As satisfying as it can be as a fan to see heads roll when we want them to roll, I have to respect
A more impatient GM would have made those moves in-season, and would have reaped the gains of their replacements more quickly. But by waiting,
From 1998 to 2002, the Royals fired their pitching coach mid-season four times. Do you know how hard it is to find a new pitching coach mid-season? You’ve got to arrange interviews with guys working in other organizations; you have to get permission from their parent teams; you have to convince those guys to uproot themselves and move to
Forget pitching coaches – how about managers? The Royals fired Bob Boone mid-season – the best guy they could find to replace him was Tony Muser. They fired Muser mid-season, interviewed four guys of varying credentials, then somehow decided that Tony Pena was their guy. They fired Pena mid-season, interviewed a bunch of retreads with bad resumes, then locked in with laser-like precision on the guy with the worst of them, Buddy Bell.
Or consider the Blue Jays, who fired Buck Martinez mid-season in 2002 and replaced him with Carlos Tosca; fired Tosca in the middle of the 2006 season and replaced him with John Gibbons; and fired Gibbons this May and replaced him with Cito Gaston. In all three instances, the new manager was hired on an interim basis, and all three times the interim label was removed after the season. Gaston, at least, has a couple world championships on his resume. But neither Tosca nor Gibbons had any prior managerial experience, neither was considered a hot manager prospect when the Blue Jays gave them an ostensibly interim position, and neither did much after getting the full-time position to justify
It was clear before
One of the coaches that Hillman retained last season was Luis Silverio, for reasons that were never entirely clear. I mean, when the most prominent thing on your resume is that you’re Angel Berroa’s father-in-law…anyway, Silverio wasn’t a very good third-base coach, and now he’s been given a newly created position as Special Assistant to Player Development in charge of helping Latin American prospects adjust to professional baseball, a role he would seem far more suited for.
Dave Owen moves from bench coach to the third-base coaches’ box, and John Gibbons will be joining Hillman in the dugout. I don’t have the highest opinion of Gibbons’ tenure as the Blue Jays’ manager – though admittedly my opinion may be unduly influenced by the dumbest intentional walk of all time – but he certainly makes for a better bench coach than Owen, if only because he’s a former manager, and one of the most important roles of the bench coach is to serve as a sort of consigliore to his boss. Hillman made a lot of rookie mistakes last season, mistakes that might have been avoided if he had an experienced hand in the dugout to nudge him the right way.
Then again, I’m not sure how valuable Gibbons’ experience is, given that his tenure as manager is most notable for confrontations with his players. I’ll take May 17th in the pool for the day that he and Jose Guillen have it out. (This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, by the way. Someone willing to stand up to Guillen in the clubhouse was one of the Royals’ bigger needs last season.)
Anyway, it’s hard to know what, if any, impact the auxiliary coaches make. The big news – well, the first piece of big news – is that Barnett is no longer the hitting coach. If there was one dark lining to the silver cloud that was September, it was the worry that the team’s strong finish might predispose
The second piece of big news is that, with plenty of options to choose from, and plenty of time to sort through them,
1) As a fan, I’m excited, because Seitzer was one of my favorite players during my awakening as a Royals fan in the late 80s and early 90s, and I never got over the way the Royals just tossed him aside. After the game on
Pecota, who was and is one of my favorite Royals, played well in Seitzer’s stead. Howard did not play well in Stillwell’s place, but he did play…and play…and play. Howard batted at least 100 times in six of the next seven seasons, and never had an OPS+ over
One of Herk’s aforementioned decisions was to summarily release Seitzer the following spring, just prior to Kevin’s 30th birthday. Seitzer would latch on with the Brewers, and over the next five years he would improve his OBP and SLG almost every season, culminating in a terrific season with the Indians in 1996, when at age 34 he hit .326/.416/.466. He would retire just one year later, and has been running his Mac-N-Seitz Academy with Mike Macfarlane ever since.
