Power vs. contact: what a hitter does to improve one can hurt the other. Hit a ball out in front and it improves the chances of hitting a home run. Ball parks are shorter in the corners, so pulling a pitch allows a hitter to take a shot at leaving the yard. But to hit a ball out in front, also means starting the swing earlier and that means a hitter can be fooled much more easily. Increasing your power can reduce your average. Reducing your average can increase your power.
And there you have the difference in hitting philosophies at the center of Kevin Seitzer’s firing.
Seitzer teaches hitting the ball back up the middle. That’s the big part of the park and it’s easier for a hitter to get a ball to drop because the centerfielder has more ground to cover. That’s a high-average approach and Seitzer’s hitting philosophy has kept the Royals team batting average near the top of the American League in hitting. Letting the ball travel deeper also makes the Royals hitters harder to fool and they proved that by having fewer strikeouts than any team in baseball.
But hitting the ball back up the middle means it’s harder to hit the ball out of the park. A routine fly ball caught near the warning track in centerfield would be halfway up general admission in left.
So here’s Ned Yost’s argument: the Royals were near the top in batting average, but near the bottom in runs scored. Ned believes a high-average, opposite field approach often means having to string three singles together to score a run. (And if Billy Butler is the lead runner, it might be four singles.) Ned would like to have more opportunities to score quickly: a walk, a bloop and a blast and—boom—three runs are on the board.
A power-hitting approach might also increase walks: smart pitchers go right after singles hitters unless there’s a runner in scoring position. Why not? Kauffman Stadium is huge and if a guy is only going to hit a three-hopper for one bag, be aggressive in the strike zone. A pitcher is still two singles away from damage.
A power-hitting approach might also decrease walks: if hitters are swinging sooner, their pitch selection will get worse. The hitters will be pulling the trigger before they know where the pitch is going.
But can’t we all get along? Isn’t there a middle ground? Sure; many hitting coaches (and that includes Seitzer) teach a hitter to take a high-average approach in certain counts and look to pull the ball in others. (Usually 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 and 3-1 counts.) I don’t think Ned wants his hitters to pull the ball all the time either, so it’s a matter of degree. When do you look to pull and when you do try hit the ball out in front, do you have the right hitting mechanics to make it work? But combining hitting philosophies is kind of like wanting a hot wife who can cook: nice if you can get it, but often hard to pull off.
Part of Seitzer’s argument is that the Royals hitters are very young and would eventually learn to do that: go for broke at the right time. But Kevin has run out of time. If that happens, it will happen on someone else’s watch.
Where do they go from here?
Don’t be surprised if the Royals team batting average goes down and their strikeouts go up. If run production increases, then Ned Yost got what he wanted and it may be worth the tradeoff. But letting Seitzer go means Ned has more responsibility for what happens next.
Since Yost took over, Bob McClure, John Gibbons, Doug Sisson and Kevin Seitzer have been let go. Ned now has the pitching coach, bench coach, first base coach and, eventually, hitting coach that he wants (although you never know everything that goes into a coach’s selection). Dayton Moore made it clear that he had high regard for Seitzer’s abilities, but, at the end of the day, it was Ned Yost’s opinion that mattered.
One more point
Kevin Seitzer’s critics can alo point to the sub-par years suffered by Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur. Seitzer’s defenders can point to the very good years put up by Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez.
As long as I’m writing when I thought I’d be drinking margaritas…
Here are some other points of interest from the Royals post-season press conference:
The Royals still believe in Luke Hochevar. They still believe he can turn the corner and want to be the team that benefits when he does. (I believe that if you only look at Luke’s totals, you’re missing the point: if he pitched like a guy with a 5.39 ERA every time he went out, there wouldn’t be a controversy. Hochevar is excellent to decent more often than he’s bad, but when he’s bad he’s so bad, he blows his totals through the roof.)
Dayton Moore believes that there are few questions left when it comes to position players, but the Royals still need to stay healthy in centerfield, figure out who’s playing second base and give Wil Myers a chance to put himself on the field.
Moore generally believes free agency is a flawed way to build a team, but that doesn’t preclude the Royals making the right deal with the right guy.
Don’t be surprised if a trade is necessary to acquire the starting pitching the Royals need.
The Royals defense in 2012 ranged from spectacular to solid and pitchers have no excuse for not throwing strikes.
The Royals bullpen (assuming I wrote this down correctly) set an American League record for strikeouts.
Moore also believes that running a team is by trial and error. It’s not easy and there are few sure answers. (Pretty much the same thing Angels GM Jerry Dipoto said when he was here.)
OK, that’s it
I didn’t think I’d be writing anything the day after the season ended, but Kevin Seitzer’s firing changed a few things. (More for him than me, I’m sure.) I’m heading to Columbia to watch some playoff games with my son and, in the meantime, please feel free to use the site to express your thoughts.