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.