[UPDATED] WTF: Bos to the Races, Part II

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While there were positive indications that the Detroit Tigers’ new pitching coach was connecting well with his charges, Chris Bosio’s tenure in Detroit already has come to an end. On Wednesday, general manager Al Avila– without consulting manager Ron Gardenhire— fired Bosio “for ‘insensitive comments’ directed toward a team employee on Monday.” It eventually emerged that Bosio’s “insensitive comments” were of a racial nature, and now we know that, according to Bosio,

he was fired because he used the term “spider monkey” in a conversation that was overheard by an African-American clubhouse attendant. Bosio insisted that the term was not directed at the clubhouse attendant, nor was it said in a racially disparaging fashion.

Bosio said the comment was made in reference to Daniel Stumpf, a white pitcher currently on the disabled list.

“I’ve got protect myself someway, because this is damaging as hell to me. . . . I’ve got to fight for myself. Everyone knows this is not me. I didn’t use any profanity. There was no vulgarity. The N-word wasn’t used. No racial anything. It was a comment, and a nickname we used for a player.”

Bosio elaborated on the “nickname” aspect:

“Someone in our coaches’ room asked me [Monday afternoon] about Stumpf,” Bosio told USA Today. “And I said, “Oh, you mean ‘Spider Monkey.’ That’s his nickname. He’s a skinny little white kid who makes all of these funny faces when he works out.

“The kid [clubhouse attendant] thought we were talking about him. He got all upset. He assumed we were talking about him. I said, ‘No, no, no. We’re talking about Stumpf.’

“And that was it. I swear on my mom and dad’s graves, there was nothing else to it.”

Stumpf has not exactly rushed to his former coach’s defense, however. He told the Free Press that he had no knowledge of the alleged nickname: “Spider Monkey is not a nickname I have been called or I’m familiar with.”

When I first heard the news, I couldn’t help thinking about the public clashes between Bosio and Gardenhire pertaining to bullpen strategy that emerged during spring training as both men adjusted to their roles with their new team, particularly in light of the fact that Gardenhire named Rick Anderson as Bosio’s replacement. Anderson is a Gardenhire man through and through, someone Rod Allen referred to as Gardenhire’s “best friend.”

Bosio has indicated that he plans to explore legal action against the Tigers. If he pursues a claim for wrongful termination, he may face an uphill battle. As a coach, Bosio is not a union member, so state and federal law– rather than any collective bargaining agreement– would govern his employment and any legal claims arising therefrom. Since 2013, Michigan is a right-to-work state, meaning that employers like the Tigers generally can terminate their employees for any reason or no reason at all. Of course, it’s possible that team policies (as might be contained in an employee handbook) or Bosio’s employment contract with the team limited the team’s ability to fire him, however. Seemingly looking in that direction, Avila stated that Bosio’s conduct violated both team policy and his contract.

Without being able to review the Tigers’ employee handbook or Bosio’s contract, it’s difficult to offer much more in the way of an assessment of how a lawsuit between Bosio and the Tigers might go. What is clear is that, with the team’s record since the Rally Goose graced Comerica Park with its feathery presence having fallen below .500 thanks largely to two consecutive series sweeps, the Tigers have found their new diversion from the quality of their on-field performance.

UPDATE: The Athletic now is reporting a new version of the event that led to Bosio’s termination, citing four team sources:

Bosio called the attendant, who is African-American, a “monkey,” according to four team sources. The remark was directed toward the young man, who was collecting towels from the coaches’ room at the time, during a post-game gripe session in which Bosio was lamenting about a pitcher.

During this exchange, Bosio made a derogatory comment about one of the Tigers pitchers and then gestured toward the attendant before adding, “like this monkey here,” the sources said. The attendant pushed back at Bosio for the comment, and an additional team employee witnessed the exchange. Bosio was provided an opportunity to apologize to the attendant after his outburst but declined to do so, according to multiple sources.

All four sources who spoke to The Athletic disputed Bosio’s account.

Regarding potential legal action involving Bosio, this new report also notes:

If Bosio decides to pursue a lawsuit against the Tigers, it will not be his only pending legal action. Bosio has multiple liens and judgments against him and he continues to be embroiled in proceedings with his ex-wife, Suzanne, for whom he filed for divorce in 2012 and was granted a divorce in 2014.

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Previously
WTF: Bad Company? – 6/26
WTF: Busted – 6/13
WTF: Bos to the Races – 5/22
WTF: Welcome Back Kozma – 5/9

Related
2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

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WTF: Bos to the Races

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Not many Tigers fans were excited when the team named Ron Gardenhire as its new manager this past offseason, but Gardenhire’s decision to add former Chicago Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio to his staff seemed promising. After all, Bosio brought a championship pedigree by virtue of his five-year tenure with Theo Epstein’s Cubs. With Justin Verlander gone from Detroit, the Tigers pitching staff looked especially young and vulnerable. Bosio’s recent track record lent hope to the idea that he could be a secret weapon on the bench and, in particular, help mold an inconsistent rotation into a stronger, more developed group. In spring training, Bosio also showed a willingness to clash publicly with Gardenhire, which suggested an independence and division of developmental responsibility not necessarily out of place on a rebuilding team.

One of Bosio’s announced modifications he wanted his new charges, especially Jordan Zimmermann, to make, was to work faster on the mound. So far, they appear to have taken his advice. Fourteen pitchers have shortened their inter-pitch times by more than two seconds as compared to 2017, and three of them are Tigers starters:

pitcher pace

Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer, and Matt Boyd have upped their respective paces substantially this season over last season. I think that alone is a good sign, because it demonstrates both a willingness and ability to make changes in approach designed (or believed, at least) to improve outcomes. That’s the bigger question, though. Zimmermann, Fulmer, and Boyd are working faster, but are they doing better?

To try to answer that question, I propose a DRA-based comparison, which should allow us to see, on a rate basis, whether these three Tigers starters also have been pitching better in 2018 than they did during their slower days in 2017.

delta dra re pace

Of the three, Zimmermann had the smallest pace increase but the largest improvement according to DRA. Boyd, who’s shown the biggest pace increase of any pitcher, also has been better, while Fulmer has been a bit worse.

Without more digging, I don’t know that there are any broad statements to make about the consequences of speeding up on the mound. Importantly, we don’t know how the 2018 versions of these players would perform had they continued to work at their slower paces; the results might be exactly the same. The above does provide some circumstantial evidence that increasing pace can help some players, however, and it also suggests that Bosio was right to target Zimmermann as a guy who could benefit from operating at a faster pace.

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The Tigers don’t have any of the top fifty players of 2018, as ranked by fWAR, on their roster. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario used to be on that list, but he now sits sixty-fifth (1.3 fWAR) after missing time with wrist tendinitis. He could return to the team later this week.

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Previously
WTF: Welcome Back Kozma – 5/9

Related
2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

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As it has done in the past, MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” program spends a day with each major-league team during spring training. They spent Monday with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. Here are the highlights:

  • Miguel Cabrera was guarded in discussing his health coming into the season after injuries limited him to 130 games and a career-worst 91 wRC+ in 2017. He admitted it was tough to find enjoyment in the game last year, but he expects to be back to having fun in 2018.
  • Ron Gardenhire, the Tigers’ new manager, said that his time outside of the game gave him perspective on the special nature of the opportunity he and his players have to make a living in baseball. While he avoided specifics, it sounds like he has fairly modest expectations for the season. It also looks like he wishes his baseball pants had pockets.
  • Likely number-one starting pitcher Michael Fulmer called Gardenhire “awesome” and described him as a “very positive guy.” Fulmer also said he “had a little setback with the elbow earlier in camp, but we’re all good now.”
  • On High Heat, General Manager Al Avila emphasized the youth of the 2018 roster. He confirmed that Fulmer is “one-hundred percent” healthy, indicated that second-year player Jeimer Candelario would be the opening-day third baseman, and described Cabrera as “much stronger” following an offseason physical therapy regimen. Avila believes that Cabrera can maintain a reasonably high level of production if he sticks to his offseason training plan, comparing him to other late-career success stories like Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero. He dodged a question about whether the obviously rebuilding team would shift its approach if it somehow found itself in a contending position midway through this season, but he did allude to the comparatively positive perception of Detroit’s current rebuilding process as compared to the actions of other teams that have drawn accusations of anticompetitive behavior. Avila also referred to “millions of dollars” the team had invested in “new technology,” which apparently includes biomechanical-oriented technology and an analytics department that now boasts a staff of twelve. Finally, he said that “nothing has changed” in his “great” relationship with ownership, which has transitioned to the late Mike Ilitch’s son Chris, who, Avila said, “has backed me one-hundred percent.”
  • Hopeful starting pitcher Daniel Norris reports that he is feeling healthy and, while he wants to compete for a rotation spot, he’s trying not to ramp up too fast in spring training in order to maintain that health.
  • The consensus among surveyed players is that presumptive closer Shane Greene has the worst taste in music, while Jose Iglesias, despite his own strong opinion to the contrary, has the worst singing voice.
  • Iglesias did get the opportunity to speak for himself and answer the Harold Reynolds question “What’s funner, snatching a hit from somebody or getting a big hit?” While Iglesias, a native of Cuba, wasn’t able to watch much major-league baseball growing up, it’s clear he’s picked up on Crash Davis’ tutelage from his answer: “Both.”
  • Nick “Nicholas” Castellanos, who’s moving from third base to right field on a full-time basis in 2018 said that he was not mentally present for much of last season because his father was ill, but, now that his dad is healthy, he will be able to reunite mind and body and is approaching this season with a seize-the-day attitude.
  • New arrival Mike Fiers praised the team’s new pitching coach, Chris Bosio, and says he feels he’s getting back on track under Bosio’s guidance. The two previously worked together during Fiers’ rookie season in 2011, when both were employed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Fiers, who spent the first five years of his career in Milwaukee before shifting to Houston for the past three seasons, arguably had his best performances as a Brewer.
  • Alan Trammell, fresh off his election into the baseball hall of fame, is working with players on infield fundamentals.

I didn’t think this year’s edition of this feature was as entertaining as it has been in past years, but there are a lot of new faces on this team and a new strategic approach that Tigers fans haven’t seen in some time, and I thought the profile was, on the whole, serviceable.

Stay tuned for a more thorough Detroit Tigers 2018 season preview, which will appear soon over at Banished to the Pen.

Tigers make no waves with garden-variety hire

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In a move sure to disappoint many, the Detroit Tigers’ managerial search reportedly is over after less than two weeks, and the team appears to be set to announce former Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire as the replacement for Brad Ausmus. From the article announcing the decision:

What separated Gardenhire from the rest of the pack?

Multiple sources told The Athletic’s Katie Strang that Tigers general manager Al Avila entered the process leaning heavily toward a candidate with previous MLB managerial experience. Gardenhire was seen as a seasoned, battle-tested option in this regard.

In his thirteen-season tenure as the Twins’ skipper, he compiled a .507 winning percentage. In twenty-seven playoff games, he posted a .222 winning percentage. All of those playoff wins came in his first three seasons (2002-2004) with the club, and Minnesota missed the playoffs entirely, and by wide margins, in his final four seasons there (2011-2014).

In my opinion, Gardenhire is the worst sort of “old-school” manager who lacks the ability to adapt to the modern game or develop young talent, two things of critical importance to this Tigers team in 2018 and beyond. He’s Jim Leyland without the edge, wit, or soul (which is to say: not Jim Leyland). He’s Dusty Baker without the success. He’s Clint Hurdle without the willingness to learn and adjust. He’s basically Bryan Price’s dad. Which is to say, not good, and vanilla at best.

To this, Tigers fans should say: “no thank you.” That a coaching search that supposedly began with fifty names ended like this reveals a front office more tone-deaf than previous personnel decisions indicated. Research indicates that managers probably have little impact on game outcomes, and if Gardenhire is coming to Detroit merely to serve as an interim stopgap during the rebuilding process, so be it. If that’s the case, though, why not bring in someone younger and cheaper who at least offers the possibility of growing with the players and the club and developing into a long-term solution? Or, why not promote from within, like the Atlanta Braves did with Brian Snitker? The team’s coaching ranks weren’t short on people “with previous MLB managerial experience,” including Lloyd McClendon and Gene Lamont.

Gardenhire’s not likely to be a detriment to the team, but his hiring feels like a missed opportunity and serves as a reminder that, after the Verlander decade, the Detroit Tigers’ rebuilding process will be a long and difficult one indeed.