New manager A.J. Hinch is an ideal fit for the Detroit Tigers

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 13: Manager AJ Hinch of the Houston Astros makes a pitching change during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees in game two of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 13, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 13: Manager AJ Hinch of the Houston Astros makes a pitching change during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees in game two of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 13, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

A.J. Hinch is back in the Majors as manager of the Detroit Tigers after serving his one-year suspension

The old saying is everybody deserves a second chance, and the Detroit Tigers are giving disgraced manager A.J. Hinch one.

The Tigers hired Hinch as the club’s new manager on Friday and signed him to a multi-year contract, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Hinch’s one-year suspension as a result of the Astros sign-stealing scandal ended with the conclusion of the World Series, leaving him free to resume his once-promising career.

Controversy aside, Hinch is the right fit for a Tigers organization looking to play their way back into relevance in the AL Central. They lost 98 or more games from 2017-19 and were on a similar pace in the shortened 2020 season. They haven’t made the postseason in six straight years.

Enter Hinch, who walked into a similar situation with the Houston Astros. Hinch took over an Astros team in 2015 that had lost at least 100 games three straight years and turned it into an organization that won 100-plus games each of his last three seasons as manager. The Astros organization he inherited looked an awful lot like the Tigers, full of young, unproven prospects. In 2015, Carlos Correa was a 20-year-old rookie. George Springer was in his second year and had less than 100 games of big-league experience. Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel wouldn’t make their MLB debuts until 2016.

Hinch took this young core to a World Series title and eight outs away from a second championship in 2019. He had a 481-329 record in his five seasons on the Astros bench. But then came reports that the Astros used an elaborate scheme involving banging on trash cans to steal opposing teams’ signs during the 2017 season. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for one year; both were soon fired by the Astros.

Commissioner Rob Manfred’s report, though, didn’t identity Hinch as the instigator of the scheme and concluded he was opposed to it. According to the report, Hinch “believed that the conduct was both wrong and distracting. Hinch attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme by physically damaging the monitor on two occasions, necessitating its replacement.” Nonetheless, Hinch wasn’t completely vindicated, either; the commissioner ruled Hinch had a duty as manager to put a stop to it, something he failed to do.

Hinch was vilified by fans and opposing teams alike, but the Tigers are ready to overlook all that in order to get a manager who has experience guiding a club to a championship. Hinch has some roots in the Tigers organization. He played there in 2003 when the Tigers lost 119 games. While serving as director of pro scouting for the Padres from 2011-14, one of his top scouts was Scott Bream, who is now the Tigers director of player personnel.

General Manager Al Avila made it clear he was looking for a manager with the ability to properly evaluate young talent and develop them into MLB-caliber players. Hinch fits that role, and in interviews with the club, the Tigers believe Hinch learned something from what happened in Houston.

“Coming into this managerial search we already knew that A.J.’s diverse baseball acumen, knowledge of analytics and passion for the game were second to none,” Avila said in a statement released by the club. “However, we also knew there were some important conversations to have about A.J.’s time in Houston. Throughout that dialogue he was clearly remorseful and used that time to reflect on the situation, and we believe he will emerge as a better leader because of it.”

He embraced the use of analytics with the Astros to bring out the best in his players.

When Gerrit Cole joined the Astros in 2018, he was coming off two seasons in Pittsburgh where he went 19-22 with an ERA north of four. In his first meeting with Hinch and the Astros front office, though, they convinced him to rely more on his four-seam fastball and shy away from throwing so many sinkers down in the zone. In 2017, he threw his sinker 428 times (18.1 percent of his pitches); by 2019, that had declined to 0.4 percent. His swing-and-miss percentage on his fastball went from 21.6 with the Pirates to 36.9 in 2019, the best in the Majors. Opponents hit .267 against Cole in his final two years with the Pirates; in two years with the Astros, the opposing batting average fell to .191.

That it what the Tigers are hoping Hinch does with their own rising pitching prospects, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. Both made their MLB debuts in 2020. Right-hander Matt Manning, a top-10 pick in 2016, should join them next season after posting a 2.83 ERA in his final year in the minors.

The Tigers also have Spencer Torkelson, the first overall pick in June’s draft. All six of their draft picks this year were used on hitters, each of whom now ranks among their top-30 prospects. The Tigers have five of the top-50 ranked prospects and are ranked as the second-best farm system in the league by MLB Pipeline.

The Tigers aren’t a club built to win in 2021. They’re a club looking toward the future, believing that with their plethora of talented prospects they have the makings of a contender in a few years. Hinch is the right man to take them there. He did it in Houston before scandal ended his tenure there. The Tigers hope he can do it again.

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