November 18th, 2013

Wait, the Tigers hired a defensive coordinator?

News of the Tigers hiring Omar Vizquel as their first-base coach was the headline move of the Tigers coaching staff on Monday. News of the Tigers hiring Wally Joyner as hitting coach and Mick Billmeyer as bullpen coach was a big headline Sunday evening, soon after Joyner stepped down from the Phillies, and then became official on Monday.

Then, in Monday’s press release announcing the hiring, was the hiring of former Tigers minor league manager and instructor Matt Martin as “the club’s defensive coordinator.”

Wait, what? Did somebody cut and paste from a football press release?

Actually, it’s been done. Yes, in baseball. And fairly recently.

“I believe that preparation is the most important part of this game,” new Nationals manager Matt Williams said a few weeks ago in introducing Mark Weidemaier as his “defensive coordination advance coach.”

The description of the roles are similar. From the Tigers press release today:

Martin will assist Brad Ausmus and his staff with all on-field arrangements as well as with the coordination of all advanced scouting information for the Tigers.

Like in Washington, the idea of a defensive coordinator came from the manager. Like Williams, Ausmus made an impression with a blend of old and new ideas, and wanted somebody to coordinate their information in advance scouting and implement it in strategy.

“Brad Ausmus had talked about how he’d like to have somebody help him with doing this,” Dave Dombrowski said Monday. “We felt defensive coordinator was an appropriate title. He can help us on the field before games, but his main thing is going to be coordinating.”

Ausmus went into more detail why he wanted it.

“It’s very important to me that the infield defense, outfield defense and pitching are on the same page,” he explained. “Matt will be a big part of that coordination, in addition to assisting Omar [Vizquel] with infield, baserunning and bunting.”

That said, Martin will not be in uniform during the game. That’s one difference between what the Tigers are doing and what the Nationals are doing. Major League teams are allowed seven coaches in uniform during games thanks to a rule change last year, and the Tigers’ seventh spot is expected to go to their assistant hitting coach. Dombrowski said the Tigers haven’t determined where Martin will be when the game starts, but he won’t be in the dugout.

Another difference is the background. Martin has an instructional background, having been a roving infield instructor with the Dodgers and Orioles since 2007. He was a roving instructor, coach and manager in the Tigers farm system from 1998-2003. Weidemaier was an advance scout and special assistant in Arizona last year.

The philosophies on advance scouting are also different. The Tigers have done the bulk of their advance work through video and scouting services, and Martin will take a lot of that on. David Laurila had a very good explanation from Dombrowski on their advance scouting in a Fangraphs piece from October:

“During the regular season, we don’t [have advance scouts] for every series. I think most clubs have gotten away from that. We do our advance work through video and statistical information. We videotape basically every game that’s played and break down those tapes, hitter by hitter and pitcher by pitcher. Then we supply that information to Jim [Leyland] and his staff.

“Another thing with our staff is that Jim has been in the league so long that he knows a lot of the information himself. Occasionally, if we don’t know a team real well, or if we don’t know a manager real well — their tendencies — we’ll send somebody in advance of a series.”

The Nationals do use an advance scout during the season. It’s not a dig against the Tigers scouting staff that they don’t, because after all, these are the same scouts that have provided the background info behind Detroit’s many trades and free-agent signings over the years. It’s just a philosophy.

Whatever the route, it’ll be up to the coordinators to process a ton of information and put it to use defensively. The Tigers did not use a lot of infield shifts under Leyland, who left it up to his pitchers whether they wanted to shift against a particular hitter. It remains to be seen how Ausmus handles that, but Martin’s appointment strongly suggests he plans to use shifts and positioning aggressively.

Joe Nathan loves Tigers, but preaching patience

The good news for the Tigers is that Joe Nathan is going on national radio professing his love for them. The bad news is that it doesn’t sound like he’s signing a contract anywhere quite yet, or at least for a little while until the Yankees and perhaps some other teams begin making moves.

From the conversation he had with Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on MLB Network Radio this afternoon, it sounded very much like a waiting game.

“Right now,” he said, “it’s just waiting to see how what options are going to be out there, what teams are really going to be interested and then take those phone calls and try to make the best decision we can as far as what location we’re looking for and what team we feel can be a good fit and most importantly what team can have the best chance we feel to go into a postseason.”

