Manage in the moment: Tigers' new skipper Hinch not a fan of scripted game plans

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – It won’t happen here.

What we saw in Game 6 of the World Series, with Rays manager Kevin Cash taking the ball from bewildered starter Blake Snell, who had allowed just two singles in 5.1 innings and was preserving a 1-0 lead in a do-or-die game — a move that was pre-planned and intractable and ended up being fatal – won’t happen on new Tigers manager AJ Hinch’s watch.

“There will be no scripts or preconceived decision-making,” Hinch told The Detroit News after his introductory news conference Friday.

One of the topics discussed during the interview process with general manager Al Avila and his staff was the level of autonomy Hinch would have in games. The answer, as it was for Jim Leyland, Brad Ausmus and Ron Gardenhire before him, was complete autonomy.

AJ Hinch was named Tigers manager on Friday.

“In Houston I had the autonomy to manage the game and that’s what I was hired for,” Hinch said. “Even though the job is bigger than any of your in-game moves. There are a lot of different responsibilities that you have.”

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Avila, whose experience in the game is diverse and fully evolved, wanted a manager who could blend data and baseball acumen, who would combine modern analytics with old-school ethics and judgments. Leyland was straight baseball acumen. Ausmus and Gardenhire grew on the analytical side as the organization’s analytical department expanded.

With Hinch, Avila may have found his ideal in that regard.

“He can tell an analyst, ‘You’re wrong, we’re going this way,’’ Avila said. “And he can tell a baseball guy, ‘You’re wrong, we’re going to use this data.’

“That’s what I was looking for.”    

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It was revealing that both Avila and Hinch characterized the hire as a partnership.

“I was looking for a difference-maker,” Avila said. “I was looking for a guy I could partner with to lead this team to a world championship.”

There is a thin line between working out various in-game scenarios and strategies beforehand and scripting game plans. The Dodgers walked that line successfully in the World Series, the Rays did not. Certainly Hinch will be walking that same line.

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“I believe in front office interaction, I believe in collaboration and a group effort,” Hinch said. “But there are things I have to do on the field where I have to combine game plan with reality. I don’t like scripts. I don’t think you make every decision at 2 p.m. and then go out and play a certain way.

“You have to combine what you see with what you know.”

And sometimes, Hinch said, that ends up looking like a scripted move. Other times it can look like a gut decision. Either way, decisions are ultimately based on both the data and the evidence accrued in real time through the course of a game.

“Al indicated that he trusts me and wants me to run the game and manage the game as I see fit,” Hinch said. “And I am going to ask for a lot of contributions from a lot of people in baseball ops to formulate a game plan.”

A flexible game plan, subject to change based on the events of the game. No scripts.

About the staff 

Hinch said the first two items on his long to-do list were getting in touch with as many players as he could and hiring his coaching staff.

“I really believe building a coaching staff is an enormous task and a huge priority,” he said. “And I will start immediately. You can imagine how many people have reached out to me in the last 24 hours.”

He wouldn’t specify any particular targets, but when asked, he said he didn’t expect his long-time pitching coach Brent Strom to leave the Astros and join him in Detroit.

“He’s the gold-standard for me when it comes to running a pitching department,” Hinch said. “He’s not just a pitching coach, he’s a pitching department. I’m not going to comment on targets that are with other organizations, but it’s unlikely you could grab somebody who has a job.

“I have great respect for him but it’s unlikely that you could get him to make a lateral move like this.”

Traditionally, Avila has liked to have a couple of “organizational” coaches on staff. The top candidates to remain on staff would be quality control coach Josh Paul and infield coach Ramon Santiago.

Twitter: @cmccosky