Sunday Notes: Detroit’s Next GM Might Be in the Dugout

Detroit didn’t do much at the deadline. Trading Robbie Grossman to Atlanta in exchange for soon-to-turn 21-year-old pitching prospect Kris Anglin was the only move. Many expected more. A disgruntled fan base thought that Monday’s swap of an underachieving outfielder for a potential future asset would be the first of multiple deals for Al Avila’s underachieving team.

[Update/correction: The Tigers also traded reliever Michael Fulmer to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Sawyer Gipson-Long, a 24-year-old 2019 sixth-round pick who was pitching at the Double-A level.]

The extent to which the relative inactivity was an indictment of Avila is a matter of opinion. Rival executives almost assuredly weren’t knocking down the GM’s door with appealing offers, and making trades for the sake of making trades is eyewash. Placating fans by simply moving pieces around doesn’t move the needle in any meaningful direction.

With a record of 43-66 and baseball’s 24th-rated farm system, which direction the club is heading in is far less clear than it was a year ago. Much for that reason, it’s easy to see why many in Motown would like to see Avila kicked to the curb.

Not everything that has gone wrong — and a lot has certainly gone wrong — can be placed squarely on the Detroit GM’s shoulders. But while this year’s plethorae of injuries and disappointing performances were largely beyond his control, Avila is nonetheless the architect of what has been a sluggish rebuild. The idea that said rebuild is in need of a rebuild of its own may be a valid one.

Which brings us to the crux of the issue at hand: Who can right the ship?

If Avila isn’t the answer — evidence is mounting against him — would Tigers ownership be best-served by bringing in someone from the outside, or does a better choice exist within Detroit’s inner circle? Sam Menzin, one of the team’s three assistant GMs, is an intriguing possibility. So is Scott Bream, whose title is VP/Player Personnel.

And then there is A.J. Hinch. Now in his second year at the helm, Detroit’s analytically-inclined manager has front office experience on his resume, and it is believed that he aspires to one day become a general manager. Might Hinch make that transition without changing organizations? Don’t be surprised if he does. Al Avila’s replacement could very well be sitting in the Tigers dugout.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Kevin Bass went 9 for 14 against Kent Tekulve.

Jeff Bagwell went 10 for 13 against Bryan Hickerson.

Billy Butler went 11 for 16 against Jeremy Hellickson.

Wade Boggs went 23 for 55 against Charlie Leibrandt.

George Brett went 25 for 41 against Ed Figueroa.

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The story behind Corbin Burnes’s cutter is well-known. When a pitch grades out as one of baseball’s best, that comes with the territory. I’ve actually written about it myself. In April of last year, I asked the right-hander about his signature offering on a Zoom call, pandemic protocols still severely limiting reporter access to the players we cover.

Truth be told, I’d forgotten about that brief virtual interaction when I approached Burnes in Fenway Park’s visiting clubhouse last week. To my flawed recollection, I hadn’t talked pitching with Burnes since spring training of 2019, the subject of that conversation being his slider. Two years earlier, I’d interviewed the then-under-the-radar Double-A hurler for a feature titled Brewers Prospect Corbin Burnes is Missing Barrels.

His having gone on to become of one baseball’s most-dominant hurlers, revisiting Burnes’s ascent to excellence seems perfectly reasonable. As such, I’ll share some of what he told me eight days ago.

”Most importantly, I’ve grown a lot on the mental side,” Burnes said of his evolution. “The knowledge of pitching is what’s separated me from then to now. Stuff wise, yeah, there have been some new pitches along the way, but nothing crazy different. It’s just more fine-tuning stuff and knowing how stuff works.”

Primary among the “new” pitches is of course his cutter. In 2017, Burnes had told me that his four-seamer had natural cut, a then-recent occurrence due to mechanical changes he’d made. Three years later — this after a train-wreck 2019 season that saw him log an 8.82 ERA in his second big-league season — he let what comes naturally do just that. Rather than manipulating his hand in an attempt to get pure backspin and ride on his fastball, he “let it be a cutter.”

