Detroit — You want to call them old-school? Go ahead. They won’t mind.
Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire is 60. The average age of his coaching staff, formally announced on Thursday, is 54. Combined, there is more than 100 years of big-league coaching and managing experience among seven of the nine coaches.
So, yeah, a bit old-school, perhaps.
But don’t think for a minute they aren’t embracing and incorporating analytics. The Tigers have spent millions of dollars beefing up their analytics department and data base, so as general manager Al Avila has vowed, “They’re going to use the data.”
Yes, they are, and 57-year-old Joe Vavra will play a big role in making that happen correctly.
Vavra’s title is quality-control coach. He was the bench coach in Minnesota the last two seasons, and before that was with Gardenhire (hitting coach and third-base coach) from 2006-2014. He also spent more than two decades in the Dodgers organization.
“I saw the analytics just change everything,” Vavra said on Thursday. “Everything is more quantified now and because of that, it’s changed coaching dynamics and created different coaching positions.
“The one I’m in now is kind of a hybrid position.”
Vavra sees himself as the main distributor for all the data the Tigers analytics department produces.
“In this role, nobody is really sure how it’s going to unfold,” he said. “But basically I am going to be the point guard. With all the information that comes in through the organizational resources, I will buffer that and distribute it to the coaches and players.
“I will work very closely with the analytics people.”
Former manager Brad Ausmus was essentially his own quality-control coach, especially during his last two seasons. He took it upon himself to distill the reams of analytical data and distribute it among his staff and players in smaller, more digestible portions.
This task will fall to Varva now.
“Everybody learns at different levels,” he said. “This generation of players is well-versed on all the analytical data; it’s thrown in their face all the time. Whether they can put it in play and make it work for them, that’s the challenge.
“Informational overload gets to be a detriment to their careers. We have to determine what’s the right thing for that particular player.”
Vavra wants to bridge the gap between the analytics department and the coaches and players.
“This position here, you’ve got all the analytics people trying to push this and that and you got a guy in the middle who is like the point guard saying this will work, let’s try this,” he said. “Then you take that to the coaches with their knowledge and expertise and then figure out how much to give to get the most out of that particular player.”
Especially with younger players, Vavra said, you have to take it slow.
“It’s baby steps with a lot of guys,” he said. “They couldn’t handle too much of the analytical thing, so you push it on them a little bit at a time until they get comfortable — until their raw ability becomes more polished and then they can be more comfortable grasping and digesting all the data.”
Vavra said he learned a lot of these lessons during his seven seasons as a hitting coach.
“The more I knew, the dumber I became as a hitting coach,” he said. “I would learn everything about counts and pitch location and spin rates and launch angles. I mean, I learned this stuff early on. But the more I learned, the more I tried to push upon people, I realized they could only handle so much.
“Certain guys don’t perform really well having all that up in their coconut.”
Somewhere, Nick Castellanos is smiling and nodding.