A.J. Hinch is wasting no time assembling his coaching staff. As Jon Morosi of Fox Sports first reported, University of Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter has been hired as pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers.
One of the more interesting aspects of the A.J. Hinch hire was the opportunity to see what a new breed of coaches could do for the Tigers. That decision is already paying dividends. Fetter is widely regarded as a rising star, and has been highly sought after over the past few years based on his success with the Wolverines.
The New York Yankees, among many other clubs, have inquired about Fetter’s services over the last few seasons, particularly after the Wolverines’ run to the World Series championship game against Vanderbilt in 2019. Fetter initially demurred from all the attention after the tournament run, but interest remained high. The Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Mets were both reportedly interested. Fetter interviewed with the San Francisco Giants, and ultimately the Yankees, before deciding to remain in Ann Arbor.
As he told Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic Detroit in a profile from January 2020, “It was kind of spiraling,” Fetter said of his whirlwind fall. “But it would have had to take the right situation to ever want to make me leave Michigan.”
Fetter, a Michigan alum who has Bo Schembechler’s slogan, “Those Who Stay” tattooed on his arm, was in no hurry to leave. Fetter cited his happiness in his position with the Wolverines and some reticence to uproot his young family. His willingness to interview and listen to offers made it clear he had his eye on the big leagues eventually, but was in no rush until the perfect situation presented itself.
The Tigers and Hinch appear to have met those criteria.
The 34-year-old Fetter is one of the most decorated pitchers in Wolverines history. The 6’8 right-hander is the all-time leader in career innings pitched, and third all-time at the program in strikeouts and wins. He was drafted in the ninth round of the 2009 MLB draft by the San Diego Padres and spent four years in the minor leagues before switching to coaching in the Padres system.
Fetter coached briefly in the minor leagues, and then worked as a scout for the Los Angeles Angels. He switched to the college ranks in 2015, spending one season as Ball State’s pitching coach. He then returned to pro ball as the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league pitching coordinator before Michigan head coach Erik Bakich, a rising star in his own right, tapped Fetter as his pitching coach.
In his three years with a program that had no claim to powerhouse status prior to Bakich’s arrival, Fetter was able to develop the pitching staff that the Wolverines rode to the College World Series championship game in 2019. Pitchers Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffman were each selected in the third round of the 2019 MLB draft, while righthander Jeff Criswell was a second round pick by the Oakland A’s in the truncated 2020 draft. Overall, Fetter has shepherded six Wolverines pitchers to the major league draft over the last three seasons.
Where Fetter draws particularly strong reviews is for his ability to not only understand the wealth of information teams are generating with technology, but to help his pitchers apply it effectively. Working in a Dodgers organization that is among the best in the game at merging technology and data with coaching, Fetter stood out for his ability to translate the information into actionable guidance for his pitchers. For that reason, Gabe Kapler, the Dodgers then Director of Player Development, had interest in bringing Fetter to the Philadelphia Phillies when he left Los Angeles to take over as their manager in 2018.
Of all the moves to come this offseason after the hiring of Hinch, getting Fetter as pitching coach may be the most important. The Tigers’ future rests on young arms like Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal, each of whom needs further refinement and polishing to reach their full potential. They also have some struggling pitchers like Matt Boyd, Michael Fulmer, and others who may benefit from Fetter’s more data guided perspective, or at least a fresh look.
The team needs a boost in its ability to develop its players, and Hinch and Fetter seem like a pretty intriguing combination to help in that regard.
Getting Fetter in place so quickly is a nice coup for both Hinch and the Tigers front office. It allows the Tigers to begin surveying free agent pitchers and possible trade candidates with Hinch and Fetter’s input. Hopefully the club can target players they already have firm ideas how to improve.
There are no guarantees, but this is an exciting hire as pitching coaches go. We will be very interested to see his impact on the pitching staff once the Tigers take the field next spring.