Data and technology initially played a reverse role in the pitch’s evolution.

“We’d used analytics to try to make my four-seam better,” explained Burnes. “After I quit trying to do that — it just wasn’t working for me — it was like, ‘This is what it’s going to be; this is what we’re going to roll with.’”

What might have happened had Burnes’s attempt to develop a riding fastball been successful? Might baseball’s best cutter never have come to be?

“I never look back in baseball,” last year’s NL Cy Young Award winner replied to that suggestion. “If you’re looking at the past, or even looking at the future, you start doing things you’re not really supposed to be doing. For me, it’s all about staying where my feet are.”

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A quiz:

The same player holds the Boston Red Sox franchise record for both runs scored and RBIs. Who is it?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Teams from Chicago swept this year’s 2022 RBI World Championships, with the Junior Division club topping Atlanta 7-4, while the Senior Division squad bested Patterson, New Jersey 18-5. Yesterday’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) finals were held in Vero Beach, Florida.

The Detroit Tigers officially retired Lou Whitaker’s #1 with an on-field ceremony prior to last night’s game at Comerica Park. The should-be Hall of Famer played his entire 19-year career with the Tigers, compiling 68.1 WAR.

Bake McBride and Ron Reed were inducted into the Philadelphia Phillies Wall of Fame last night. A speedy outfielder, McBride batted .292 and swiped 98 bases in his five Philadelphia seasons. Reed was a righty reliever who logged 57 wins and 92 saves over eight seasons. Both played for the Phillies’ 1980 World Series champion team.

Julio Valdéz, an infielder who played parts of four seasons with the Boston Red Sox, died last month at age 66. A native of San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, Valdéz appeared in 65 games from 1980-1983 and recorded 18 hits, including one home run.

Win Remmerswaal, who pitched for the Red Sox in 1979 and 1980, died last month at age 66. A native of The Hague, Netherlands who was known for his eccentric personality, Remmerswaal appeared in 22 games and won three of his four decisions.

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The answer to the quiz is Carl Yastrzemski, with 1,816 runs scored and 1,844 RBIs. Ted Williams had 1,798 runs scored and 1,839 RBIs.

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Juan SotoTed Williams comparisons — there have been a lot of them on social media in recent days — make me roll my eyes. As great as the Washington-Nationals-turned-San-Diego-Padres superstar is, he’s a full rung below Teddy Ballgame when it comes to same-age statistical brilliance.

Currently in his age-23 season (he turns 24 in late October), Soto has played in 568 games and is slashing .292/.428/.539 with 119 home runs, a 155 wRC+, and 21.6 WAR.

Through his age-23 season (he turned 24 on August 30, 1942), Williams had played in 586 games and slashed .356/.481/.642 with 127 home runs, a 185 wRC+, and 36.4 WAR.

It also bears noting that Williams didn’t have age-24. age-25, or age-26 seasons, as he missed those years serving in World War II. Moreover, he subsequently missed all but 43 games in 1952-1953 while serving as a fighter pilot in the Korean War. When he hung up the spikes following the 1960 season, Williams had a career 188 wRC+ and 130.4 WAR.

Is Soto a fantastic player destined to go on to do fabulous things? Absolutely. That said, he falls short of Williams through their age-23 seasons, with a steep mountain to climb going forward.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Yakult Swallows infielder Munetaka Murakami became the first player in NPB history to homer in five consecutive at bats when he did so over a two-game span earlier this week. The 22-year-old third baseman is slashing .320/.452/.712 with 39 home runs.

Chunichi Dragons centerfielder Yohei Ohshima went 6-6 in Thursday’s 9-7 loss to the Yakult Swallows. The 36-year-old veteran of 13 NPB seasons, all with Chunichi, is slashing .324/.374/.372 with one home run on the year..

Woo-suk Go has a 2.06 ERA and leads all KBO pitchers with 28 saves. The LG Twins right-hander celebrated his 24th birthday yesterday.

The European Championship of Women’s Baseball is currently underway in Montpellier, France. Earlier this week, Great Britain beat the Czech Republic 27-10 in a game that featured nine hits, 11 errors, nine strikeouts, and 35 walks.

