Todd tweeted to me: Any chance that [Mud Hens manager Phil] Nevin will be gone at the end of the season?
Dear Todd: You are not the first person to ask me that question. So you won’t be the first person to whom I say this: I would imagine the Tigers are pleased with the work Phil Nevin has done as Hens manager this season.
And before I get buried under an avalanche of tweets and e-mails, let me say that I know the numbers. On May 7 Toledo stood in first place in the International League’s West Division with a 19-11 record, and since that time the Mud Hens have posted a 25-57 mark and are just one game ahead of Louisville, the team with the IL’s worst record. Toledo was 11-20 in May, 8-21 in June and 11-18 in July.
But your perspective – and the perspective of all Mud Hens fans, in all likelihood – is different from the Tigers’ perspective.
Toledo followers want the Hens to win games, make the playoffs and win the Governors’ Cup. The Tigers’ perspective is that Nevin’s job is get Toledo players ready to play in Detroit first and foremost. And if preparing players keeps you from winning a few more games, well, that’s OK – and don't misunderstand, that's the view of EVERY major-league team, not just the Tigers. Winning games in Toledo is preferable to the alternative, but getting players ready is Job 1, to steal a line from the old Ford ads.
And judging by this season, Nevin and his coaching staff -- hitting coach Leon “Bull” Durham and pitching coach A.J. Sager -- have done good work in that regard.
For example, Quintin Berry hit .270 with 19 stolen base in 39 games with the Mud Hens, but has been even better with the Tigers. He came into Wednesday’s game at Boston with a .283 batting average in 57 games along with 15 stolen bases (and had not been caught stealing once).
But Berry is far from the other player to make the transition from Toledo to Detroit this season. …
- Bryan Holaday held his own in a brief audition with the Tigers and probably will return to Detroit in September;
- Danny Worth continues to hit well in Toledo, prompting some observers to say that he should have been given a shot at the second base job (before the trade for Omar Infante, of course);
- Darin Downs has a 2.35 ERA in six appearances with the Tigers, to go with 10 strikeouts and four walks in 7.2 innings;
- Brayan Villarreal has become a promising bullpen arm, posting a 1.36 ERA in 29 outings thanks in part to 43 strikeouts in 33 innings.
Do players, especially six-year free agent signees such as Berry and Downs, deserve the credit for taking advantage of an opportunity with Detroit? Absolutely. Do Nevin and his staff deserve credit for having the players ready when the opportunity presented itself? Again, absolutely.
I talk with Nevin nearly every day when the team is at home, so trust me when I tell you he is unhappy with the season record. But the facts are these: Toledo has a .246 team batting average that is the worst in the 14-team IL (it was .271 in April), a 4.38 team ERA that is 11th-best (it was 3.88 in April), and a team fielding percentage of .976 that ranks 12th.
Do you think this team would be a playoff contender with a different manager?
I can't tell you with certainty that Nevin will return as manager next season, but that's only because most Triple-A managers have a short tenure. They often get promoted to the big leagues and become coaches, which is what happened to the three Mud Hens managers prior to Nevin.
In fact, only four IL managers have been on the job longer than two seasons, which is how long Nevin has been in Toledo. This season, six of the league's 14 managers are in their first season in their current position.
So perhaps Nevin will return next season, and perhaps he won't. But I would be surprised if Detroit cited the Mud Hens' losing record this year as the reason to make a change.
Thanks for writing. John.
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