Brad Ausmus has already made several good decisions as manager of the Detroit Tigers, continuing to fill out his staff with the announcement of Wally Joyner as Detroit’s newest hitting coach on Sunday and hiring Omar Vizquel to be the team’s first base coach, infield coach and running game assistant on Monday afternoon.
First, Joyner. With his .289 career average, 204 home runs and 1,106 RBI, Joyner will represent the most established, credible and successful hitting coach Detroit has employed since 2006, when Jim Leyland initially tabbed Don Slaught to instruct Tiger hitters. Slaught himself had a .283 career average, and did good work with Detroit in limited time until he surprisingly resigned after the 2006 season opening the door that never closed for Lloyd McClendon until Leyland’s retirement this fall.
Many will intimate that the influence a hitting coach has is minimal at best in the major leagues. That can prove true with veterans, but when it comes to emphasizing fundamentals and helping young players grow, established major league hitters (see Dave Magadan) are often the best choice. Professionals will hit and go through slumps, but for teaching’s sake, Joyner is a good choice because of his litany of successful big league experience. In time, young hitters like Austin Jackson, Andy Dirks and Alex Avila have not improved but regressed. Clearly, it was time for a new approach.
McClendon, in a limited eight year career, only batted .244 with 35 home runs and 154 RBI’s. In looking at those numbers, the biggest qualification for McClendon taking over as hitting coach after Slaught was the fact that he knew Leyland and was his longtime friend. Though Joyner played with Ausmus and is also apparently an acquaintance, he still has solid numbers to fall back on. Joyner also has some experience in the role to back up his success at the big league level. He instructed San Diego Padres’ hitters during the 2007 season, and was working with the Philadelphia Phillies in an assistant hitting coach role last year.
Adding Vizquel, meanwhile, could quietly be the best assistant hire baseball has seen in quite a long time. Not only will Vizquel get to impart his infield knowledge on Jose Iglesias, a player many consider to be his body double, the one time Clevleand Indians’ star will also get to see what young Hernan Perez has to offer at second base. Perhaps Vizquel, a player who was fleet of foot on the bases himself (third most steals at the time of his retirement, seventh most steals at shortstop all-time, and most sacrifices in the live ball era) can help usher in a new era of run production in Detroit outside of simply waiting around for the next home run ball.
Finally, the addition of one other staff member should not be understated. Matt Martin, a name few will know or care about, is coming on as the team’s defensive coordinator and a scouting assistant. He’s a coach who is known for being passionate, tough and open minded according to former player Gabe Kapler, who recently compiled an interesting profile of him for Baseball Prospectus. Each one of those traits are cemented by Martin’s honesty and his apparent refusal to engage in groupthink. Martin seems like an outsider from the usual baseball establishment, and organizationally, that could help Ausmus the most as he attempts to arrive at unbiased solutions for his tough decisions.
Most importantly, while all of these coaches are experienced baseball men and a few have a history with Ausmus, the majority do not, are not tied down to any certain baseball way of thinking and will bring their own perspective. That’s directly opposite of Leyland’s approach, which was most closely associated with the overuse of the usual Pittsburgh Mafia when filling out a staff and making game decisions. Ausmus, though he played at the same time as Vizquel, doesn’t have a major interpersonal relationship with him, and Joyner has been detached from Ausmus for some time working in other roles, as well. All will be coming together in Detroit for one new certain cause while learning and working together for the first time.
For the Tigers’ fans that have been craving a fresh start in the dugout mentally and physically, Monday represented a major cleansing. The old guard and way of thinking is gone, replaced by a new group of forward thinking bosses who have plenty to offer Detroit’s talented roster.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax