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The Detroit Economic Club hosted the Detroit Tigers at the Motor City Casino Hotel on Tuesday for their annual luncheon, and first-year president of baseball operations Scott Harris showed face at the event.

Harris, hired in September 2022, spoke to roughly 400 members for about 15 minutes alongside third-year manager A.J. Hinch. Bally Sports Detroit broadcasters Matt Shepard and Craig Monroe moderated the panel.

The Detroit Economic Club encourages speakers to hold a news media briefing with reporters after each speech, but Harris did not meet with reporters. He left the hotel meeting room after talking to members about the “progress” of the Tigers through 64 games.

“We are focused on what is right in front of us, and we’re going to try to make incremental progress wherever we can,” Harris said Tuesday. “When I think about the incremental progress that I want to make, it’s already happening. It’s already happening under the hood. I know we’re in a rough patch right now, but let’s not forget about the progress that we’ve already seen in a couple of months here.”

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Harris provided several examples of “progress” this season in comparison to last season under former general manager Al Avila. The Tigers (27-37) have a 1-9 record in June and entered Tuesday in fourth place of the American League Central Division, five games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins.

None of the five teams in the AL Central has a winning record.

First, Harris pointed to the Tigers’ 16-11 record in May, the fifth-best record in the AL and the seventh-best record in MLB during that month. It marked the Tigers’ first winning month since September 2021, and the .593 winning percentage marked the best performance for the franchise in a single month of at least 10 games since July 2016.

“That’s progress,” Harris said. “We started to take control of the strike zone in this organization.”

Second, Harris shared two data points that stand out to him: Tigers pitchers improved from an 8.5% walk rate in 2022 (20th in MLB) to a 7.6% walk rate in 2023 (fourth in MLB); Tigers batters improved from a 6.5% walk rate in 2022 (29th in MLB) to a 9.1% walk rate in 2023 (eighth in MLB).

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Harris, though, didn’t share the ugly data.

The Tigers — averaging an MLB-worst 3.58 runs per game — are hitting .207 with runners in scoring position, ranking 29th in MLB. The offense ranks 29th with an 83 wRC+ and 27th with a .680 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. It’s been a season-long problem: The Tigers struggle to produce timely hits and home runs.

“Part of how we’re going to hit for more power, part of how we’re going to score more runs is taking our walks, like I talked about, and then also being self-aware enough and being disciplined enough to swing at the pitches that we can really do damage on. … Our at-bat quality is continuing to improve every night. Our discipline at the plate is continuing to improve every night.”

Also, the Tigers have struggled on offense while their best player, 22-year-old center fielder Riley Greene, spends time on the injured list. He hasn’t played since May 30 due to a stress reaction in his left fibula and isn’t expected to return until July.

Shortstop Javier Báez is hitting .224 with four homers in 61 games; first baseman Spencer Torkelson, despite elite underlying metrics foreshadowing a breakthrough soon, is hitting .232 with six homers in 63 games; and infielder Nick Maton, acquired in an offseason trade from the Philadelphia Phillies, is hitting .162 with six homers in 60 games. Top hitting prospects Colt Keith, Justyn-Henry Malloy, Parker Meadows, Andre Lipcius and Wenceel Pérez remain in the upper levels of the minor leagues.

But the Tigers are drawing walks as batters and limiting walks as pitchers.

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“That’s progress,” Harris said. “We can’t ignore that. What counts is winning games, of course, but those are the seeds of progress that lead to winning games. … In my job, I have to look under the hood. I have to look at the processes behind what we’re doing and the outcomes. Those are some real signs of progress that are ultimately going to lead to a brighter future here in Detroit.”

Third, Harris emphasized the Tigers’ defense.

The Tigers are currently tied for second in MLB, alongside the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners, with plus-11 outs above average. (The San Diego Padres sit at the top of the leaderboard with 21 OAA.)

The infield is worth plus-7 OAA (tied for sixth), and the outfield is worth plus-4 OAA (tied for fifth). There are four above-average positions for the Tigers — second base, shortstop, left field and center field — compared to the other 29 teams in the big leagues.

Catcher Jake Rogers ranks in the 88th percentile for pitch framing.

“There was some criticism about our defense early in the season,” Harris said. “What you’re seeing every night is we have some pretty dynamic defenders on the dirt and in the grass, and we have one of the best defensive catchers in all of baseball right now. That’s progress.”

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The first of three questions Harris received on the panel at the Detroit Economic Club luncheon came from Shepard, the play-by-play broadcaster for the Tigers on Bally Sports Detroit.

Shepard wanted to know about how Harris’ previous experience in lower-ranking front office positions — helping the Chicago Cubs win the 2016 World Series and helping the San Francisco Giants win a franchise-record 107 games in 2021 — shaped his long-term vision for the Tigers.

That’s when Harris pointed to the aforementioned examples of progress.

“Those two organizations were in different spots than this organization is,” Harris said. “But the mentality is the exact same. … That’s the track we’re on. There are going to be growing pains. There always are going to be growing pains, but these are the seeds of progress that we need to pay attention to.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Scott Harris: Detroit Tigers have made ‘progress’ in up-and-down year



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