The Detroit Tigers have quietly hired baserunning consultant Jeff Cox to assist the Tigers on running the bases, attempting to give them an edge on their opponents.
As Jim Leyland explained to Jason Beck of MLB.com, this move will help the faster players on the team:
He's going to work with Jackson and some of the guys that have the potential to steal bases, [Andy] Dirks, guys like that. Really, Jackson's the primary guy, obviously. We want him to get a little better at that. That's always been one of [Cox's] strong suits.
Beck then mentions that "It doesn't forbode any change on the Tigers' coaching staff, but it seemingly signifies an emphasis on baserunning for this club going forward. Leyland has mentioned several times over the years that he'd like his club to improve on the basepaths, get smarter and more aggressive if not actually faster."
While Cox will mostly be working with the team during spring training and a handful of games throughout the season, I am completely on board with the approach the Tigers are taking here.
The Tigers' middle of the lineup isn't the quickest, but it will be important for the quicker players at the top of the lineup and at the bottom of the lineup to put pressure on the opposing pitchers. If the players learn how to take an extra lead-off step on the basepaths, it could lead to more runs, which could be the difference between a win or a loss.
The Tigers were ranked as the worst team in steal attempts last year, so Cox has a lot of work to do. But he will give players a boost of confidence in their baserunning knowledge.
While major league teams have coaches that teach baserunning along with their other duties (first-base coach or third-base coach), I wonder, as the game is constantly changing, if teams will start having a dedicated member of their coaching staff who only focuses on baserunning.
Teams could have the first-base coach and third-base coach work strictly with the players on defense while the baserunning coach could help to analyze the opposing pitchers' pickoff throws on video and go over the players' running techniques.
Regardless of whether this is what baseball will become, the Tigers are taking a huge step in the right direction. This type of move won't be obvious to an untrained eye, but it will pay dividends throughout the season.
The Tigers' front office is giving the players every tool to succeed. So if Cox is successful, maybe next offseason, we'll be discussing Cox's role as a full-time coach preparing for the 2014 season.