Nick Williams is slashing .371/.456/.725 with the Mexican League’s Toros de Tijuana. The 28-year-old former Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox outfielder has homered 29 times in 365 plate appearances.

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When a player has two big-league home runs to his credit, the first is almost always going to have provided the bigger thrill. For Cleveland Guardians rookie Nolan Jones, that wasn’t necessarily the case. His initial dinger came in Kansas City as part of a 13-1 rout of the Royals. His second was at Fenway Park, and not only did it break open a close game, it came on the night the Red Sox held a pre-game ceremony to celebrate David Ortiz’s Hall of Fame induction.

“I grew up a Red Sox fan, so just to be here is surreal for me,” explained Jones. “It was also David Ortiz night, and I mean, that guy was my idol. He was up in the broadcast booth when I hit it, and things like that make it even cooler. But just to hear the energy in the stadium, and then you hit the ball and it’s dead silent as you’re rounding the bases — you can hear your feet hitting the ground — is just the coolest feeling in the world.”

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Purple Row’s Justin Wick posted an interesting Twitter poll a few days ago. The question was:

Which team would win a seven-game series?

A. 26-man roster of only MLB pitchers
B. 26-man roster of only MLB position players

The latter garnered 63.2% of the vote, while only 36.8% of respondents went with pitchers. Agree with the majority or not, this is a fun one to chew on.

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FARM NOTES

Jakob Brustoski has a 20.7 K/9 and a 14.4 BB/9 in 24 relief outings between the Arizona Complex League and the Low-A Carolina League. The 23-year-old left-hander in the Milwaukee Brewers system has fanned 59 batters and issued 41 walks in 25-and-two-thirds innings.

Moises Brito has fanned 32 batters and issued just one walk in 29 Dominican Summer League innings. Signed by the Toronto Blue Jays as an international free agent on June 2, the 20-year-old southpaw was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Tuesday’s trade deadline as part of a four-prospect swap.

Kevin Alcantara is slashing .264/352/.452 with 12 home runs and a 122 wRC+ with the Low-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The 20-year-old outfielder is No.3 on our updated Chicago Cubs Top Prospects list, and No. 75 on our 2022 Top 100 Prospects list.

Ryan Ward leads the Double-A Texas League with 27 home runs. Featured here at FanGraphs last November, the 24-year-old outfielder in the Los Angeles Dodgers system is slashing .267/.323/.534 with a 110 wRC+ for the Tulsa Drillers.

Hunter Goodman is slashing .289/.353/.554 with 24 home runs between Low-A Fresno and High-A Spokane. Drafted in the fourth round last year by the Colorado Rockies out of the University of Memphis, the 22-year-old catcher/first baseman has a 130 wRC+.

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Chad Durbin was a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and among the subjects the pitcher-turned-broadcast-analyst addressed were trade acquisitions and clubhouse presence. Durbin pitched for the 2008 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, who in mid-July of that year acquired a right-handed starter from the Oakland Athletics.

Joe Blanton was not [a] splash,” Durbin said on the pod. “I don’t think the fan base thought that was a great move, but I gotta tell you, [then-Phillies GM] Pat Gillick nailed it. He knew what the team needed. What they needed was security in that fourth or fifth spot in the rotation. They needed an innings eater. They needed a guy in the clubhouse that was not going to be worried about whether he’s the number one guy, the number two guy, this that and the other. I really thought that was a difference-maker that year. The Joe Blanton trade, in the clubhouse, was fantastic.”

The Phillies won nine of the 13 starts Blanton made for them that season, with the quietly-effective trade acquisition going 4-0 with a 4.20 ERA over 70-and-two-thirds innings. Blanton then won both of his post-season decisions, including one in the Fall Classic.

Does clubhouse presence actually matter? I asked Durbin that question when the subject of Eric Hosmer came up.

