Detroit Pitching Coach Change: a Rash, Premature Decision

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Detroit Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp was unceremoniously dismissed from the ball club on July 3rd. It was a rash decision made by manager Jim Leyland and general manager Dave Dumbrowski. I realize that they are in the final year of their respective contracts, but that is no reason to throw one of your colleagues under the bus.

It was a choice that was made after the club lost three straight at the beginning of the month. Games started by Phil Coke, Rick Porcello, and Max Scherzer made a lasting impression with Leyland. The team surrendered thirty-six runs during the three game stretch.

The team now rests atop the American League Central at the break and certainly would be in the same position if Rick Knapp was still employed with the club. Is it simply an oversight or a telling sign that the present pitching coach hasn’t even been assigned a number on the Tigers official team site?

As a team the Tigers are near the top in hitting in the major leagues and close to the bottom in pitching. With proven veteran players like Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta the successful offensive numbers don’t come as a surprise. Conversely, the designated hitter position skews the statistics somewhat on both sides.

Three teams in the Central are in the bottom six in pitching. Either the sluggers are that prodigious in the division or the pitching is second rate in the heartland. With that said, Leyland should have given Knapp a to do list if things to be rectified in the near future. Rick Knapp, the former minor league coordinator for the Minnesota Twins, was at least owed that much since he is widely given credit for working with Justin Verlander on his slider.

These are the situations that should have been in that memo from Leyalnd to Knapp.:

1. Continue to decrease the whip of Joaquin Benoit– The hold is the statistic that should be utilized more officially in baseball. Closers unnecessarily receive all of the glory in the bullpen while middle relievers receive no love. Benoit was a major acquisition in the off season who had a rough start. His whip is still around one and a third. A goal of closer to one by the end of the season is tangible while attempting to keep his strikeout to walk ratio at better than three to one.

2. Pitching changes are the purview of the pitching coach-

If someone is on the hot seat, he should at least be able to control his one destiny. The latitude given by the managers varies greatly from team to team, but this opportunity is the true time when a coach can sink or swim. This would also free Leyland up to attend to other duties.

3. Command must be proven before pitches are used in games-

Reigning in the players like this is a necessity because pitchers often believe that they have more in their repertoire than they actually do. In off day workouts, they have to demonstrate that they can throw a given pitch for a strike two thirds of the time at game speeds. If this doesn’t take place, then they cross that option off their list for the next appearance. This increased responsibility could create some healthy competitiveness among the starters and bullpen.

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