After last season, an issue that was quickly identified on the Detroit Tigers' pitching staff was the failure to throw strikes. The Tigers moved quickly to remedy that problem by hiring Rick Knapp as pitching coach, hoping he would take the philosophy that he instilled in the Minnesota Twins' minor league system and apply it to the Tigers' major league pitchers.
This season, the mantra might change from "throw strikes" to "plate discipline." In his end-of-the-season meeting with the media, general manager Dave Dombrowski identified the team's collective approach at the plate as a reason for their lack of production.
From John Lowe's story in today's Freep:
"We're not disciplined enough at the plate," Dombrowski said.
Dombrowski indicated he was referring to some, but not all, Tigers hitters. But he immediately added that he will implement an organizational-wide attack on the lack of plate discipline.
"We had a meeting a couple of years ago on some of these topics with our hitting people, and we're going to do that again this winter, to try to get back, from a philosophical perspective, how to approach that -- major league and minor league," Dombrowski said. "Sometimes at the minor league level when I traveled around, that (lack of plate discipline) was also an observation."
This is a long overdue move by Dombrowski and the Tigers' organization. Watching other teams throughout the majors and reading stories about them, you sometimes hear about how they've worked to instill certain philosophies in their minor league systems, hoping that those tendencies and skills will follow to the major league level.
At Take 75 North, Matt Wallace cited several examples of the Tigers' poor plate discipline in the minor leagues, listing a handful of players considered top prospects who didn't do so well with their strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The Twins, Yankees, and Red Sox are three teams that come to mind which train their hitters to take pitches and work counts. And you can definitely see the results of that when those teams play the Tigers. Their hitters foul off pitches, wait for the one they know they can hit, and make opposing pitchers work, often forcing them to leave ballgames far earlier than they'd prefer. Edwin Jackson seemed particularly victimized by this approach late in the season, especially once batters knew to expect his slider.
It can result in some tedious baseball. Games against the Yankees and Red Sox seem to take far longer than those against other teams. And when they play each other? Set aside four hours of your time. But it seems to yield winning results more often than not. All three of those teams made it to the postseason.
Compare that to the Tigers, who continually let opposing pitchers off the hook by jumping on pitches early in the count. Many times, pitchers had to throw less than 10 pitches to get out of an inning. Only one regular starter, Brandon Inge, averaged more than four pitches (4.09) per plate appearance. (Though Curtis Granderson was close at 3.96.)
That's not to say that Tigers batters should never swing at the first pitch (which I know is a pet peeve for several fans). You see your pitch, you attack it. That seems to have been Lloyd McClendon's philosophy as hitting coach. So it's troubling that he appears to be returning in that role for next season. But perhaps he believes a change in approach is necessary, as well, and sold that to Jim Leyland and Dombrowski when his performance was up for review.
So is this an encouraging development going into next season? Is it too early to say, before seeing if this new philosophy is actually enacted and yields some results? Who are some current Tigers hitters that you think would benefit from a more patient, disciplined approach at the plate?