Explaining the mindset Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch is trying to instill

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
| Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch made a bold statement about winning in the 2021 season Monday on MLB Network Radio: “We have players that can do that. We can win any given day. Pile some of those together, go on a few runs … and, boom, all of a sudden you look up and have a lot of wins at the end of that column and you make yourself a playoff team. That’s the goal here.”

Wait, what?

Despite an offseason in which the Tigers refuse to spend big to improve the team, Hinch is talking about winning. Right now.

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The 46-year-old, who won the 2017 World Series with the Houston Astros, was asked to follow up on his comments Wednesday during a Zoom video conference. Hinch, hired to lead the Tigers in late October, didn’t back down.

“I’m not saying we’re a World Series-caliber team right now, but we’re not going to lose Game 1 without playing,” Hinch said Wednesday. “It’s important for us to have that mindset as a young team that hasn’t necessarily had the success the last few years that’s expected around here in Detroit.

“Don’t put limitations on yourself in December. That is a garbage mentality, and it’s not how we’re going to operate here.”

For the Tigers, Hinch brings a passion for analytics, versatility and an understanding of the various departments within baseball. Most importantly, he delivers a forceful presence the franchise hasn’t had since former manager Jim Leyland.

[ AJ Hinch, the Detroit Tigers and the fairy-tale ending he’s seeking ]

Hinch knows the team won’t be a factor this offseason in the free-agent market, whether it’s because of financial restrictions or tanking for another top draft pick. And the Tigers seem destined for a long 2021 season.

“It starts with a mindset change that’s really important, and it starts with winning today’s game,” Hinch said. “We get so fixated on projections now in labeling how many wins are going to be possible or what the roster makeup is. The roster is not done yet. I have no idea how many games we can win, but I also don’t know how many games we can’t win.”

To stand a chance, they’ll need to revive struggling pitchers — especially left-hander Matthew Boyd, righty Michael Fulmerand see success from youngsters at the plate: shortstop Willi Castro, outfielder Victor Reyes, outfielder Daz Cameron, third baseman Isaac Paredes and catcher Jake Rogers, to name a fewFor the players budding into veterans, such as third baseman Jeimer Candelario, outfielder JaCoby Jones and right-hander Spencer Turnbull, consistency is key.

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A few weeks ago, Hinch called Jones to explain the mindset he wants his players to adopt. Developing a new way of thinking is rooted in each member of the roster understanding why change is necessary. 

As an analytics guru, Hinch is going to make that a point of emphasis. 

“Going over more meetings as far as analytics and why we’re doing certain things,” Jones said Wednesday. “We really didn’t do that in the past. Analytics is a big part of the game now. But the players want to know why we’re doing certain things, and I think going into this year, we’re going to have a lot more meetings going into that. (And) bringing a winning mentality and mindset into the clubhouse each day.”

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Last season, two of the top pitching prospects, right-hander Casey Mize and lefty Tarik Skubal, debuted but had a 6.99 ERA and a 5.63 ERA, respectively. They need to make strong sophomore strides.

“We talked about it yesterday with (pitching coach) Chris Fetter,” general manager Al Avila said Wednesday on MLB Network Radio. “I don’t want to get into the details because I don’t want to give away some of the things that we discovered. Chris feels — by watching video and looking at these analytical numbers — he has a good sense of how to improve him.

“There’s a lot of upside coming with Casey in the near future. He’s going to have an opportunity to make our club. On top of that, we want to protect him throughout the season. It’s going to be a challenge, but he has a lot going for him. We feel we’ve got some things figured out that are going to make him really good for this upcoming season.”

[ What Detroit Tigers’ Casey Mize thinks about new manager AJ Hinch ]

Those are just a few of the many things that must happen for the Tigers to contend for the postseason in 2021. Still, the mindset of preparing to win comes with capitalizing on opportunities, something the Tigers haven’t done in recent years.


Detroit Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter ready to develop rotation

Detroit Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter is introduced Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, as an addition to new manager AJ Hinch’s coaching staff.

Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press

They have a 198-345 record over the past four seasons. In the last five years, the Tigers have four last place finishes in the American League Central. They were beaten a whopping 114 times in the darkest year of the rebuild.

Only in 2003 did the Tigers lose more games (119) in a single season. Three years later, Leyland took them to the World Series in his first season as the manager.

[ Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila ‘resisting urge’ to spend big, taking his time in free agency ]

Hinch isn’t setting World Series expectations in 2021, but he doesn’t want to be counted out of the playoffs. 

It’s a fresh mindset the Tigers need.

“I just don’t believe in putting limitations on teams,” Hinch said. “I don’t believe in conceding anything until we get on the field and match up and see how many games we can win. That mindset has proven good for me over my years as a manager.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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