By Jeff Moss
September 3, 2015
Based upon his failure to fix the bullpen, seal the deal and procure a World Series ring for Mike Ilitch, develop the farm system and, most importantly, invest in mathematical principles, I had been openly calling for the ouster of Dave Dombrowski as the Tigers General Manager for the last couple of years.
People thought I was insane and would always ask me who I’d suggest to replace a man who was so respected in Major League Baseball circles. My flippant answer was always some Jewish nerd from either Harvard or M.I.T. who understood basic math.
Well, we didn’t get a nebbish, circumcized, numbers-crunching member of the Tribe when Mr. I unceremoniously disposed of Dombrowski in August, but it would appear that new GM Al Avila is the next best thing.
And don’t kid yourself, this franchise was in dire need of a SABR revolution. And while it might be slightly surprising that the 57-year-old Cuban-born first lieutenant under Dombrowski is leading that charge, there is no escaping the fact that it’s happening.
Just last year, ESPN did a massive ranking of all the professional sports organizations in the four major leagues and assigned them a designation for how that franchise viewed analytics.
The Detroit Tigers were labeled as “Skeptics” when it came to advanced metrics and were in the bottom third of the league regarding this crucial issue.
Obviously, Avila wasn’t in lockstep with Dombrowski’s poo-pooing of mathematics. How do I know?
1) In one of his first moves as GM, Avila promoted Sam Menzin (who, I believe, is 26 or 27 years old) from analytics coordinator to director of baseball operations. That’s kind of a big deal. Avila also signed off on adding two additional brainiacs to Menzin’s staff.
(Just as an aside, when Menzin first came to Detroit he unwittingly told a family member of mine that Jim Leyland would ignore Sam’s department’s reports and would just throw them in the trash. This anecdote ended up in the ESPN analytics article as a hyperlink to the DSR but it just RECENTLY magically disappeared. Hmmmmmmm …..)
2) In an awesome profile of Avila written by Tony Paul of the Detroit News last month, Avila went into an unprompted five-minute soliloquy about the team embracing sabermetrics moving forward. Coincidentally enough, it was going to be Paul’s next query but Avila beat him to the punch.
This tells me that this isn’t just empty chatter to pacify a particular portion of the Tigers’ fanbase. Avila truly is invested in advanced metrics. According to Paul, Avila spent more time on this topic than any other during the interview.
3) While we can’t 100% confirm this, it sure as hell looks like the Tigers have hired Christopher Long as a consultant. Who is Christopher Long? Well, he used to be the San Diego Padres’ Senior Quantitive Analyst. He has also worked with the Houston Rockets, who are one of the most forward-thinking organizations in all of sports.
(Of all of the teams in pro sports ranked by ESPN in that aforementioned article, the Rockets are at #3.)
The man is no lightweight in the field. You can follow him on Twitter @Octonion if you don’t believe me.
So here is the circumstantial evidence I have gathered supporting my belief that Long has been engaged by Avila and Menzin ….
Ok. So we know he is working for one of the 30 MLB teams.
My second piece of evidence is that he just recently followed the Tigers on Twitter. In fact, @Tigers was one of his most recent follows after the above Tweet of August 27th.
The third piece of evidence is that the DAY AFTER his announcement that he was working with a new MLB team, he ReTweeted this …..
Hmmmm. I am pretty sure that the Wings and Tigers are owned by the same dude.
Finally, I asked Long point-blank on Twitter today if he is working with the Tigers ….
I am pretty sure the smiley face is a dead giveaway.
So to summarize, Avila promoted the millennial Menzin, Avila can’t stop talking about advanced metrics and he just engaged one of the more respected analysts in all of sports.
This is all very, very exciting and promising.
Of course, if the Tigers replace Brad Ausmus with Ron Gardenhire, all of it means jack shit.