Five Choices for the Detroit Tigers Next Pitching Coach

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The Detroit Tigers will be looking for a pitching coach. Let’s look at five candidates.

We’ve certainly learned by now that an effective pitching coach can have massive ramifications on young players. Rick Anderson, who took over for Chris Bosio halfway through 2017, has worked tirelessly to help the talented young arms in the system. Unfortunately, the numbers tell us that the Tigers posted the highest ERA in Major League Baseball at 5.63. Moreover, the starting pitchers combined to post the second-highest ERA in MLB history at 6.37 (second only to the ’96 Tigers). Former Detroit Tigers pitcher and current analyst C.J. Nitkowski reminded us that he was part of that rotation last week.

The retiring of Ron Gardenhire didn’t come as a shock, but its timing certainly did. It’s easy to understand the difficult task he had the past few years, and we all wish him nothing but good luck and good health in his retirement.

Most likely, the hiring of a new manager will also come with a revamped coaching staff. With respect to Anderson, we’d like to look at a few people who make sense to fill those shoes – should the position come available as most expect. Here are three candidates to take the role of the Tigers’ next pitching coach. MCB’s Jon Erkkila laid out a compelling case for former Tiger and embattled former Astros manager A.J. Hinch last week.

Chris Fetter, University of Michigan

The potential home-run hire happens to be sitting in the Tigers’ backyard. The analytically-driven Ann Arbor resident worked with the LA Angels and Dodgers before landing at Michigan and driving the Wolverines to an unexpected appearance in the College World Series Championship. Since then, Fetter has drawn interest from at least three teams in Major League Baseball, including the Yankees. Fetter is considered an unbelievable talent in terms of player development, and many believe his MLB chance will come sooner than later.

John Farrell, Former Blue Jays/Red Sox Manager

If a team prioritizes experience over analytics, Farrell would likely sit atop your list. A two-time World Series Champion, Farrell holds nearly a decade of MLB managerial experience. Farrell played his last big-league season in Detroit. Believe it or not, he was part of the same ’96 team Nitkowski boasted about earlier in this piece. Farrell is currently a scout for the Cincinnati Reds and works as a television analyst for FOX and ESPN. His resume’ speaks for itself.

Ruben Niebla, Cleveland Indians

Of all the names on this list, the Indians’ assistant pitching coach might be the toughest to pry away. Like Fetter, Niebla is considered an up-and-comer in the pitching coach ranks. Perhaps the success of former Indians pitching coach Mickey Calloway could serve as a cautionary tale. The current Angels pitching coach landed the Mets managerial job back in 2018 and lasted just two seasons despite a rotation with talents like Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zach Wheeler.

As for Niebla, who was mentioned by Eno Sarris of The Athletic in an article highlighting talented young pitching coaches on the rise, the Tigers have gotten a close look at the fruits of his labors. Is it just me, or does every Indians pitcher seem to dominate these days? If the Tigers are interested in taking a page out of the playbook from a team they’re chasing within the division; the highly-respected Niebla might be the play.

Mark Johnson, Erie Seawolves & Jorge Cordova, Lakeland Flying Tigers

Johnson and Cordova have been molding Tigers prospects for years — many of whom are just now scratching the surface of the big leagues. Johnson, who helped West Michigan to the 2015 Midwest League Title, spent the last two seasons in Erie with pitchers like Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal. It seemed as if his message was received loud and clear during their time in Double-A and is worth considering if the Tigers opt for continuity.

The same goes for Cordova, who helped West Michigan post the best winning percentage (.669) and lowest ERA in Minor League Baseball (2.77) in 2017 while establishing a Midwest League record 28 shutouts in the 140-game season. That equates to one shutout every five days or every turn in a typical rotation. The following season, Cordova helped his staff overachieve without the cast of pitchers he had in 2017.

Both of these coaches have had as much success as you could want in the minors, and both would make excellent choices should the Tigers look to keep a few familiar faces in the fold.

Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates

Hanrahan, 38, began honing his coaching skills in 2017. He spent a year at the Low-A, High-A, and Double-A levels before the 2020 MiLB season’s cancellation. Not being far removed from his playing career, his message has a real chance to translate with a young pitching staff such as Detroit’s. It doesn’t hurt that the Tigers know Pittsburgh’s system well, plus that the former closer signed with the Tigers back in 2014 before multiple Tommy John surgeries derailed his chance at a comeback in Detroit.

Honorable Mention: Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks Pitching Strategist

Haren reminds me of what I hope Mize can become. The 40-year-old relied on a cutter and splitter the same way the Mize does now, and the former was able to carve out a long-lasting career in the game despite losing his overpowering fastball roughly halfway through. Spending time in a forward-thinking organization like Arizona would bring a much-needed perspective to any organization.

Which of those names are your favorite, and why? Is there someone else we should add to the list? Leave your comment below and find Dan on Twitter at @ThatDanHasty!

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