As he talked, he pointed out a mutual benefit to that approach.

“I think the fortunate thing is I think a lot of teams are going to try to figure out what they’re going to do with guys as far as arbitration and other pieces that they’ve got to figure out, as far as are they going to try and trade somebody and do this and do that, free up money,” Nathan said. “So I think there are going to be a lot of teams that this process kind of allows me to patient [with], so it gives me a chance to see what clubs are trying to do. So it’ll be nice. I think that helps with the Yankees situation and gives us a sense of what they’re going to do.”

Bowden earlier presented Nathan with three teams he saw as fits for him, starting with the Tigers and then including the Angels and Yankees. As the above quote showed, he sounds willing to wait out the Yankees and see how their roster and payroll shake out.

“I think that’s one of the good things that this has been a slow process and we do have the ability to be patient and kind of watch how this thing plays out, because we do know the Yankees have a lot of pieces to try to fix and a lot of pieces to fill in and the Yankees do obviously go out there and make moves,” he continued. “So It’ll be interesting to see how they try to piece their team together and fill in some of the holes that they have. … It’ll be nice to be patient and see how this thing plays out, but again, it’s fun and just knowing that there are going to be teams out there that have a chance to go to the postseason is exciting for us.”

On the Tigers, it doesn’t sound like patience is a huge motive.

“I definitely love the Tigers, know them very well, having competed against that squad for so many years when I was with the Twins, knowing some of the guys over there, knowing how deep they are, rotation deep,” Nathan said. “Their lineup and offense obviously are impressive. I think one of the things is that their defense has definitely improved. It’s a good ballpark to play in, a good crowd to play in front of. Detroit’s definitely a very appealing and attractive team to look at, I think.”

One of the guys he knows, of course, is his old Twins teammate, Torii Hunter, who has apparently started his recruiting effort.

“With the way the game is today, that is one of the fortunate things that we have,” Nathan said. “Most of the time you know somebody that plays for the club that’s trying to get you over there, so you can kind of already get a sense of how things work, how it is inside the clubhouse, how the teammates are, how the guys are around there, how the staff is, basically how they like to do things in the organization. Fortunately I was able to have a quick little text with Torii Hunter, and obviously he was trying to make sure I was keeping Detroit in my sights and see if I can come over there and join their club.”

The Yankees don’t necessarily have that. What they have is location; Nathan went to high school and college in New York, the latter at Stony Brook University on Long Island. That said, Nathan downplayed the location factor in general.

“Location does play a factor,” he said, “but I think it definitely takes a back seat to whether the team can win and whether the team has a chance to seriously contend, not just to get to the postseason but contend to get to where we ultimately want to be, and that’s the World Series.”

Bottom line, the interview doesn’t do anything to change the view that the Tigers and Nathan are a fit. But it also makes clear that Nathan is willing to wait and see what kind of fit the Yankees can create financially and competitively.

Vizquel joining Tigers as first base coach

Add another former Major Leaguer to Brad Ausmus’ coaching staff in Detroit, and a nice get for the Tigers. Omar Vizquel will be Ausmus’ first base and infield coach. Venezuelan media first reported the move, which was later confirmed by MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez.

Add Vizquel to the hirings of hitting coach Wally Joyner and bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer, and the core of the Tigers coaching staff is essentially set. It’s not clear yet whether they’ll have a second hitting coach again, but if they do, that’s a position yet to be filled.

It’ll be Vizquel’s first post as a big league coach, but his resume gives him instant credibility. He played 24 years in the Majors before retiring in 2012. In those 24 seasons, he won 11 Gold Gloves and three All-Star selections. He played more games at shortstop than anyone in Major League history, and his .985 fielding percentage there ranks second all-time, according to baseball-reference.

The move is a boon for Jose Iglesias, who will take over as Detroit’s full-time shortstop next season.

The 46-year-old Vizquel spent this past season as a roving infield instructor in the Angels organization. When the Angels hired him, Mike Scioscia reportedly said he had no doubt that Vizquel had the potential to manage in the big leagues one day.

Vizquel also was an underrated baserunner, stealing 404 bases in his career. He also was caught 167 times, but there was an aggressiveness to his game.

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