Detroit Tigers Hire Pitching Coach Chris Fetter Away From Michigan
The Detroit Tigers on Friday reportedly hired Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter to fill the same role on manager A.J. Hinch’s big league staff. Fetter’s hire was first reported by MLB.com’s Jon Morosi.
Fetter was one of the best regarded pitching coaches in the country and spent the last three seasons at his alma mater. He also served as pitching coach at Ball State in 2016, working under Rich Maloney, his college coach at Michigan.
Fetter also has varied experience in pro ball. He played four years of minor league baseball in the Padres organization, reaching high Class A. He was the Dodgers pitching coordinator in 2017, coached in Double-A for the Padres in 2013 and spent three years as a scout for the Angels.
Fetter is the second pitching coach in three years to jump straight from the ranks of college baseball to a major league dugout. He joins Wes Johnson, who made the move from Arkansas to the Minnesota Twins in 2018. Prior to Johnson, no coach had made the jump directly since Dick Howser went from coaching Florida State, his alma mater, in 1979 to managing the Yankees in 1980.
While the path appeared closed off for decades, it is suddenly opening up. Several major league teams have interviewed college pitching coaches for roles on their big league staffs over the last two years. Fetter was one of the coaches interviewed last winter before deciding to remain at Michigan.
Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson began his career as a college pitching coach, first at Stetson and then famously at Vanderbilt, before the Cubs in 2012 hired him as pitching coordinator. He later became the Brewers pitching coach, a role he held on the 2018 NLCS team before moving to the Reds. Pat Murphy after being fired by Arizona State worked his way up the minors to become a bench coach in the major leagues, first in San Diego and now in Milwaukee.
Additionally, the college ranks have become a fertile ground for major league teams looking for minor league caches. Those hires have ranged from the likes of Desi Druschel, who went from pitching coach at Iowa to pitching manager for the Yankees, to junior college coaches like Tom Eller, who the Orioles hired way from Harford (Md.) JC to become a minor league hitting coach.
Now, a tenth of all major league pitching coaches are former college pitching coaches and the pitching coach for the last two College World Series runners-up have jumped to the big leagues. After nearly 40 years of no college coach making such a move, the relationship between the two levels has changed.
Fetter and Johnson both were known as coaches that were on the forefront of new technology and analytics in their methods. Fetter helped develop a trio of second-round pitchers over the last two years – lefthander Tommy Henry and righthanders Jeff Criswell and Karl Kauffmann – and next June ace lefthander Steve Hajjar is projected to become the program’s first first-round pick in 20 years. In addition to those results in the draft, Michigan over the last three years has had its most successful run in 30 years.
Fetter takes over a young, exciting pitching staff in Detroit. Top prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal this summer arrived in the major leagues, with more premium pitchers on their way, including Matt Manning. Fetter will now be tasked with shepherding them along as the Tigers look to take steps forward in their rebuild under Hinch.