It was pretty exciting to hear that the Tigers hired Omar Vizquel to be their first base coach and infield instructor given his reputation for strong defense and good instructional ability. With all due respect to Vizquel, his hiring was completely overshadowed when we learned today that the Tigers also hired Matt Martin to be their, I’m not making this title up, “defensive coordinator.” Oh boy.
The idea behind the position is pretty simple. Martin will be in charge of shifting and positioning the infield against specific hitters and will work with the advanced scouting group to prepare for this kind of decision-making. He’ll be joining with Vizquel to form a super-infield-defense-academy. In other words, the Tigers are about to get shifty.
This is big news for a couple of reasons. First, it’s one of the biggest leaps into the future that the Tigers have taken, at least in public, in many years. This is a big jump forward into analytics for the Tigers who have leaned much less on their statistical analysis team than many others in the industry. It also tells us that Ausmus is a believer as well because they wouldn’t bring someone like this in if the manager wasn’t on board. Leyland didn’t have a DC on staff, Ausmus does. This supports the idea I floated when Ausmus was hired that he’s going to be very receptive to analytic information when it comes to macrolevel decisions about his team.
But this hiring also tells us something else; it tells us the Tigers are going to get better. Well, it doesn’t really guarantee that, but if the Tigers are really going to go all-in here they stand to benefit more than almost any other club in the league. They have serious range issues in the infield and shifting is going to tighten up some of those holes. There’s no perfect answer, but if you look at the massive shifting integration the Pirates employed in 2013, it’s hard not to get excited. The Tigers probably won’t move that far, but we’ve seen the potential for BABIP payoff if a team is willing to make the move.
Finally, the specific hire looks extremely promising. I love the position in general, but Gabe Kapler, former Tiger and friend of the movement, speaks extremely highly of Martin.
Kapler also followed up with a link to something he wrote for Baseball Prospectus in August about Martin and coaching in general which lays the praise on pretty thick.
A couple of coaching hires doesn’t change a whole lot about the Tigers chances in 2014, but they send very positive signals about the future of the organization that seems to be growing more comfortable with modern thinking by the day. It’s too soon to tell what kind of impact these moves will have on the team, but they’re moves in the right direction. The Tigers have clearly had success without a lot of love for sabermetrics; imagine what they could do with even better information.
We’re about to find out.