The one thing that would make miserable Detroit Tigers season worse: Losing Chris Fetter

Detroit Free Press

It has been a frustrating, ugly season for the Detroit Tigers. There have been a crazy number of injuries, a sleep-walking pathetic offense, a long list of underperforming players, painful losing streaks and sloppy losses.

It reached a new low on Wednesday — at least in terms of embarrassment and futility — when the Tigers literally gave up after the sixth inning. They were getting blown out so badly they waved the human white flag, putting infielder Harold Castro on the mound.

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In the end, the Tigers used three position players as pitchers in a 13-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox. It made sense to save pitching, even if it was ugly.

Now, there is only one way it can get worse.

If they lose pitching coach Chris Fetter, who is one of the few bright spots in this rebuild.

Fetter has been mentioned as a potential candidate to become the head baseball coach at Michigan, replacing Erik Bakich, who took the Clemson job.

“I’m not surprised that the rumors have started,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said Wednesday before the ugliness. “From what I understand, there’s been no contact or anything like that yet. We love Fett. He’s very talented. He can do anything at this level or certainly the college level. We have to do everything we can to keep him.”

Fetter would make a great head baseball coach at Michigan. If that is the direction Fetter wants to take his career, it would be understandable.

But the Tigers can’t afford to let Fetter go. He’s too important to this rebuild.

“Leverage it and get some more money — I’m all for that,” Tigers pitcher Tarik Skubal said. “As long as he stays here.”

While Skubal’s words were lighthearted, his message was serious.

Pay the man, Tigers.

Before he even gets tempted by Michigan.

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Double his salary. Shoot, triple it. Whatever it takes to keep him.

Make him feel loved. Make him understand what he means to this organization.

“He’s a big part of what we’re doing,” Hinch said. “He needs to coach in this area, it just needs to be with the Tigers. We want him to stay here. I have no idea what is ahead. He’s very happy here. He and I have known each other a long time. I know him really well. He’s fully focused here.”

Imagine this team with a bad pitching staff

Yes, the Tigers got shelled Wednesday.

And that it hasn’t happened more often is a testament to Fetter.

“Our pitching is the only thing that has kept us afloat,” catcher Eric Haase said. “We have taxed those guys tremendously.”

In the midst of a horrible season, the Tigers’ pitching has been solid, which is an impressive accomplishment considering they have lost so many starters to injuries. Entering Wednesday, the Tigers were 13th in baseball in team ERA (3.81) and 10th in WHIP (1.215). Much of the credit goes to Fetter, who has helped Skubal develop into the ace of the staff.

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‘He’s just a very good communicator,” Skubal said. “He also knows how to identify your strengths and your weaknesses. Great communicator, great at his job and he prepares really well. It makes you feel confident and you know what you’re doing on the mound.”

Fetter is helping young pitchers develop and teaching the old guys some new tricks.

“He takes everything to the next level, about why this works and why this doesn’t work,” Michael Fulmer said. “He’s taught us a lot of things that we didn’t know we needed to know.”

A return on investment

Whatever the Tigers pay Fetter, it will save money in the long run.

The average MLB pitcher is making $2.7 million, according to Spotrac. The average starting pitcher is making $5 million. Those are massive investments for any team.

And here you have a guy who is quickly developing a track record of making pitchers better?

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In an organization where most of this rebuild has been built around pitching?

That makes Fetter invaluable to this organization. The Tigers have more young pitchers coming down the pike, pitchers who need to be tutored by Fetter.

“He takes in everything and tries to simplify everything,” Fulmer said. “He gives us charts, he gives us words to read in scouting reports and how and why this guy doesn’t hit this pitch or why this guy does hit this pitch. But he does it for every single player.”

Say what you will about the Tigers, Hinch has a knack for hiring great coaches. Coaches who are desired by others. Third base coach Chip Hale went to Arizona and assistant hitting coach Jose Cruz Jr. to Rice.

“I’m not losing another coach right now,” Hinch said. “It’s going down a path of, like, Fett’s in a good spot if he’s sitting right next to me. He’s completely happy. I appreciate everybody’s interest in him, but that’s all I know.”

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Fetter’s work with the bullpen?

A pure master class.

“They do a great job of always putting our guys in a position to have success,” Skubal said. “It’s the way they manage the bullpen. It’s like you watch the game and you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, this matchup is perfect.’”

Part of that is Hinch, of course. And part is Fetter. Clearly, they work well together.

And the Tigers can’t afford to lose either one.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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