“I think it’s enormous,” said Durbin, who played parts of 14 big-league seasons. “I’ve been in clubhouses that had great chemistry. I remember Jim Leyland telling me, ‘Show me a team that’s winning, and I’ll show you chemistry.’ And in part he’s right. It’s easy to like all the guys you’re going to work with every day when everything is going well. But what I’ve seen with teams that win, and go into the playoffs and win, is that everybody is important and pulling for each other. That’s not always been the case… It takes leaders. It takes quiet leaders — leaders by example — [and] it takes the guys who are going to jump on top of the table and tell everybody what they think when they suck.

“There’s obviously a selfish aspect to playing the game, because you do keep your job based on the numbers that you put up,” Durbin went on to say. “[But] as long as that isn’t widely apparent amongst the 25-plus guys in the clubhouse, as long as they know that you’re in it to win and that you’re doing those selfish things as a spoke in the wheel… that to me is what happens.”

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The Red Sox released Jackie Bradley Jr. on Thursday, a move that Chaim Bloom later called “A baseball decision.” Boston’s chief baseball officer might well have added to that cryptic comment by admitting that outfield defense is low on his list of priorities. Bradley’s offensive struggles aren’t exactly a secret — the former Gold Glover has admittedly been abysmal with the bat — but at the same time, he was the team’s best defender in both right and center field, and not by a small margin. With the versatile Enrique Hernández currently on the shelf, Bradley wasn’t merely the lone plus glove, he was the only outfielder who could reliably be counted on to catch balls hit in his direction.

The Red Sox aren’t in a position where they can afford to give up extra outs and still make a playoff run. Parting ways with a player who consistently runs down potential extra-base hits is a borderline indefensible move.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Kyle Boddy addressed multiple player development topics in the latest Driveline Baseball blog.

MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked the top prospect hauls of all-time.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Bill Francis wrote about how Negro Leagues legend Bud Fowler has deep roots in central New York.

Lookout Landing’s John Trupin delved into the familiar way in which Luis Castillo dominates hitters.

The Colorado Rockies have hired Brian Jones at their new director of analytics. Nick Groke has the story at The Athletic (subscription required).

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Los Angeles Angels set a big-league record on Thursday when they hit seven solo home runs in an 8-7 loss to the Oakland Athletics. Never before had a team gone deep that many times to account for all of their runs in a game.

Colorado Rockies second baseman Brendan Rodgers is slashing .311/.372/.515 in home games and .234/.269/.320 in road games. Colorado Rockies shortstop José Iglesias is slashing .262/.315/.366 in home games and .358/.392/.458 in road games.

Wade Boggs played in 2,439 games and had a career 132 wRC+
Tony Gwynn played in 2,440 games and had a career 132 wRC+.

Dwight Gooden had 194 wins and a 3.51 ERA over 2,800-and-two-thirds innings. David Cone had 194 wins and 3.46 ERA over 2,898-and-two-thirds innings.

George Sisler had 18 triples in each of the 1920, 1921, and 1922 seasons. The St. Louis Browns first baseman slashed .400/.443/.596 with 719 hits, 218 stolen bases, and 60 strikeouts over that three-year stretch.

On today’s date in 1993, Kirby Puckett singled home the deciding run in the bottom of the ninth inning as the the Minnesota Twins topped the New York Yankees 6-5. Carl Willis, now the pitching coach for the Cleveland Guardians, got the win in relief.

Walter Johnson recorded the first of his 417 career wins on today’s date in 1907. “The Big Train” went the distance as the Washington Senators beat the Cleveland Naps 4-2. Rabbit Nill had a double, a triple, a stolen base, and three RBIs.

Players born on today’s date include Sparrow Morton, who pitched in two games for the National League’s Philadelphia Quakers in 1884. Per his B-R Bullpen entry, the southpaw spent the last 15 years of his life in an insane asylum before dying in 1917.

Also born on today’s date was Guy Sturdy, a first baseman for the St. Louis Browns in 1927 and 1928. The Sherman, Texas native logged 19 hits in his brief major-league career, and 2,546 hits over 19 minor league seasons. Sturdy was suspended for 90 days in 1938 for attacking an umpire.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Michaelmember
1 month ago

Great, as always.