The Detroit Tigers looked much different at the end of 2021 than they did at the end of 2020, and much of that credit goes to first-year manager A.J. Hinch.
When A.J. Hinch took over as the Detroit Tigers manager before the 2021 season, the Tigers were arguably one of the worst teams in baseball. Detroit finished last in the American League (AL) Central division in four of the previous six seasons and lost 114 games in 2019, the first time since 2003 (119 losses).
Offensively in 2020, the Tigers ranked in the bottom half of the AL in 14 different categories and dead-last in at-bats, doubles, and walks.
Pitching ranked in the bottom half of the AL in hits, runs, earned runs, home runs, saves, and dead-last in ERA and strikeouts.
Long story short, the Tigers were not good and had little hope.
Changing the Culture
What A.J. Hinch brought with him to the organization was a level of high standards and expectations of both the players and his staff. The additions to his coaching staff made an immediate impact on the players, his positivity and sticking to his mantra of trying to win every day has helped instill the roots of a winning culture. This mindset coincides with the blue-collar, “Detroit vs Everybody” attitude the Detroit sports fans are accustomed to.
“If the Tigers organization does a really good job, we’re going to re-establish ourselves as a winning franchise, and develop a winning culture. And if you want to be a part of it you’ll come, and if you don’t? We’ll beat you.”
Pushing the Right Buttons
After a 9-24 start and ironing out some wrinkles early in the season, the Tigers went 68-61 the rest of the way; staying competitive, beating good teams, and showing signs of a bright future ahead.
The career years of Robbie Grossman and Jeimer Candelario, the emergence of Eric Haase, Akil Baddoo (Rule 5 Draft), and Jonathan Schoop (best season since his All-Star caliber season in 2017), and a very aggressive approach helped greatly improve the team offensively.
Pitching coach Chris Fetter and the rest of Hinch’s pitching staff had a major impact on this pitching staff, including the young core of Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning, who made major steps forward in 2021. The bullpen was surprisingly effective, led by Gregory Soto who recorded 18 saves and made his first All-Star game appearance in 2021.
A.J. Hinch has been making all of the right moves and acknowledged the progress already made in his first season, but knows they are still not where they want to be just yet.
Yes, it’s only one season at the helm for Hinch. His barometer of a good team challenging for a postseason berth is 90 wins and based on the improvement in 2021, the Tigers might be closer than we think to taking that next step forward.
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