Why the Detroit Tigers finally fired general manager Al Avila

Tigers general manager Al Avila watches the team April 7, 2022 at Comerica Park during their last practice before the season opener April 8 against the White Sox.Tigers
Tigers general manager Al Avila watches the team April 7, 2022 at Comerica Park during their last practice before the season opener April 8 against the White Sox.Tigers /

The Detroit Tigers’ decision to finally part ways with general manager Al Avila marks the end with possibly the least effective tenure of any current MLB front office.

Team owner Chris Illitch announced Avila’s removal Wednesday afternoon, terminating Avila’s eight-season tenure at the helm of the Detroit Tigers. It has been a uniformly depressing tenure.

Since Al Avila succeeded Dave Dombrowski as the Detroit Tigers’ chief decision-maker, the team has experienced just one winning season.

His cumulative 478-650 record translates to a .424 percentage, and includes three consecutive seasons when the team averaged 103 losses.

In five of Avila’s eight seasons, he oversaw a team that lost more than 60 percent of its games, finishing last in the AL Central five times.

Avila never succeeded in building a productive base of talent. As measured by Wins Above Average, his various transactions — trades, free agent decisions and rookie call-ups — hurt the Tigers’ standing in seven of his eight seasons, counting the performance of the 2022 team to date. The average impact of those decisions on Tiger fortunes was -5.7 games in the first season and 6.1 games in ensuing seasons.

There are several ways to illustrate how relatively ineffective Avila has been in constructing a winner in Detroit. Here are a couple.

During his tenure, Avila’s farm system has produced 53 players who produced some level of value for the Tigers. As measured by Wins Above Average, only nine of those values were positive, and only one exceeded +2.5 games. That singular exception was pitcher Michael Fulmer (+6.0), a 2016 rookie who was 32-43 for the Tigers before being traded a week ago to Minnesota.

By contrast, 40 of the Avila system’s products generated negative impacts on the Tigers, and 14 of those negative impacts exceeded -1.0 game.

The sum impact on Tiger fortunes of Avila farm system products amounts to -25.4 games.

His dealings with other general managers were similarly unproductive. Avila acquired 32 players who produced value for the Tigers. The sum of that value amounted to -17.6 games as measured by WAA. Only nine of those 32 values were positive, none amounting to as much as +1.0 games. By contrast, 21 of the values were negative, 10 by -1.0 WAA or more.

By contrast, players traded away from Detroit by Avila produced a total of 15.5 games of WAA value for their new teams.

Most modern front offices rely on the free agent market to obtain their most influential players. During his tenure, Avila signed, re-signed or extended 66 players for the Tigers. But only 18 of those signings produced positive value for the Tigers, only one (Justin Upton) in excess of +2.0. By contrast, 44 produced negative values, five of those values in excess of -2.0. The net impact on the Tigers of Avila’s free agent signings amounted to -31.7 WAA.

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The removal of his ineffective general manager was a step Illitch had to make. The challenge for Avila’s successor will be to navigate a more productive path upward in the AL Central.