Detroit Tigers hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh not returning after two seasons

Detroit Free Press

Manager A.J. Hinch refused to shake up his coaching staff during the season, claiming the 24-hour news cycle wouldn’t fix the problem. But the Detroit Tigers‘ offense, churning out historically bad results, never improved.

Hinch wouldn’t budge from his midseason stance.

On Friday, the inevitable happened. The Tigers announced that hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh will not return, just two days after the conclusion of the 2022 campaign. The search and interview process for a new hitting coach began Thursday.

“It was obviously time for us to assess the staff,” Hinch said Friday. “We’re going to have a different staff and a different message and a different collection of guys to hopefully push the players in a new direction.”

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Quality control coach Josh Paul will not return, while assistant hitting coach Mike Hessman and third base coach Ramon Santiago have been reassigned and offered jobs in the minor leagues. Alfredo Amezaga has been tabbed as the first base coach next season.

Everyone else is coming back for 2023, including bench coach George Lombard, pitching coach Chris Fetter and assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves. Gary Jones, the former first base coach, could take over as the third base coach or move forward in a bench role as a defensive specialist.

“I kind of liked that dynamic, what I had in September,” Hinch said of Jones. “When we brought him to the bench for his health (ankle fracture), we actually gained some wisdom and some defensive efficiency that I liked.”

The Tigers, shut out 22 times and held to 3.44 runs per game, finished 66-96 overall for fourth place in the American League Central.

It was a miserable year for the Tigers’ offense.

The 22 shutouts were the most by an American League team since the implementation of the designated hitter in 1973. The Tigers finished four shutouts shy of tying the franchise record, 26, set in 1904.

“I don’t think they got worse as hitting coaches,” Hinch said. “I think the overall struggle of the hitting department was such a topic for such a long time. It definitely wore on them and wore on the players. We were trying to grind through it together rather than make a midseason change. I think we can be better in different areas of the hitting department that we didn’t display this season.”

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Among the 30 MLB teams, the Tigers ranked 25th in batting average (.231), 29th in on-base percentage (.286), 30th in slugging percentage (.346), 30th in isolated power (.115), 29th in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.632), 29th in walk rate (6.5%), 27th in strikeout rate (24.1%), 30th in chase rate (36.7%) and 30th in wRC+ (81).

In November 2020, roughly one week after Hinch’s hire, Coolbaugh joined the Tigers as the hitting coach. Coolbaugh, 56, previously worked for the Texas Rangers (2011-12), Baltimore Orioles (2015-18) and Chicago White Sox (2020) at the major-league level.

Several hitters experienced career-best seasons, but one year later, many of them regressed to career-worst campaigns. Veterans Robbie Grossman (traded to the Atlanta Braves in August), Jonathan Schoop (.561 OPS in 131 games) and Jeimer Candelario (.633 OPS in 124 games) failed to continue their success.

In 2021, Schoop received a two-year, $15 million contract extension that keeps him around through the 2023 season. Meanwhile, Grossman and Candelario were two contract extension candidates entering 2022.

“Scott cannot hit for us,” Schoop, who first trained under Coolbaugh in Baltimore, said Aug. 16. “He has provided everything he can help us with. At the same time, I have to step in the box and hit, not him. He can only do so much. He can teach us and show us what we’re doing wrong, but at the end of the day, it’s you stepping in the box.”

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Javier Báez commanded a six-year, $140 million contract in December and was supposed to carry the offense. The 29-year-old logged a full-season career-worst .671 OPS in 144 games. A terrible May weighed down an otherwise decent season, but he wasn’t pleased with the numbers on the back of his baseball card. Austin Meadows, under team control through 2024, dealt with several injuries before shutting down his season for mental health reasons. Tucker Barnhart, signed to a one-year deal for his defense and game calling as a veteran catcher, launched just one home run in 308 plate appearances.

Rookie Spencer Torkelson, 23, didn’t look like a former No. 1 overall pick this season, hitting .203 with eight home runs and practically zero mechanical adjustments over 110 games. Fellow rookie Riley Greene, who turned 22 in late September, was one of the few bright spots and should develop into a franchise cornerstone. Still, he didn’t flash as much power as the Tigers would have liked.

“Every time things go back, it’s the coaches,” Schoop said. “It’s the coaches, the manager, whatever. When things go good, it’s the players. That’s how it is with fans. The fans think (Coolbaugh) needs to do something for us to get better, but he does that.”

Hessman, 44, joined the Tigers as the interim assistant hitting coach in June 2021. He replaced José Cruz Jr., who left the organization to become the head coach at Rice University. Hessman returned to Hinch’s staff in 2022 without the interim tag.

Since Hessman announced his retirement in 2015, he has worked as a hitting coach in Detroit’s farm system for Short-Season A Connecticut (2016), West Michigan (2017), Erie (2018) and Toledo (2019-21). Hessman holds the all-time record for minor league home runs, with 433 in 2,094 games across 19 seasons.

Paul, 47, became the quality control coach under former manager Ron Gardenhire in November 2019. He worked as the Los Angeles Angels’ bench coach from 2017-19 and served as a big-league catcher for four teams across nine seasons, from 1999-07.

Santiago, 43, played 13 years in the majors, from 2002-14, including 10 with the Tigers. He returned to the Tigers as the first base coach for the 2018-19 seasons, the shifted to third base for the 2020 campaign. Under Hinch, he started as a first base coach in 2021 and returned to coaching third base for a significant portion of 2021 and all of 2022.

“What we’d like him to do is develop an infield program that is stronger and develop in his own personality as a coach to be even more aggressive than maybe some of his sends,” Hinch said of Santiago. “In the box at third base, he had to learn on the fly. He never coached third base until he was in the big leagues.

“We’re hoping to continue to develop him as a coach and get him around our younger kids in the minor leagues, especially with the younger Latin kids that we have, teaming up with our (player develop) system. That hopefully will round out his coaching strengths.”

Triple-A Toledo hitting coach Adam Melhuse, who previously worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers, will interview for the hitting coach job. He joined the Tigers in September to continue his work with Torkelson and other young hitters.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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