Baseball has many time-honored traditions and none is more hallowed than throwing someone under the bus to buy everybody else some breathing room. Last May Ned Yost was in trouble; his team was spiraling out of control and there was open speculation about the Royals manager being fired.
Then George Brett was brought in as hitting coach and the media focused on that. We don’t seem to be able to think about two things at once, so while we engaged in our obligatory George Brett speculation-fest, the spotlight shifted from Yost to the Hall of Famer throwing batting practice.
Intentional or not, hiring Brett bought the team time and the Royals righted the ship.
But the ship is springing leaks once again. Kansas City just got swept by the worst team in the American League—the Houston Astros—and somehow managed to look bad doing it.
So is replacing hitting coach Pedro Grifol just a distraction?
There seems to be real problems with the Kansas City offense and whether those problems are Grifol’s fault may not matter—something had to be done before the Royals take on more water than the bilge pumps can handle. Sometimes you just need a different voice, even if it’s saying the same things.
Now it’s Dale Sveum’s turn to try.
A clear philosophy would help
Kauffman Stadium is a tough place to hit home runs; the foul poles are 330 feet away and the fence drops off from there. I’ve heard estimates that the bullpen gates are over 370 feet away. There’s a reason Steve Balboni’s 36 home runs has been the team record since the Truman Administration.
But the same thing that makes the K a tough home run park—the fences are further away than peace between Democrats and Republicans—should make it a good doubles park. There’s plenty of room in the gaps, yet this season only five American League teams have fewer doubles.
Kauffman Stadium has always been a park that rewards line drives and hard grounders; fly balls, not so much. But here’s what Ned Yost said back when hitting coach Kevin Seitzer was fired:
"Kevin was a tremendous hitter when he was in the big leagues," Yost said the day Seitzer’s firing was announced. "His philosophy was, basically, to stay to the middle of the field and to the off side. I think we’ve got a group of young power hitters who are capable of hitting homers."
"Our offense was built more around singles and doubles, but it’s difficult to get three or four singles in a row to score a run. We have to have the ability to open it up a little more, use the power that we have to take advantage of a quick strike."
"A walk, a base hit and boom — there’s three runs. I think that’s the major difference in philosophy."
Lately I’ve heard fans lament the firing of Kevin Seitzer, but I was there at the time and I remember quite a few fans calling for Seitzer’s head. Everyone wants more home runs, but in this stadium there’s a limit to what a fly ball is going to do for you.
The team got rid of Seitzer and then brought in Jack Maloof and Andre David. Not long after he got here, Maloof said this to FoxSportsKansasCity.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:
"There is just no reward here (for us) to try and hit home runs," Maloof said. "We try to stay down on the ball, be more line-drive oriented, and do more situational hitting … That’s why I’m not overly concerned because I think we’ll lead the league in fewest home runs again this year."
After Maloof made his comments, Yost had this to say:
"It was never the idea to get up there and try to hit homers," Yost said. "I don’t think I said I want to try to hit more homers, but I do think we have the ability to hit homers. That’s what we’re working toward."
Ask any coach of any type what they think of an athlete getting instruction from multiple sources and they’ll tell you it’s a bad idea. You want the athlete listening to one voice: if a big league hitter starts to scuffle, he gets advice from everywhere. His dad provides tips, his old high school coach thinks he has the key; even fans want to get in on the act and give their opinion about what the hitter should do. And all that advice usually results in a very confused hitter.
Since I’ve been covering the team I’ve gone through five hitting coaches (Kevin Seitzer, Jack Maloof, Andre David, George Brett and Pedro Grifol) a first-base coach (Doug Sisson) a third-base coach (Eddie Rodriguez) a pitching coach (Bob McClure) and two bench coaches (John Gibbons and Chino Cadahia).
That’s a lot coaches in a short amount of time—and I may be forgetting someone.
Given this team’s history of firing coaches and their meandering hitting philosophy, I hope Dale Sveum’s got a clear idea of what he’s being asked to do.
And I wish him the best of luck doing it.