The Detroit Tigers formally announced Rich Dubee as their new pitching coach on Thursday afternoon. With the Tigers entering a new phase without Jeff Jones -- old school with an affinity for changeups -- they're also bringing advanced analytics more to the forefront. They needed to hire a guy who was willing to follow the same route.
The Tigers used to have a group of mostly veteran guys, pitchers who knew just about everything and didn't need someone to hold their hand. But now they're stocked with youngsters, too, both in the rotation and the bullpen. Detroit needed someone who has worked both sides of that. On top of it, they have several pitchers who are recovering from injuries -- some season-ending and will need to be handled differently.
"Brad (Ausmus) did all of the leg work and research, and he did a lot of in-depth research with all the candidates," Tigers general manager Al Avila said. "Basically, he turned over to me a list of guys he wanted me to interview, which I did. And then I gave him what I thought, and Rich was right there at the top of the list."
Avila has known Dubee since his days with the Marlins. He listed Dubee's ability and experience to develop young talent and still work with a veteran staff in the majors as some of the qualifications for why he and Ausmus went with Dubee. What started out as 20 names eventually whittled down to about six or so. Ausmus, not having played in majors for a few years, spoke to several players who had worked with Dubee, as well as several members within the Tigers organization.
Among those included were bench coach Gene Lamont, bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer (whom Dubee worked with in his time with the Marlins), and now-special assistant to the Tigers, Jim Leyland. All gave "glowing recommendations" when it came to Dubee, and his level of experience at the major league level was high on the list of importance for Detroit. Specifically, his time with the Phillies.
But as for the history between Ausmus and Dubee, there isn't much of one between the two other than when the latter was introduced to Ausmus through Lamont. Now, there lies a mountain of work to be done going into next year. Not only will there be a bullpen to salvage -- or burn to the ground and reconstruct -- and a rotation to stabilize, but there's the matter of what Dubee referred to as a "banged up" pitching staff. He's not half wrong, either.
Considering the enormity of the importance of hiring the right pitching coach, Ausmus handled the majority of it, and went into detail about what he and the Tigers were looking for in a new coach.
"When we got to that half-dozen, that's when the interview process really began and spoke to each one of those candidates," Ausmus said. "Covered a number of topics, from what their general philosophy was, how they dealt with the mechanics of the pitcher, what they thought the most important part of the pitching delivery was, what they look for when things go bad.
"We covered scouting reports, what they've used in the past to prepare the pitching staff for the opposing lineup, what types of numbers they might use, how much they were involved in the analytical side of it, how open they were to maybe some new information, spring training, stuff like that."
Avila later added that as much as the influence of a pitching coach has on a staff, a team needs talent, and especially health. The latter has been a tough thing to come by of late. As for Dubee, he noted his approach regarding pitchers must be taken on an individual level, noting that where he'd allow more "leeway" with veterans, the same likely wouldn't apply to rookies.
Regarding his overall pitching philosophy, Dubee prefers for pitchers to pitch inside and be "aggressive" in their approach on the mound. But he made a point that pitchers need consistency and to get ahead in the count -- something also lacking on the Tigers in 2015 -- and aggressiveness won't get you very far without both. And in particular, pitching inside has become a bit case-by-case as some pitchers don't like doing it for various reasons.
"I don't know that it's a lost art, I think it's taken more out of context by hitters and their reactions to balls inside," Dubee said. "In the past, it's almost an invasion of their territory. I think with the armor that hitters wear and their reactions to pitches I think sometimes guys are reluctant to do it, but it's a major necessity."
But the elephant in the room lately seems to be advance analytics. And it's there balance is crucial, oft reiterated by the Tigers and now Dubee. Controlling the information pitchers get is equally important -- not overloading them with new information -- and ensuring the catchers have the majority of it.
Will there be a balance? That's up to the analytic department first and foremost. But it's Dubee's responsibility to use advanced analytics, something the Tigers are still behind on compared to the rest of the league. They're starting to catch up -- at least, that's the goal -- but until shown in action there will be questions.
Dubee's history with advanced stats is somewhat limited, but in getting the job, he showed a willingness to learn and apply whatever he's given. Being as that was a sticking point to the Tigers making someone a serious candidate that fit their billing, it should be a good fit.
"The stuff in the past, I haven't been privy to a lot of the new stuff and I'm sure I'll get caught up to that," Dubee remarked. "But the stuff I used to use in the past were averages and swing counts -- what a hitter's hitting 0-0 count, what a hitter's hitting 1-0, the swing tendencies, how often they swung in those counts if they were more aggressive. And then I did a lot with the bat system and the video. You get to see so many at-bats before a series, there's a lot of information there and I'll get, I'm sure a lot more information from our analytical department once we get into this (next season)."