Comerica Park flanked by Chris Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Tigers, and Al Avila, general manager, when he was introduced as Detroit’s new manager. Because of the pandemic, Hinch’s introduction took place via a zoom call.
Despite only having a handful of people in the room, Hinch admits his anxiety levels rose sharply. Not because he doubted his abilities, but because he was sitting behind a microphone. At a press conference. For the first time since he was banned from Major League Baseball for an entire season for involvement in the Houston Astros sign theft scandal.
These were real emotions flowing through Hinch, who felt more concerned than he had ever experienced in a dugout. But suddenly Hinch’s tensions eased.
“Al [Avila] said something he hadn’t mentioned to me, but he said it publicly the day he said he was looking for a differentiator, “said Hinch.” With your boss sitting right next to you describing you as a difference – maker describes you as someone he believes can take the organization to the next level. That is an incredible foundation for faith and trust. “
“Chris was very direct with me, both about my past and my present, and certainly about his expectations for my future, and he has been very supportive from the first conversation. They had all the right questions. They were all tough questions when it came to that it’s about everything I’ve done in the game, both good and bad. And I apologized to him at the front end, it’s not their story. My past is not their story. I’ll have to deal with that for the Rest of my career. “
Almost every GM is naturally tied to the success of his manager. In this case, Avila, who has started his sixth full season as the club’s best maker, has pushed all of his chips to the center of the table. He is betting 46-year-old Hinch can turn the tiger’s youngest dying fortune on which they have built. This applies to a Tigers club that finished last in three of the last four seasons and suffered an average of 94 losses in the five seasons before the 2020 season shortened by the pandemic when the Tigers lost to a 23-35 AL Central Basement residence began to totter.
At the same time, 62-year-old Avila is banking on himself because if that fails, his days as general manager of the major league are likely to be over. This is an old school baseball partnership, typical of the game a generation ago.
“I believe that a good manager is like a good catcher,” said Avila, who was elevated to his current position hours after Dave Dombrowski was fired in August 2015. “A really good catcher can take a pitcher that is not very good.” good and make it better. He can take a jug that’s close to an edge and make it average. You can take an average mug and make it a winner.
“A manager can have the same influence on a team. But in some cases, as in AJ’s case, he can have that influence beyond the 26-man roster. So that’s what I mean by a differentiator, a guy who does. ” can make a mediocre team better. Don’t get me wrong or quote me wrong, because I know it takes good players to win. But there were a lot of teams that had really good players that couldn’t, and there were a lot of teams that only had mediocre players that made it to the playoffs. And I think that has to go hand in hand with the leadership on the field, the coaching staff in general, how they work with this team. And it all starts with the manager. AJ has these communication skills. He has that knowledge and he has the work ethic. “
Within minutes of Hinch ending his suspension the night the Dodgers canceled the Rays in the World Series, Avila had him on the phone and enticed him to fly to Detroit for an interview. The next morning Hinch was on a flight. A day later, he agreed to become the Tigers’ 39th manager.
“I know that he believes in me and that was important to me,” said Hinch. “We had one conversation after another about his expectations and I honestly think he trusts me and wants me to maximize my skills in the dugout. He wanted a partner. He didn’t want someone to push around with.”
Alex Cora, who was also banned from MLB for a season in the sign theft scandal, will also return to the dugout, although Cora is returning to Boston, where he led the Red Sox to the 2018 World Series title and remains a fan favorite. Unlike Cora, Hinch doesn’t have built-in credit with Tigers fans. He starts at a club that has lived in the basement for years.
Hinch’s suspension was the Tigers’ biggest obstacle to overcome before hiring him. But Avila convinced owner Chris Ilitch that Hinch was the right choice.
“My biggest concern was, can he be a good leader again after what happened?” Said Avila. “If he goes to this clubhouse, can he take over the clubhouse again? I wasn’t worried about the scandal because I know it wasn’t him. He didn’t make it. He just didn’t stop it. He tried stop it, but he didn’t. “
The Tigers have not disclosed how many years are still on Avila’s contract, nor will they disclose the length of Hinch’s deal, although they believe they are the same length. The parallels between Hinch in Houston and his arrival in Motown are obvious.
The Astros had an average of 104 casualties in the four years prior to Hinch’s arrival. They were also full of young talent who hadn’t yet had success in the big leagues, although that had changed in Hinch’s first season in 2015 when he led Houston to his first post-season appearance in 10 years. These astros featured Jose Altuve and future all-stars like Carlos Correa and George Springer who are yet to bloom.
These tigers have a stable of young guns that many in the game believe can become starters in the top league quality. They are highlighted by Casey Mize (No. 1) and Tarik Skubal (Ninth Classic) from the same design, Matt Manning (2016) and Alex Faedo (2017). They also have Riley Greene’s fifth overall win in 2019, a center fielder, and the 2020 top pick in first baseman Spencer Torkelson.
“You can see what it takes to be a very strong young core who will be the face of Tiger’s baseball for the next five to ten years,” said Hinch. “The reason we raised the bar in Houston was because of the extra talent that was created to complement this young talent. And that’s the challenge we have in Detroit to see which players are really into that today fit next decade. “”
Detroit is essentially a baseball city. A founding member of the American League in 1901, the Tigers are by far the oldest franchise in a city known for its strong, multi-generational fan base. It’s not uncommon for a current fan to be introduced to the Tigers by a parent, grandparent, or even great-grandparent.
Whether or not it was a 120 year history in Detroit, the Tigers were often viewed as an old franchise that was slow to accept and accept the virtue of analytics. It was only in the last five years that the Tigers really began to invest heavily in in-depth performance analysis, which Chris Ilitch insisted on. The Tigers now believe they have caught up.
Chris Ilitch took control of the Tigers after his father, Mike, died in 2017. Mike Ilitch was known as a free expense owner who wanted to win regardless of price.
Hinch is often viewed as a strong analytical manager, largely because of his Stanford education, but also because of his time with Astros, a franchise company considered an industry leader in the MLB analytics world. In reality the opposite could be the case. While Hinch values what analytics offers, he’s by no means tied to it. Remember, Hinch was a third round draft pick who quickly learned how difficult it is to play at this level, as evidenced by his career batting average of 0.219.
“He’s a baseball guy who knows how to use analytics rather than an analyst who doesn’t know how to be a baseball guy,” Avila said. “There’s a big difference between the two.”
Josh Byrnes, assistant general manager of Dodgers who was the GM of the Diamondbacks, when Hinch first moved into the Arizona dugout in 2009: “AJ sees analytics as information to shape its philosophy. He is by no means tied to the complexity in it It’s busy, but he says the focus must be on the players. “
There’s also a noticeable difference today between Hinch and when the Diamondbacks moved him from the front office to the chairman of the manager a month into the 2010 season. It was an experiment that didn’t go well as Hinch was fired midway through the following season after losing 123 of the 212 games he made it – but it was one he learned from.
“In Arizona, I felt like there was an effort to become a manager,” said Hinch. “When I take over in Detroit, with all the experiences I’ve had, I realize that being a manager is yourself and then uses all that experience to think about the players. I think when I took over in Arizona, gave It’s a little too much emphasis on the manager and too little emphasis on the players. Nowadays the focus needs to be on the players, and rightly so. Management is about connecting with your players and being the best version of yourself . “
Through his long years of experience since then, Hinch has grown significantly since the days he first became a manager more than a decade ago. The Tigers are betting this version of Hinch can deliver the city’s first World Series title since Sparky Anderson in 1984.