Has A.J. Hinch met, underperformed, or exceeded expectations in his first year with the Tigers? As the season concludes, we break down his performance.
Breaking Down the Tigers Season
This Tigers season has been full of ups and downs. The first month began like many of recent seasons in Detroit, as the Tigers got out to a slow start. Their record at the end of April sat at 8-19, leaving very little for fans to look forward to. The beginning of May was much of the same, as the Tigers opened the month with five losses in the first six games. The record dropped to 9-24, and it seemed the Tigers would be in the running for another top draft pick come season’s end. Much of what was came out of spring training about Hinch was his even-keeled approach to every game day. This mentality carried into the Tigers clubhouse, and their belief in their ability to win on any given day became very apparent toward the middle of May.
The Tigers won nine of their next eleven games, and though they have not kept that torrid pace through the rest of the season, they have vastly improved from their starting point. In fact, the Tigers rattled off three straight winning months from May-July before finishing 12-14 in August. Detroit has one of the best records in the American League since both May 8th and the all-star break, going 65-54 and 34-27 respectively. Since the second half of the season, Detroit has outpaced the White Sox in the American League Central. This turnaround, and quality of play, are even more impressive when you consider the construction of Detroit’s current roster. Talent-wise, the Tigers are nowhere near the top end of the American League, but AJ Hinch‘s bunch just does not care. They carry his even-keeled mentality onto the playing field and truly believe they can win every day. Detroit currently holds a record of 74-78 and has a chance to have its first season at or above .500 since the 2016 campaign.
Despite everything that transpired in Houston, AJ Hinch continues to have a reputation around the league as being a great manager. However, this faith in the Tigers manager around baseball media did not transfer into record predictions. Detroit was once again predicted to finish fifth in the AL Central, and most projections had them sitting at under 70 wins. With ten games left in the season, the Tigers have already blown by these negative prognostications. The Tigers have used 138 different lineups to this point in the season, showing that Hinch has used everybody in the clubhouse to help the team’s chances at winning. Hinch has done a great job of putting guys in comfortable situations so that whenever they are called upon, they are ready to go. This has been crucial in allowing the team to still be successful when guys like Miguel Cabrera, Jeimer Candelario, and Robbie Grossman need a day off.
This same approach was carried into the bullpen. The pen was an extremely thin position for Detroit this season, with many interchangeable parts being swapped in and out based on injury, performance, and fatigue. However, Hinch navigated the pen immaculately. Guys who had stretches in which they struggled were often used in low-pressure situations in an effort to turn their confidence around, often leading to turnarounds that soon allowed them to be pitching high-leverage situations. Joe Jimenez and Alex Lange are prime examples of how Hinch was able to turn a pitcher’s confidence around through the lows, allowing them to be more productive at other stretches of the season. Almost every arm in the Tigers pen has had a stretch in the season where they were pitching their best ball, perhaps of their careers, and helping the Tigers win ballgames. Of course, credit is certainly due to pitching coach Chris Fetter as well, but the way that Hinch has navigated a weak bullpen in terms of talent and turned them into one of the best pens in the league in the second half of the season has been nothing short of magical.
By almost every measure, the Tigers have exceeded expectations this season. When you can get a team of this talent level to play at the level they are at, despite injuries, you deserve a proper grade to reflect that accomplishment.
Regardless of what happens over the final ten games, AJ Hinch’s final grade for the 2021 season: A
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