Even though Seitzer went to two postseasons with the Indians and had most of his best years with
2) As a critic, I’m worried, because pretty much the worst reason to hire someone as a coach or manager is because you liked them as a player. I remember during my freshman year of college as our RA fairly bounded out of his room with excitement on the news that the Red Sox had just hired Butch Hobson as their new manager. “He was my favorite player growing up!” he told me. That’s all well and good, but the traits that made Hobson the favorite of a lot of eight-year-olds in
Hobson played almost the entire 1978 season with bone chips in his throwing elbow that he would re-adjust after every throw. (Seriously.) He gutted it out enough to play 147 games despite missing the first three weeks of July, and never mind that he committed 43 errors (the most by any player, at any position, in the last 30 years) and became the first player since 1916 to finish with a fielding percentage under .900, or that he hit just .245/.298/.342 after returning from injury on July 19th. At least his poor play didn’t cost the Red Sox a postseason berth or anything. (Yes, manager Don Zimmer deserves far more of the blame for that than Hobson.)
I elected against arguing with my RA that Hobson seemed to have the requisite passion for the job but not the requisite wisdom, in part because my RA had about five years and
This isn’t to say that Seitzer’s tenure as a hitting coach will be equally unsuccessful, or that Seitzer is going to be arrested with a little blow in his pocket in a few years. But the mere fact that Seitzer was a good hitter and a fan favorite doesn’t mean that he’s going to make a great hitting coach. Seitzer is something of a legend around
3) As an analyst, I’m intrigued. No, Seitzer didn’t work out in Arizona, but he also got a bit of a raw deal; half a season isn’t long enough to evaluate anybody in that role. Raul Ibanez, possessor of one of the ten most remarkable mid-career breakouts by a hitter in the last generation, credits Seitzer for his turnaround. That’s a hell of an endorsement right there.
Ibanez is just one data point, of course. What really appeals to me about Seitzer is simply his philosophy as a hitting coach, which is best appreciated by looking at his record as a hitter. The man understands the value of plate discipline, not simply as lip service or a talking point, but in terms of tangible outcomes. Kevin Seitzer is the most patient hitter the Royals have had since 1980.
In 1989 Seitzer drew 102 walks – no Royal has drawn even
There are essentially four ingredients to an offense: hitting for average, extra-base power, steals/baserunning speed, and walks. We can evaluate how important a player’s plate discipline is to his overall approach by weighing his walk rate with his performance in the other three categories. Granted that this is an incredibly simplistic formula, we can estimate a player’s propensity to walk with what I call the “Blankenship Number”, after the legendary Lance Blankenship, a man of whom Gary Huckabay wrote after his 1993 season, “he’s an asset to his team if he hits .200. Oops.”
The Blankenship Number is (Walks)/(Total Bases + Steals). Since 1980, 49 Royals players have batted at least 1000 times. Seitzer’s Blankenship Number leaves everyone else in the dust:
Kevin Seitzer: .325
Matt Stairs: .296
Jeff King: .281
Wally Joyner: .280
Jose Offerman: .274
The difference between Seitzer and 3rd-place Jeff King is greater than the difference between 3rd place and 15th place. (Mark Quinn ranks dead last, in case you were wondering.)
Over the last five years the Royals have talked a good game about plate discipline. Allard Baird talked about it non-stop, and even made a few moves (like hiring Jeff Pentland as hitting coach) to back up the talk. But Baird, for whatever reason, was never able to impart his zeal for plate discipline on the rest of the organization.
But maybe 2008 helped
Among other complaints about Mike Barnett, I never knew what his philosophy as a hitting coach was. There’s no doubt what Seitzer’s philosophy is.
“We don’t have enough time to go through all the things I want to try to emphasize with these guys,” he said. “It really comes down to having a consistent approach. Have a purpose up there rather than just a ‘see-ball-hit-ball’ approach.
“You have to have that purpose up there if you’re going to improve your on-base percentage. And that’s the key to offense. Getting guys on and moving them around and driving them in. That’s what wins ballgames.”
Music to my ears.
It’s easy to over-estimate the impact of hitting coaches, because unlike pitching coaches, precious few of them seem to really have a sustained impact on their charges. It’s not that a good hitting coach can’t make a difference, it’s just that they’re as likely to screw up a hitter as they are to make a breakthrough with him. A laissez-faire coach can be just as effective as a chronic tinkerer. Hitters are politically diverse; some thrive in a libertarian environment, while others require constant government intervention.
When it comes to hitting, Seitzer definitely leans to the left. One of the biggest criticisms that did surface in
As an analyst, having a guy like Seitzer around is going to be fun, because good or bad, he’s going to be interesting. And I’m thinking he won’t just be an interesting hitting coach, he just might be a damn good one as well.