News broke today that Brad Ausmus and the Tigers will be keeping pitching coach Jeff Jones on board for the 2014 season. This wasn’t surprising and it was an easy decision, but it’s still reflects well on everyone involved.
I spent a lot of the 2013 season chronicling different improvements among the Tigers starting rotation – a rotation that rivaled the best couple of rotations in baseball history using Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). You can read all of those different posts by clicking the “Tigers Breakdown” tab above but I want to call your attention to a post I wrote early last summer about the Tigers’ use of the changeup. In this post, I pointed out that all of the Tigers starters were throwing more changeups than they had ever thrown before. I didn’t know the cause, but I knew that one of the possible explanations was Jeff Jones.
During the 2013 season we saw three of the Tigers pitchers have career years, while Fister and Verlander only finished 7th and 12th in baseball in WAR. The rotation collectively posted a FIP- that was second best all time and they struck out something like 97% of batters they faced in the postseason (exaggeration added). There are a variety of possible explanations. This could be organizational and coming from the front office. It could be the pitchers figuring it out on their own. It could be Alex Avila. It could be Jeff Jones.
In reality, it’s probably a mix of all four. I assume that the Front Office provides Jones with information that he uses in conjunction with Avila and the starter to formulate a gameplan. Whatever the process is, it’s working. The Tigers starting pitchers ran away and hid.
I’m not going to take the time right now to recap the specific changes each pitcher made this year (I’ll do that throughout the offseason), but I will point out that Porcello took another big step forward with his strikeout rate. Fister added more ground balls. Scherzer did everything. Sanchez added strikeouts and cut homeruns. Verlander had issues, but Verlander also fixed those issues and was amazing over his last nine starts.
Without being in the pitchers’ meetings, I can’t guarantee that Jones is responsible, but when five pitchers on the same team all appear to have gotten better at the same time despite completely different styles and a bad defense, you tend to look for a connection. Some is Avila and some is Jones, why risk losing that?
So take a step back and think about what this says. First, it suggests that the organization values Jones as they should. Check. It shows that Gene Lamont values Jones. Check. It says that Brad Ausmus, who doesn’t know Jones as well as everyone else both listened to the right people and saw the value Jones brings when he talked with him. It means he read his players correctly, who love Jones. Check.
The Tigers don’t always make great decisions, but they do a decent job most of the time. Bringing Jones on as the pitching coach from the bullpen in 2011 was a smashing success and recognizing his value enough to keep him around in a new regime reflects well on everyone.
They need a new hitting coach and have to decide how they want to handle first base and infield coaching duties, but by having Ausmus in place and Jones in his old seat, they’re ready to figure out how to piece together the players that will finally help them win the last game of the season.