In a series of moves we at Bless You Boys have begged for over the past half decade, the Detroit Tigers have made some major moves to restructure the front office. On Tuesday, they announced that David Littlefield, long-time Director of Player Development and more recently Vice-President in charge of Player Development has been moved into an advisory role as a special assignment scout. Assistant General Manager David Chadd is also being moved to a new role not yet created.
In their place are the architects of the club’s move to modern data and analytics. Sam Menzin, the Tigers’ Director of Baseball Operations and Professional scouting for the past four seasons, has been promoted to Vice President and Assistant General Manager. Jay Sartori, the Tigers Senior Director of Baseball Analytics and Operations, who oversaw the development of the organization’s analytics department over the past six seasons, has also been promoted to Vice President and Assistant General Manager.
The Tigers are also undertaking a search for a new Vice President of Player Development. Kenny Graham, hired in the fall of 2019 to take over from Littlefield as Director of Player Development, will run operations in the interim, and is a candidate to be hired into the VP position full-time.
Since Al Avila took over as general manager in August of 2015, the Detroit Tigers have been engaged in a very slow moving evolution into the current era of data based analysis and coaching. Not a whole lot appeared to have changed three or four seasons into Avila’s tenure, but then in spring of 2019, the high speed cameras, force plates for hitters, and the rest of the equipment common in the most advanced organizations burst on the scene.
The technology was a welcome sight, but it was never going to be particularly valuable without overhauling the personnel assigned with merging the tech, data, and traditional coaching to improve player outcomes. That has slowly unfolded over the past two seasons, and with today’s announcements, the club has finally turned the page on most of the old breed, Al Avila excluded.
During the 2019 season, the Tigers added Dan Hubbs, former USC head baseball coach, to take over a newly created role as Director of Pitching Development and Strategies in the minor league system. Joel McKeithan, a Driveline affiliated hitting coach who had worked in the Philadelphia Phillies’ system, was hired as minor league hitting coordinator. They also hired Dr. Georgia Ghiblin as Director of the newly created Performance Science department in the 2019-2020 offseason, at the same time Graham was hired.
Both Menzin and Sartori have good reputations within the industry. Anecdotally the pair have had growing influence within the organization in recent years as the transition to modern analytics has increased pace. With an extremely data-savvy manager like A.J. Hinch now calling the shots, and used to working with one of the most advanced front office groups in the game in Houston, these moves should unify processes throughout the decision making chain from the field level to the key decision making seats on either side of Avila himself. In his press scrum discussing the moves, Avila even cited Hinch’s influence on the organization and its direction in particular.
The timing of these decisions is somewhat interesting, coming a month before the season ends. The Tigers could’ve waited until season’s end to make the moves, or at least to announce them. Perhaps Avila felt like getting this all done now will help this offseason by getting the transition accomplished before the major work of prepping for free agency and other offseason elements really gets rolling. Either way, we’re pretty happy to see the Tigers take another step toward becoming a modern, cutting edge organization.