Detroit — The Tigers’ suddenly resurgent offense has averaged 7 runs, 10.8 hits and 4.8 walks over the last five games. Not too shabby for a team that was hitting under .200 collectively and producing fewer runs than any team in baseball up to that point.
What happened? Was it just the law of averages, a correction to the mean? Or were adjustments made? Did a light switch get flipped?
“Hitting is contagious,” Tigers leadoff hitter Robbie Grossman said. “You see it all the time. It takes one or two guys to start going off and here goes the rest of the team. You see it around the league all the time.
“We’re just looking to build off that and continue to go.”
Manager AJ Hinch offered some behind-the-curtain insight after the 7-3 win Saturday when he said the offensive game planning had “ticked up” that last week or so. One of the unconfirmed theories during the Tigers’ alarming April drought was the hitters had been, in a sense, paralyzed by all the data thrown at them by this new coaching regime.
This was a group of hitters, the majority of whom have worked with a new hitting coach in each of the last three years — from Lloyd McClendon and Joe Vavra, to Scott Coolbaugh and Jose Cruz, Jr. Hinch admitted an adjustment period was inevitable.
“It’s always an adjustment with a new group of coaches, a new regime and new ideas,” Hinch said. “And then you factor in the reaction to performance, so when guys start scuffling the way we did that first month — it can be a little overwhelming for players.
“For sure it’s been an adjustment. I’ve said before, you can talk about it all you want in spring training and you can pretend in exhibition games, but the competition is in the season. The game-planning and preparation is so intense during the season that I’m sure it’s difficult for them.”
But, adapt or die, and both sides have adapted. Hinch said they’ve changed the process a little bit, “tightened our day-to-day preparation.” And the players on whole have better embraced and stuck to the plans.
“The players have done a great job of isolating the day’s game plan, how to beat today’s pitcher,” Hinch said. “There’s a lot of information we could flood them with leading into a series. But the competition is day-to-day. We have to have a different game plan for Kenta Maeda, as an example, than we had for Jose Berrios.”
It sounds simple and basic, but with so much data flying around, the immediate focus can be diverted and players revert to their old instincts and methods in the batter’s box.
“I like how our communication has increased and how the players have adapted to the day-to-day game plan,” Hinch said.
Even Miguel Cabrera, the most decorated hitter on the team, has had to adjust his approach. His batting average had dipped below .100 at the start of this month, but he’s produced four hits and three walks in the last two games.
“He’s following the game plan and not trying to cover every pitch,” Hinch said. “Even a veteran hitter and the most accomplished hitter on our team, you still have to have a pretty detailed game plan coming in and not try to cover everything.”
The charts and data have helped Cabrera better choose his plan of attack against different styles of pitchers. In his prime, Cabrera could make that adjustment in real time. He could be looking for a fastball and adjust to the breaking ball as it left a pitcher’s hand.
He can’t do that as effectively at age 38 and throughout April he was often tardy on fastballs and chasing breaking balls outside the zone.
“You aren’t going to cover 94 mph in and the hard breaking ball on the outside third of the plate,” Hinch said. “He’s been more zoned in. He has a plan. It’s not the same plan every time. He’s locked in a little better on what he’s trying to do on an at-bat to at-bat basis.
“We’ve simplified that for him. It’s a step in the right direction.”
Nobody is saying the offense is fixed, just that corrections have been put in place to facilitate a turnaround. Those corrections, you figure, will be on-going throughout the year.
“We can’t accept doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Hinch said. “That, to me, has been an adjustment for our players. Once they see some fruits of their labor, you hope it catches on. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s a tough league.
“But when opportunity presents itself, we can have better at-bats. And maybe that builds some belief and some confidence that we can be a potent offensive team. We don’t have to accept the struggle.”