From the visitor’s dugout of Kaufmann Stadium, a familiar face stared across the diamond at the once friendly confines. He had become an all-star on this field as a player. He had taught on this field as a coach. He had centered his life around this fine city, establishing a successful business and raising his children here. Yet, under all the memories, with every cell of Royal blue blood pumping through his veins, there is an unfortunate stain of bitterness that may never be forgotten.
Kevin Seitzer was fired as Royal’s hitting coach on October 4th, 2012. The organization glazed over the exact reasons, citing only that they felt the offense as a whole had underperformed. Recently as his current employer, the Toronto Blue Jays, were hosted at the K, Seitzer made regional waves with his frank commentary on a KC afternoon sports talk show about his disappointment with the Royal’s decision. Hindsight is showing us just how much of a mistake the organization made.
He arrived as hitting coach in 2009 just one week before the start of spring training to find an offense and approach in chaos. The organization was desperately trying to rebuild from the bare cabinet left for them by the Baird regime. There was little hope for the immediate future. The lineup included stop gap veterans like Jose Guillen, Mike Jacobs, and Miguel Olivio, all okay to good ball players, but surely not going to be around in 3 years when the offensive draft picks made by Dayton Moore would arrive. The fruits of the Beltran trade were spoiling, with John Buck and Mark Teahan on their last chances. Alex Gordon spent most of the year on the DL or in the minors. David DeJesus and Billy Butler were the only home grown guys in their primes that were performing.
And so Seitzer rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He tried to instill a method of hitting based around simply hitting the ball right back up the box. His thinking: if you try to hit the ball up the middle, one of three things is going to happen. You are going to succeed, or you are going to be early and pull the ball, or you are going to be late and go the opposite way. Any of these options mean you put the ball in play, which is the only way to produce offense (walks and hit by pitch aside, of course). Focus on this simple approach and let your natural strength and athletic ability find the gaps and put it over the fence once in a while.
2010 brought more stop gap players, the likes of Jason Kendall, Scott Podsednick, Rick Ankiel, and Wilson Betemit. The future was still a couple years off. The directive was simple: tread water and get Butler and Gordon ready for when the real talent arrives. Trey Hillman was given the old “Sayonara!” and development guru Ned Yost was hired as manager.
With trumpets and fanfare, 2011 signaled the arrival of the saviors: Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Hosmer mashed the ball. Moustakas did not. It was okay, they said. He is young. You can’t tell anything about a player until he gets at least 1500 major league at bats. 26 year old Melky Cabrera was brought on in an effort to turn his career around. Seitzer (and some performance enhancing drugs) turned him into a borderline all-star. Butler and Gordon had their best offensive years as professionals to that point.
2012 was the year everything was built towards. We weren’t staring through the foyer down the long hallway at the dusty window anymore. We were at the sill, ready to fling it open and go play with the big boys. Billy Butler had a career year and was voted to the all-star game. Alex Gordon saw his HR total decline almost by 50%, but led all of MLB in doubles with 51. Alcides Escobar put together his best offensive campaign, proving he is more than just a glove. Fellow up and comer Salvador Perez thundered onto the scene from seemingly nowhere and put up stellar numbers in less than half a season’s worth of games. Mike Moustakas also showed marked improvement, clubbing 20 HR and 73 RBIs. Yet, just days after yet another losing season was over, Seitzer was fired for “an overall lack of offensive production.”
But Butler had got better. Escobar got better. Perez got better. Moustakas got better. Jarrod Dyson got better. Chris Getz got better. Gordon at worst was a wash with 9 less HR than the previous year but, again, LED ALL OF MLB IN DOUBLES. I suppose that coupled with 15 less RBIs could be considered regression, but nothing out of the ordinary in the season-to-season ebb and flow of major league baseball players.
So, that just leaves 2 of 9 every day offensive players. Eric Hosmer and Jeff Francouer had great success in 2011 by putting the Seitzer method to work. Both being tall, strong, and athletic, they simply put the ball in play repeatedly, letting their natural physical tools drive the ball to the gaps and over the wall. Some sort of devilry convinced them that was a stupid approach in 2012. Both went back to so drastically trying to pull the ball over the wall and swinging out of their shoes that it wretched our backs at home. The result? A decline big enough in their individual numbers that it caused the team’s to overall decline, therefore bringing the axe down upon Seitzer’s neck. Someone probably should have reminded Dayton Moore that if your first baseman and right fielder (ya know, two historically “offensive” positions) have terrible seasons at the plate, your overall team stats will suffer pretty dramatically.
To remedy this problem in 2013, the Royals used the quartet of Jack Maloof, Andre David, Pedro Grifol, and George Brett to produce the statically worst offensive season (.260 BA, .694 OPS, 112 HR) the Kansas City Royals have had since 1992 (.256 BA, .679 OPS, 75 HR). Maloof and David especially seemed clueless and conflicted in philosophy, so much so that they didn’t even make it to June 1. As 8-year old me would say with a snarl, “Smooth move, ExLax”.
This past weekend, the Royals were outscored 26-8 in a three game bitch slap from the Detroit Tigers. They were outhit 42-16. The Royals are currently on pace for a .251 BA, .665 OPS, and 65 HR this season. That’s right. Unless something dramatically changes, they are on pace to have statistically the worst offensive season in franchise history. Seitzer’s Blue Jays are on pace for .254 BA, .748 OPS, and 205 HR. Admittedly the hitting coach is not the only factor involved here, but the stats are undeniable at this point. The Kansas City Royals made a huge mistake by firing Kevin Seitzer.
But for now, all we can do is cringe every time Hosmer swings over a breaking pitch so hard that he ends up stumbling into the right handed batter’s box. We can sigh loudly when Moose rolls over every pitch on the outer half. We can muse at length about whatever happened to the beautiful natural swings that Perez and Butler used to have. We can wonder where our team would be had they stayed the Kevin Seitzer course.
photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc