Detroit – When manager Brad Ausmus began his search for a new pitching coach, he did so with a firm set of parameters.
He wanted somebody with Major League experience, a guy preferably who had postseason experience. But given the relative young age of the Tigers staff, the guy also had to have a background in development.
He wanted somebody that had the cache and resume to gain the respect of a proven star like Justin Verlander, but with the patience to nurture prospects like Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd.
He wanted somebody who embraced analytics, yet could distill all the numbers and present them in a pragmatic form to his staff. He wanted somebody who understood pitchers both from a mechanical and psychological standpoint and with quick eye for troubleshooting when things went awry.
From an initial list of 20 candidates, to a final list of six – the Tigers have hired former Marlins and Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee.
“I’ve known Rich going way back to our Florida Marlins days,” said general manager Al Avila, who introduced Dubee in a teleconference Thursday. “I can tell you we are excited to have him because he has a lot of experience at the Major League level, he has experience both developing young talent and working with veteran pitchers.”
Dubee, 58, had been the minor league pitching coordinator for the Braves the last two seasons, but he made his mark overseeing star-studded staffs in Florida and Philadelphia.
“With Rich’s background in development and at the Major League level, including the World Series, the choice became very clear,” Ausmus said. “His experience with the Phillies, we had a number of recommendations from that. We have a couple guys on our staff who know him well – Gene Lamont and Mick Billmeyer. Jim Leyland I spoke to. And I spoke to some pitchers who worked with Rich and they all gave him a glowing recommendation.”
He was with the Marlins from 1994 to 2001, working for former Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski, Avila, and, for one season, Leyland. On his pitching staff were A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett.
He spent nine seasons with the Phillies, 2005-2013. In that span, the Phillies won five N.L. East titles and the world championship in 2008. He presided over the first eight seasons of Cole Hamels’ career, including his World Series MVP in 2008, Roy Halladay’s 2010 Cy Young season and the Major League’s top pitching staff in 2011 (3.02 team ERA).
“I am thrilled to be here,” Dubee said. “I am appreciative of another opportunity to coach at the Major League level, especially with a fabulous organization like the Tigers.”
Asked about his philosophy of pitching, Dubee joked, “How long do you have?”
“I like guys who are aggressive,” he said. “You have to be able to throw strike one. Count is very important in this game, but you can’t just get ahead with fastballs. You see guys hitting 97-98 mph fastballs if they are thrown consistently on a regular basis. So you have to pitch ahead but with a variety of pitches.”
He also emphasizes the importance of pitching aggressively inside.
“Most of your outs are going to come from (pitching) away, so you have to be willing to protect that part of the plate,” Dubee said. “I don’t believe pitching inside is a lost art, but I think it has been taken out of context by hitters and their reaction to balls inside. It’s almost like an invasion of their territory.
“With the armor that hitters wear and their reaction to pitches inside, guys are reluctant to go in there – but it’s a major necessity.”
As for the use of analytics, Dubee said he will sift through all the available data, but will be judicious in how much he throws at his pitchers.
“I believe in using everything, but there has to be some type of balance,” he said. “And there has to be a balance in how much you give to the pitchers themselves. Catchers play a big part in controlling the staff and running the games. I believe in giving more information to my catchers.
“I believe in analytics, but I believe in my eyes also.”
As for dealing with both star talent like Verlander and Anibal Sanchez and younger players, Dubee said he treats each player individually, based on their personalities and temperaments.
“With a veteran guy, I probably give a little more leeway, give them a little more say in what is going on,” Dubee said. “I try to be a little stronger on a rookie guy because he hasn’t been through the wars.”
Dubee replaces Jeff Jones, who announced his retirement last week. Neither Avila nor Ausmus specified who the finalists were, though it was known that Tigers minor league pitching coordinator A.J. Sager and former Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty were interviewed.
Dubee inherits a pitching staff that ranked at or near the bottom in nearly every statistical category last season.
“I know a little about the staff but not a tremendous amount,” Dubee said. “I know they were banged up with a lot of injuries. I talked to Al and there’s going to be some changes down the road, trying to add or do whatever they can. We will wait and see how it all washes out.
“My time in Philadelphia was fabulous. We had a tremendous amount of success and I was glad for the chance to be a part of it. Hopefully we’ll do something like that here in Detroit.”