Monday, July 4, 2011

Is There Something More to the Rick Knapp Firing Than Meets the Eye?

Following their win over the defending champion San Francisco Giants on Sunday, the Detroit Tigers relieved pitching coach Rick Knapp of his duties. Tigers pitching had been under siege during the last two series with the New York Mets hanging more than 30 runs on Detroit pitching and the Giants running the Tigers for 22.

Confidence in Knapp had been dwindling as the Tigers ERA continued to rise; the only bright spot being ace Justin Verlander. In an interview with MLB Network after his firing Knapp defended his record saying that Verlander had thrown two no-hitters and Armando Galarraga nearly threw a perfect game. But he continued on to say that in hindsight being lit up by the Mets and Giants couldn't have helped his cause.

General Manager Dave Dombrowski and Manager Jim Leyland got together following the game on Sunday and agreed that something needed to be done about the pitching situation. With the Tigers team ERA at 4.39 the agreement was made that they were not pitching up to their capabilities and Knapp would need to go. Bullpen coach Jeff Jones was promoted to fill Knapp's vacancy, he has served with the Tigers for three seasons.

While this move stunned many, including Knapp who said that he "was a little shell shocked," it should not have come as a surprise. The Tigers, despite competing for first place, are not living up to expectations and have not had a post season berth since they went to the World Series in 2006. Owner Mike Illich wants to win and with both Dombrowski and Leyland in the final year of their contracts, the Knapp firing may be more about them than it was about him.

It has been said that when a team under performs, you can't fire the team so you do the only thing possible, you fire the coach. But with few coaching candidates available mid-season and general distrust of Gene Lamont the firing of Leyland wasn't an option. The pitching staff was indeed, not living up to its potential, but Knapp was a casualty of a much bigger battle.

Goodwill between fans, and possibly ownership, and Leyland and Dombrowski has steadily decreased over the years and is at an all time low. Even while the Tigers held sole ownership of first place there were still frequent overtures by fans to have Leyland removed. Illich more than likely will not remove his skipper mid-season but the removal of Knapp stands as a warning; perform or else.

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