Fetter brings ‘drive to develop’ Tigers’ arms

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers found their next pitching coach down the road at the University of Michigan. But it’s not the first time they’ve trusted their pitchers in the hands of the Wolverines.
Twenty-three months before the Tigers hired Chris Fetter to guide top prospects Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and

The Tigers found their next pitching coach down the road at the University of Michigan. But it’s not the first time they’ve trusted their pitchers in the hands of the Wolverines.

Twenty-three months before the Tigers hired Chris Fetter to guide top prospects Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo, the team had Mize, Manning and Faedo at the University of Michigan’s Sport Science Initiative to examine their mechanics and efficiency.

“I was informed on a lot of things,” Faedo said at the time. “It was just things to work on and things maybe I could do better. All kinds of different things, honestly, just like movement patterns, throwing patterns.”

The Tigers invested in technology on their own, from the smart cage with pressure plates at their Spring Training facility to Rapsodo machines and high-speed cameras all over the system. A year later, the team hired former USC head coach and longtime University of California pitching coach Dan Hubbs as director of pitching development. It was a rare hire from the college ranks for a Tigers organization that has long leaned on traditional pro experience. But it was an acknowledgement that the player-development philosophies prevalent in the college game, especially utilizing technology and metrics, are translating in the professional ranks.

“In college we needed it in player development, because we couldn’t just get rid of players,” Hubbs explained in Spring Training. “In pro ball, it’s survival of the fittest. If you’re not good enough, we’re going to have 50 new guys next year and we can go buy a couple players here and there. But in college, you have them for four years, and your job is to win now. Every year, you have to find a way to make someone better.

“I think pro ball is becoming that in terms of player development. It used to be whoever got there is going to get there. Now it’s about how we can make those fringe prospects [into better] prospects, those prospects [into] studs.”

Tigers add bench, hitting, 3B coaches

Fetter is the latest, biggest step in that movement, bringing that background to the Major League dugout and ensuring that the learning process doesn’t end. He’s just the second person to jump from a college pitching coach directly into the same job in the big leagues, following Wes Johnson’s move from Arkansas to the Twins. But several other college coaches have filtered into the pro ranks in other roles. Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson earned high regard as a pitching coach at Vanderbilt for a decade before jumping into pro ball as a pitching coordinator with the Cubs.

Fetter now takes charge of a pitching staff that has become increasingly familiar in the pitching concepts he embraced and utilized at Michigan. Matthew Boyd was introduced to the concepts at Driveline Baseball through his old pitching coach at Oregon State shortly after his college career ended. Now he owns a Rapsodo machine. Mize became familiar with pitch design while at Auburn, and he arrived at his first pro Spring Training in 2019 with a curveball he built in front of cameras based on spin rate and break. Skubal delved into pitch design last offseason the same way with help from Boyd.

“I mean, honestly, I think it’s the most efficient way of pitch design, to develop a pitch,” Mize explained a year and a half ago. “The numbers are right there in front of you. You can see the flight of the ball, the path of the ball, to know how it’s playing off your other pitches.

“We have these slow-motion cameras where I can see the last thing that the ball touches in my hand. I can see so much spin. I can see the way the ball kicks out of my hand, the rotation, and things like that. Spin axis and efficiency is stuff that I’ve kind of really bought into, because it’s just better pitches. When you figure that stuff out, they really are. These guys that have really good breaking balls, really good fastballs, you start looking at the numbers and it makes sense why. They don’t lie.”

Fetter speaks that language. He also knows how to read a pitcher in traditional ways. The combination makes for a fascinating match.

“There’s development that still needs to go on at the big league level,” Fetter said. “Everyone still needs to keep progressing and getting better, whether you’re the four-A guy [trying] to be the established regular, if you’re the bullpen guy that wants to be a starter. There’s always constantly that drive to develop our players, and it’s just doing everything you can to turn over every stone to meet that.”

That said, manager A.J. Hinch thinks he can grow into the role as well.

“We were looking for somebody that could impact pitchers young and old,” Hinch said. “We’re not going to have a young pitching staff during our entire tenure here, so he’s got to be able to connect with a lot of different people. Certainly the analytics play into it. I want him to be up to date on the technology and the pitch shapes and the pitch usage and how to squeeze the most out of every pitcher that he coaches. But I like his scouting background. I think he’s going to be able to tell a lot about the quality of pitching that we have and how that factors into the decisions that [general manager] Al [Avila] has to make about the personnel.”

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

Articles You May Like

Tigers 14, Rangers 0: A laugher down at the Old Ball Yard
Game Highlights: Miggy & Tigers In The Groove
Binghamton Walks Off Erie in Ten Innings
Tigers vs. Rangers preview: Tarik Skubal looks to make it five in a row
Tigers LIVE 7.19.21: Victor Reyes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *