Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Missing Ingredient.

For most of this season – even when the Royals were at their worst, a designation they appear intent on challenging yet again – I have tried to refrain from blaming Ned Yost too much for their problems. It’s not that I think that Yost is a great manager, or even a good one. But at least this season, I don’t think he’s been a bad one, and more importantly, I think that the problems that have bedeviled this team all season – i.e. offense – have been more the result of roster construction than of roster deployment. And I think that placing the spotlight on Yost just allows Dayton Moore to scurry away and hide in the darkness.

So I haven’t written too much about Yost. I think he’s cost the Royals some runs by letting guys like Chris Getz and Alcides Escobar bat waaaay too often at the top of the lineup. But where I think he has cost the Royals the most is if, as rumored, he is the reason why Kevin Seitzer was let go. This season is a bright, shining exhibit of how the disappointing offense of 2012 wasn’t Seitzer’s fault:

- Jeff Francoeur was a worse hitter for the Royals this year (.208/.249/.322) than last year (.235/.287/.378), and even worse after joining the Giants (.194/.206/.226). Seitzer only worked with him for two seasons, and in one of those Francoeur hit .285/.329/.476. It looked like an impressive achievement at the time; it looks like a freaking miracle today.

- Alcides Escobar hit .235/.288/.326 with the Brewers in 2010, then hit .254/.290/.343 and .293/.331/.390 in his two years with Seitzer. That first season breaks down as .203/.237/.236 through June 3rd, then .286/.323/.411 the rest of the way. Selective endpoints and all that, but if you give Seitzer two months to work with his new hitter, he basically turned Escobar from a .230 hitter to a .290 hitter with some pop.

This year, Escobar hit .295/.333/.429 through May 5th – and he’s hit .218/.241/.266 since. He’s at .236/.262/.303 overall, even worse than his one full season in Milwaukee. If you assume that there’s a lag of a month or two between the time a hitting coach works with a player and the time the results manifest themselves, Seitzer is basically the difference between Escobar being an above-average shortstop offensively and one of the worst everyday hitters in the game.

- Salvador Perez hit .331/.361/.473 and .301/.328/.471 in two seasons with Seitzer as his hitting coach. This year, he hit .318/.340/.439 through June 15th – and .213/.260/.290 since. He’s hitting .268/.301/.367. Again, a guy who hit beyond expectations under Seitzer, and doesn’t resemble the same batter at the plate this year.

- Mike Moustakas hit .263/.309/.367 and .242/.296/.412 under Seitzer – not great, but not terrible, and he was trending upwards, particularly when you consider how bad he was when he first came up (he hit .182/.237/.227 in the first 53 games of his career, then hit .379/.412/.564 in 36 games the rest of the way). This year, he’s hit .235/.292/.366. This, despite being at an age where you would expect him to improve over time.

- Alex Gordon struggled for two years after Seitzer was first hired in 2009, partly because he was injured and partly because he was in Triple-A. After the 2010 he reconfigured his swing. He hit .303/.376/.502 in 2011, and .294/.368/.455 in 2012. This year, he hit .340/.379/.502 through May 29th. Since then, he’s hit .214/.299/.346; he’s at .268/.332/.413 overall. Two years ago, he hit 45 doubles, and last year he led the league with 51 doubles. This year, with a month left to go in the season, Gordon has only 22 doubles.

- In four years under Seitzer, Billy Butler hit between .291 and .318 every year, and slugged between .461 and .510 every year. This year, he’s batting .289 and slugging .423, although he’s walking more than before, so his .383 OBP is his highest since 2010. From 2009 to 2011 he averaged 47 doubles a year; he hit only 32 in 2012, but also hit a career-high 29 homers. This year, he has just 12 homers and 24 doubles. He had at least 60 extra-base hits every year under Seitzer; with a month to go, he has just 36 this year.

- Even Eric Hosmer, who was probably the reason Seitzer got fired last year after he hit just .232/.304/.359 last year, didn’t do a damn thing under the new hitting coaches until Jack Maloof and Andre David got fired. He’s been terrific ever since, but his overall line this year of .299/.347/.453 is essentially indistinguishable from his performance as a rookie in 2011 of .293/.334/.465. (His OPS+ is 118 each year.) He was 21 then; he’s 23 now, and the same hitter overall, although we’re certainly hopeful that the hitter he is now is the hitter he’s been for the last two months.

Add it all up, and a team that finished 6th in the AL in runs scored two years ago WITH THE YOUNGEST OFFENSE IN BASEBALL is 13th in the AL this year. It’s not just that almost every hitter has hit worse – it’s that they’ve hit worse even though they’re at an age where they should be improving, in some case dramatically. Even today, Hosmer and Perez are 23 years old, Moustakas is 24, Escobar is 26. Gordon and Butler, the old men in the lineup, are 29 and 27. Not one of them – NOT ONE OF THEM – is having a better year at the plate than they had two years ago. Only one of them is having a better year at the plate than they had LAST YEAR, which is the year that got Seitzer fired.

Heck, throw Lorenzo Cain in there if you want. He only played 67 games under Seitzer, and 96 this year, but with Seitzer as hitting coach he batted .266/.315/.410, and this year he’s at .261/.324/.362.

Oh, and Chris Getz hit .255/.313/.287 in 2010, and .275/.312/.360 last year – yes, Chris Getz was almost respectable last season. This year, he’s hitting .224/.290/.281.

This is astounding. You can lay the blame at whichever hitting coaches you want this year; Moustakas and Hosmer have turned things around since George Brett and Pedro Grifol took over in late May, but that’s roughly the same time that Perez, Escobar, and Gordon all went into the tank. Both sets of hitting coaches have plenty of questions to be asked of them. Grifol earned lots of plaudits (and the full-time job) because of the turnarounds from Hosmer and Moustakas, but the Royals aren’t scoring any more runs now than they were three months ago, because in fixing two problem spots in the lineup, three more have sprouted up.

The drop in doubles is particularly astonishing. Two years ago the Royals finished second in the league with 325 doubles. Last year they dropped all the way to third, with 295 doubles. This year they are 12th, on pace for just 258, with almost exactly the same personnel. This is what people who were critical of Seitzer harped on – that he focused on hitting the ball up the middle, and gap power, which was good for two-base hits but not so much for the four-base hits that you really want.

Seitzer is gone, and so are the two-base hits. Yost evidently wanted the Royals to hit more home runs – remember the comments he made to the media at the end of last season, when Seitzer was let go. And it’s true, under Seitzer they didn’t hit a ton of homers. They were 11th in the AL in 2011, and 13th in the AL last year. Of course, they’re always at the bottom of the league in homers, largely because Kauffman Stadium (except during that 1995-2003 era when the fences were moved in) is a tough park to hit homers in.

Well, the Royals sacrificed doubles to hit more homers…and this year, they’re the first team in AL history to be 15th in home runs. (Okay, so it’s the first year there’s been 15 AL teams.) They don’t hit doubles or homers, so despite being 7th in the league in batting average, they’re dead-last in slugging average. Under Seitzer, maybe they didn’t hit the ball over the fence, but they still had a little of what Trey Hillman called slug: 5th in the AL in slugging average in 2011, 10th in 2012.

Back in May, Russell Carleton published a study at Baseball Prospectus that evaluated hitting coaches based on whether the hitters under their tutelage improved or declined. By his methodology – and it’s only one way of looking at things – Kevin Seitzer was worth about 58 runs over an average hitting coach over the course of a season. Among every hitting coach of the last 20 years who had held the job for more than two seasons, the only hitting coach worth more was Clint Hurdle – who coached for the Rockies from 1997 to 2001, before the humidor, when Coors Field was maybe the best hitters' park in world history. Carleton admits that the extreme conditions may have affected the numbers in a way he could not control for, and made Hurdle look better than he was.

So basically, Carleton came to the conclusion that Seitzer was, if not the best hitting coach of the last 20 years, certainly close. And that was before this season, when practically every hitter he coached last season has declined to varying degrees. I imagine the same study performed today would rank Seitzer even higher.

You want to know what’s wrong with the offense? The answer is astoundingly simple: Kevin Seitzer isn’t here anymore.

I’m just going to stop here. When I sat down to write this article an hour ago, I had a completely different article in mind. I planned to write about Yost’s tactical screwups, which seem to be coming more frequently as the team wilts in the August heat, culminating in last night’s terrible 9th inning, when Jarrod Dyson pinch-ran for Billy Butler even though Butler wasn’t the tying run, and Escobar was allowed to bat against a right-handed reliever with a big platoon split while George Kottaras sat on the bench. I was repeatedly warned by Joe Sheehan that in a pennant race, Yost’s tactical blunders would come back to haunt the Royals, and he was certainly proven right last night.

But what was supposed to be a brief detour into Yost’s influence on the decision to fire Kevin Seitzer turned into the destination, because the evidence is pretty overwhelming: firing Seitzer was the worst decision the Royals made all off-season – at least when it came to the 2013 season. (Insert necessary reference to The Trade here.) Keeping Seitzer around may well have been the difference between a team struggling to stay over .500, and a team that right now could be at the head of the wild-card race. If you think that’s an exaggeration, ask yourself how good the Royals would be if they had the 6th-most runs scored in the league to go with the AL’s second-best ERA. And then remind yourself that two years ago, with virtually the same lineup, the Royals were 6th in the league in runs scored. And once Perez was called up in 2011, no one in the entire lineup was more than 27 years old

It is almost literally unbelievable that a lineup that was above-average two years ago, with a pair of 21-year-olds (Hosmer and Perez), a 22-year-old (Moustakas), a 23-year-old (Johnny Giavotella), a 24-year-old (Escobar), a 25-year-old veteran (Billy Butler), and a 27-year-old (Alex Gordon), all of whom are still in the organization today, would be one of the worst offenses in the league this year.

I was planning to make the case that it might be time to let Ned Yost go because of his tactical deficiencies. But I’m not going to make that case. Because there’s a much simpler case to be made here: Ned Yost should be fired because he couldn’t get along with Kevin Seitzer, and because he couldn’t appreciate the fine work that Seitzer was doing.

It’s time to let Yost go.

And with all due respect to Pedro Grifol, who I’m sure can be an asset to the organization in another capacity, it’s not too late to bring Seitzer back. But they better hurry before it is.


Anonymous said...

I have been of that mind all along, but didn't know there was a way to measure a hitting coach's impact. Wow. Just ... Wow. I knew Seitzer was good with the outlier being Hosmer last season. Still, I put that on Hos, moreso than Seitzer, given the fact the team mostly heald steady otherwise.

But ... Yeah. I thought it was a bad decision at the time, but didn't realize just how bad. My lament all season has been if the Royals simply duplicated 2011 or 2012 at the plate, they would be in the heart of the race.

Seeing this? All by its lonesome, it is a firing offense. Good stuff, Rany!

Anonymous said...

If I understand this correctly, the hypothesis is that these professional baseball players retained their ability to hit throughout the off-season, spring training, and the first two months of the season.

At that point, they felt the absence of their hitting coach, and lost everything he had taught them. An entire lineup suddenly forgot how to hit, all at the same time.

And the effect was so great as to defeat the normal human growth curve of the professional athlete.

That sounds like someone going in search of evidence for a predetermined theory.

Knowledge is cumulative. Players have slumps, but they are not going to forget everything they ever learned about hitting over the years.

Please consider that George Brett and the entire Royals' offense did not collapse after Charley Lau left the team in '79,

In fact, I believe that Brett guy managed to have a pretty decent season in '80, to the tune of .390, despite the absence of his mentor.

As much as I love Rany's passion, and like and respect Seitzer as a hitting coach, there needs to be a more convincing explanation for this year's poor hitting by the Royals.

I dunno, but could it be something as simple as regression to the mean?

Unknown said...

Dodger300, I would say that no, you don't understand this correctly. If Yost fired Seitzer, and told everyone (team and media included) that the reason was because they needed to hit more home runs, then brought in new coaches to teach the team how to hit more home runs... don't you think that the players would follow their manager's direction, abandoning their previous coach's teaching and embracing the new? Especially with a team this young, I don't see how you can expect them to acknowledge the superior swing that Seitzer taught them and fall back on that, rather than doing what the new coaches are telling them to do.

John said...

Sometimes what looks complex is actually simple. This is one of those times. Thank you for the clarity, Rany.

And speaking of clarity: Could anything be more manifest than the blinding truth that Wade Davis should not start another game? Seriously--when he pitches we have to score 6 runs to have an even chance of winning.

Unknown said...

In an interview on 810 WHB, Seitzer said that butler was seeking him out on a daily basis -- and sometimes after each at bat -- to discuss approach and how opposing pitchers were likely to pitch at him.

So no: it is not about teaching a player a swing and then he is done. Hitting/pitching is about adapting and counter-adapting.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Rany - Bra-frickin'-vo!

autumnwind said...

Nine Royals hits tonight (Aug. 24).
Nine singles.
Eight men left on base.
You said it all, Rany.

Kansas City said...

I think the general problem with Yost is that he is not very bright.

He concluded the guys should it more home runs, without any intelligent basis for that belief. He puts Escobar and Getz at the top of the line up because he thinks those are the type of fast, single hitters who should bat there. He allows Getz, Bonifacio and Escobar bat with the game on the line - not sure he has ever been asked to explain that. He thought Francouer was a good fielder. He kept Chen in last night to pitch to Harper because he wanted to save his bullpen, but he said it was going to be his last batter regardless and, with hinndsight after seeing it turn into 5 two out runs, he would not do anything differnt.

You have to have a very good team for a dumb manager not to hurt significantly. The Royals of course are not that good.

On the plus side, there never seems to be any clubhouse discontent with Yost. That might be because the guys are young and he plays them all the time - what is there to gripe about. But I suppose he deserves some credit.

Jeff said...

As soon as I heard that Seitzer was fired and Ned said they were going to be like the Rangers this year, I knew we were screwed. I'm always left with a feeling that Ned's basically just good at pretending that he knows what's going on. His smugness covers up his liabiliti
Seitzer for Manager!!! Unless George wants to do it... In which case, Seitzer for hitting coach under George.

Anonymous said...

Dodger300 actually makes a valid point, but I would say it does not apply to this Royals team. The coaches KC sought out to replace Seitzer were a 180-degree philosophical change. I can see how that would eventually show up in the results

Unknown said...

A couple of things.

1) Is there a precedent for bringing back a hitting coach? If so did it work?
2) Doesn't the blame still go to DM for siding with Ned over Seitzer?

Since the end of the first game of the White Sox series, I have officially started rooting for my favorite baseball team to lose. It's not about the draft order, but I think it will take 90 losses to get DM relieved of his duties.

Lance said...

I gave up the night of the doubleheader sweep in Detroit when I heard that Duffy was being sent down until September. Seriously?Professional sports GM's and managers/coaches shouldn't worry about hurting someone's feelings. It isn't Little League! I'm sure Jeff Francouer is a great guy. Chris Getz no doubt is a kind and caring human being. And Wade Davis is probably a super teammate. BFD! This team will never win anything with Ned Yost managing and playing his 'pet players'. Duffy to Omaha until September....ridiculous.

Kansas City said...

Want more proof that Yost is dumb?

Sunday paper on why he put Bonifacio in 2 spot:

"He's a switch hitter. He can do some things. He can run. When Toronto went on a good run this year, they had a pretty good run, and Bonifacio was htting second then, too."

Grathoff (star writer apparently a little braver than Dutton) in the next paragraph provided some facts showing Yost to be the fool. Bonifacio started 14 of the relevant 17 game stretch and hit 176 during the time.

Yost is way too far behind the times and not smart enough to catch up. He could have said basically the same things about Johnson and, without the switch hitter, Escobar and Getz.

And an additional problem may be that Moore is not significantly smarter than Yost.

Kansas City said...

It was 196, not 176. Sorry.

BobDD said...

But Seitzer doesn't always do things the 'Royal' way . . . bring back Francoeur instead.

/sarc off

PW84 said...

Good article as usual Rany. Helps me to appreciate the value of a hitting coach.

Steve N said...

Speaking of staffing changes, How does the training staff seem to be doing? Its been a few years since the old regime was let go. The Royals had one great physical year. No idea how they compare now.

Ford said...

I was at the game Friday night. It was obvious Chen needed to come out. He loaded the bases a couple of times. Not once was there movement in the pen. Instead we waited until a six run lead was all but gone then pulled him. It felt like Yost had given up on the season. That there was no concern about winning the game. Or maybe he already has an extension and isnt feeling the heat.
Also if you want to win you cant have three automatic outs in a row. We had Escobar, Caroll,and Getz. The last two never even hit it out of infield. Thats a guaranteed rally killer. Ninth inning case in point.
My issue with Dayton is his loyalty to a fault. Frenchy, Getz, Tony Pena and Hochever are examples of this flaw. The return vs. Investment on these guys is pathetic. Dayton cut bait and move on! My other issue is take more low level chances. Once in a while they pan out, i.e. Crush Davis, Jose Bautista and Brandon Moss to name a few have worked out nice. You wont always draft your best players. We need luck and a few suprises to help us get to goal.
In closing Rany I have a humble request. I would really enjoy an article comparing all major league stadiums in offense. Mostly focusing on the difficult parks to go yard. I know the "K" is difficult but others are also. I would be interested to see cold hard numbers. You know home team vs. Visitors etc. And do other teams management bitch and moan about the size of stadium or just ours?

Unknown said...

Firing Seitzer was one of those defining moments. Everyone had to be concerned that the offense would collapse this year. Seitzer is one of the most proven hitting coaches in the game, he has an impressive track record overall; and pretty astounding even just in the Royals clubhouse. He turned Gordon into an All-star; and Butler into a legitimate power threat. Both of those guys publically gave Seitzer at least some of the credit.

The thing is, I don't dislike Yost. I think he does a good job keeping the team positive and upbeat; and I think that is the most important thing a manager can do. I believe he creates a really great environment for the team; and I get the feeling he works hard at his job.

Unfortunately, he's a somewhat awful tactician. He doesn't put his players in the best position to succeed. And while he understands the finer details of the game; he really just doesn't understand the game as a whole.

Dayton Moore should probably have let Yost when Yost wanted to replace Seitzer. I don't think ownership would have been upset with Moore, for the same reason Moore was willing to let Yost remove Seitzer. They are honest, hard-working guys that you really want to see be successful. On the outside to us, we just see the mistakes; and it's easy to criticize someone when you don't know them.

Again, as an outside critic who has never met either of these guys; I get the distinct impression that they are both stubborn and proud. They seem closed off to any outside ideas about how the game of baseball should be played and what it takes to be successful on the field. I'm not sure what other conclusion can be drawn regarding a team that routinely leads off with some of their worst players and seeks out players with high contact rates and subsequently low walk rates. Two of the most basic strategic changes to occur in the game of baseball in the last decade.

I would like to see a Royal's manager who doesn't employ the gambler's fallacy when he's filling out a lineup card.

Although when Brayan Pena ends up starting in the World Series for the Detroit Tigers; I'm going to have this really strange feeling of joy. Knowing yet another Royals cast off was good enough to be part of a championship team.

Watching the Royals is like watching "the little engine that could" crash because he decided he needed to try going up the mountain sideways instead of forwards.

Connor N said...

The difference between Davy Johnson and Ned Yost was on full display Friday night. Yost left his starter in because he thinks they can all go at least 6. When Gio got in to a jam, Johnson had seen enough and immediately removed him for Roark. Roark subsequently threw 3+ innings of shut out ball. Ned waited 2 batters to long to get his starter when everyone in the stadium saw what was happening. It cost the team 5 runs that could potentially have been saved.

Loserville said...

One of the hardest part in any organization, be it sports or any other business, is finding the right people and putting them in the right positions. NOT KEEPING THEM THERE ONCE YOU FIND THEM! Yes Yost should be let go but Dayton Moore is even more culpable as the GM to allow a subordinate to "run off" someone like Seitzer. Just another log in the wood pile of follies by Moore & Co. Unfortunately for us as fans, ownership has shown zero ability to build, and then maintain, a winning, competitive franchise. As the old saying goes, "tomorrow never comes".

kcghost said...

I don't know if dumping Yost would be productive or not. The overall lack of talent is the real killer.

Unknown said...

Kcghost, we had the youngest offense in baseball, finished sixth in runs scored, and then got worse in two years. I think the talent is there (with obvious exceptions at second and right). Still, I partially agree with you. Yost only kind of hurt the team. No lead off man, poor plate discipline, poor roster construction, Wade Davies, no Seitzer and other things have hurt this season just as much.

But after, Dayton Moore, Allard Baird, Ned Yost, Trey Hillman, the manager that was "obsessed with losing", Tony Pena, Muser, endless batting and pitching coaches, various good offensive players, a couple of good pitchers, two solid closers, and years and years of losing, it is probably foolish to believe anything will change until this team is sold.

I beg you, David Glass, please sell this team.

twm said...

I would love for the city to buy the Royals. Not certain how the financing would work, not certain how the oversight/hierarchy would work, and I am certain that MLB would never allow it, but I think that little else would change baseball as much as municipal ownership of teams.

twm said...

15 wins against the Twins this season! Franchise records like this amaze me.

David W. Lowe said...

Man, I hope Dayton Moore and Ned Yost read this blog. I doubt it, though.

Unknown said...

The results of the BP hitting coach study should be viewed with tremendous skepticism. 58 runs in a season is a huge number. It would make a great hitting coach as valuable as
a 6 WAR player. If true, this might make hitting coach the most underpaid vocation in the world. Currently, players seem to be worth about 5 million a win on the free agent market. This means Seitzer would be worth 30 million per year ( more, considering that unlike all star players, he has very little injury risk). Absurd.

Usually, I think Rany is quite good. But here, I think he has lost his mind. It is reasonable to assert that Yost should have been let go, not Seitzer. Yost is, indeed, a poor manager. But to take the systemic drop off in hitting and weave it into a dubious causation argument involving Seitzer is just bad science. Any amateur statistician knows how difficult it is to prove such an assertion with such a small, noisy sample. I think Rany is guilty of the exact type of sloppy thinking that he has been so quick to criticize in the Royals front office.

Unknown said...

The results of the BP hitting coach study should be viewed with tremendous skepticism. 58 runs in a season is a huge number. It would make a great hitting coach as valuable as
a 6 WAR player. If true, this might make hitting coach the most underpaid vocation in the world. Currently, players seem to be worth about 5 million a win on the free agent market. This means Seitzer would be worth 30 million per year ( more, considering that unlike all star players, he has very little injury risk). Absurd.

Usually, I think Rany is quite good. But here, I think he has lost his mind. It is reasonable to assert that Yost should have been let go, not Seitzer. Yost is, indeed, a poor manager. But to take the systemic drop off in hitting and weave it into a dubious causation argument involving Seitzer is just bad science. Any amateur statistician knows how difficult it is to prove such an assertion with such a small, noisy sample. I think Rany is guilty of the exact type of sloppy thinking that he has been so quick to criticize in the Royals front office.

Ford said...

Why are we not looking at Danny Espinosa fromNationals? I know he is a train wreck right now. However, we could get him on the cheap. He also has huge upside. He could be sent to Omaha and winter ball. Then throw him into mix in 14. There are very few 2nd base options in baseball that are good. Position as a whole is lacking badly.
Best internal option seems like Mondesi and Escobar someday. Just cant stomach Getz much longer.