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Tigers hire Dylan Axelrod as Pitching Performance and Integration Coordinator

The former Red and White Sox pitcher was most recently the Angels pitching coordinator

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MLB: Chicago White Sox- Photo Day Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers have added a lot to their player development programs over the last few seasons, and under Scott Harris that process has only expanded. The Tigers are making another significant hire in adding former MLB pitcher and most recently the Los Angeles Angels pitching coordinator, Dylan Axelrod. The 38-year-old will hold a new Tigers new Pitching Performance and Integration Coordinator.

Axelrod pitching five seasons in the major leagues, starting with the Chicago White Sox from 2011-2013, and then the Cincinnati Reds in 2014-2015. His final notable appearance on the baseball stage was as a pitcher for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

A 30th round pick out of University of California, Irvine back in 2007, the 6’0” right-hander was a slightly undersized pitcher who could barely scrape 90 mph. Like many players who make it to the show without the physical gifts of his peers, Axelrod was always regarded as a smart player and as a likely future coach. That’s exactly how it played out when his playing days ended.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler hired Axelrod as their new Pitching Coordinator in January 2020. It’s worth noting that this was already a particularly difficult time to start there, in the wake of the sad death of right-hander Tyler Skaggs due to a painkiller and alcohol overdose in July of 2019. That brought a lot of righteous heat on the organization, with their director of communications, Eric Kay, later convicted of providing opiates to players. Things didn’t get any easier for the Angels that year.

Angels club attendant Brian Harkins was fired on March 3, 2020 for providing a blend of rosin and pine tar to players. Harkins admitted that he’d learned the “recipe” for the sticky stuff from former Angels closer Troy Percival, and provided it to pitchers around the league. That brought a new round of heat on the organization, and eventually led to the crackdown on foreign substances to enhance spin.

Of course, that was just the beginning of a rough year. Working as a pro coordinator for the first time in the COVID year gave Axelrod a most unfortunate crash course in managing player development under uniquely difficult circumstances. Things didn’t improve for the organization. At year’s end, Eppler was fired, but new GM Perry Minasian kept Axelrod in his position.

Suffice it to say, the Angels have been a mess of an organization in many ways despite the presence of two of the greatest players of all time in Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Racked with scandals, and woefully behind in the modern game of player development, they failed again and again to put competitive teams, and in particular, homegrown pitching around the big moneyed stars. Axelrod doesn’t appear to have done a lot to change that, but the Angels culture and organization doesn’t seem to be too dialed in generally.

This fall, when Percival visited the Angels minor league instructional camp as a former player and opined to their farm director Joey Prebynski about what he saw as the overuse of data and analytics in coaching pitchers, it appears to have sparked another organizational about-face for a club still reeling from their failures and in the process of losing Shohei Ohtani.

In the wake of Percival’s comments, including his quote in this Sam Blum article from The Athletic that “I’m not one that’s big on using the iPads,” pitching coordinator Buddy Carlyle and pitching performance coordinator Alexrod were fired. That seemed a good opportunity to poach well regarded coaches who were simply at odds with a somewhat backwards organization, and based on the teams who’ve done the poaching, it may well play out this way.

The push to overhaul the Angels front office and player development can’t be simplified to old school vs. new school. It’s not as though they’re against using data, but there certainly seems to be a lot of disagreement about the emphasis placed on it. The episode left the impression that some pushback against technology and more analytically minded people in coaching and the front office ultimately also led to assistant GM Alex Tamin being fired. The article has this line about Tamin’s ouster.

“The Angels also parted ways with assistant GM Alex Tamin after this season. Tamin had a reputation for being analytically driven, and at times was a polarizing figure in the organization because of it.”

Carlyle getting snatched up by the Tampa Bay Rays as their new pitching coordinator only confirmed the general impression that the anti-analytics crowd was winning out in what had been an ongoing battle for the soul of the organization. Take a guess which organization is likely correct about Carlyle’s value. And seeing the discussion on the topic, we made a note to keep an eye on who landed Axelrod. Turns out, it was the Tigers.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Axelrod is a great coach and will have some obvious impact. A few players credit him with specific improvements to their game, but overall the Angels pitching development has been fairly abysmal for a decade now and shows little sign of improvement. Still, taken with the Rays hiring of Carlyle, it’s hard not to feel pretty good about the addition. Working in a better and more coordinated pitching program such as the Tigers have developed over the last few years could be a very good match.