Fired For Following The Mandate

Sometimes there are explanations for failure.

Sometimes there aren’t.

And occasionally the failure is perceived in practice, not in spirit.

There’s always the question of what a hiring club thought they were getting. When the Mets hired Art Howe as manager, did they think they were hiring a calm, collected, somewhat journeyman manager who’d had an up-and-down career a la Joe Torre? Or did they simply bring someone in because he had a few good years managing a good team with the Athletics, handled young players well and was the antithesis of the fired Bobby Valentine and would therefore not scare off prospective free agents?

Does it matter?

No.

The public at large wants results, not excuses. So do major league baseball teams’ general managers and owners.

But what precisely did the Tigers think they were getting when they hired Rick Knapp as pitching coach? Having been the minor league pitching coordinator for the Twins for 12 years before he joined the Tigers in 2009, his strategy was to have his pitchers throw strikes and use their fielders to record outs—like the Twins have since, well, since forever.

The Tigers did that this season and, with an infield defense that is terrible on the right side and barely average on the left, it hasn’t worked.

Is it Knapp’s fault the Tigers decided to have a porous defense that wasn’t cohesive with the strategy employed by the pitchers?

In 2008, the Tigers were 13th in the American League in walks and 11th in strikeouts; the batting average against on ground balls was .245. In 2009, the walks and strikeouts were better; they had a better infield defense and some better pitching, but Knapp coaxed a marked improvement from Justin Verlander, a wonderful year from Edwin Jackson, and a terrific rookie campaign from Rick Porcello.

In 2011 the opposition is hitting .256 on ground balls against the Tigers pitchers; in comparison, the Rays opponents are hitting .211.

The Rays have a rangy, fast defense; the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta.

If they’d like to find someone to blame, I suppose Knapp is a convenient scapegoat, but reality dictates otherwise. They hired him to teach the Tigers pitchers to throw strikes and rely on the defense. And that’s what they did.

They fired him for essentially the same reasons; they fired him for doing what it was they hired him for in the first place.

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