Alka Seitzer: Will Kevin Provide Relief?

The Jays’ recent history hasn’t exactly been one of unmitigated success. As a matter of fact, the opposite is closer to reality. 2013 will be remembered by many as perhaps the most disappointing season in living memory. A dismal (74-88) campaign followed by a Red Sox championship? Ugh. No one predicted this, not even the most loyal Red Sox fans. Clearly the Jays needed to do something. Hiring a new hitting coach was one of the first moves they made, and it caught almost everyone off guard.

They scored a lot of runs and hit a lot of home runs, but they didn’t win a lot of games. So, what gives? The 3 phrases often used to describe the Blue Jays’ problems on offense are “all-or-nothing”, “pull happy” and “situational hitting”. Kevin Seitzer has been given the task of improving the Jays’ offense. He has his work cut out for him.

Basically, our title has 2 answers: (1) the Jays, or (2) their opponents. The second answer is simple because it relies very heavily on the first answer. The Jays’ opponents will benefit from Kevin Seitzer’s tutelage because the Jays don’t, won’t or can’t put his theories and philosophy into practice. In other words, the Jays’ opponents will benefit if the rubber never meets the road.

John Gibbons and Kevin Seitzer have a history. it’s not like Gibby’s history with Ted Lilly or Shea Hillenbrand; it’s a good history. They worked together for 3 years with the Kansas City Royals when Gibby was the bench coach and Seitzer was the hitting coach. This gave Gibby a leg up when considering who would replace outgoing hitting coach Chad Mottola. Chad, my friend, we hardly knew ya…

By Royal Decree

During Seitzer’s 4-year stint as hitting coach with the Royals the team won 65, 67, 71, and 72 games. Obviously the offense didn’t help them win much. Here’s a glance at the Royals with Seitzer as their hitting coach:

R

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

GDP

2009

686

781

1432

1485

276

295

51

28

144

183

457

550

1091

1094

.318

.336

.405

.428

135

130

2010

676

721

1534

1438

279

287

31

26

121

138

471

526

905

1087

.331

.327

.399

.407

152

129

2011

730

723

1560

1429

325

286

41

29

129

162

442

499

1006

1113

.329

.323

.415

.408

121

123

2012

767

721

1492

1413

295

272

37

26

131

179

404

493

1032

1187

.317

.320

.400

.411

130

127

This table was compiled from info at www.baseball-reference.com.

  • I’ve highlighted some of the notable numbers/trends: green is good, yellow is a caution, red is bad news;
  • the gray italicized columns are AL averages;
  • the highlighting is done without reference to the league averages: that is, the highlights represent the Royals’ trends under Seitzer;
  • generally speaking, Seitzer turned a below-average offense in 2009 to a (slightly) above average offense by season 3 (2011);
  • his gap-to-gap philosophy is consistent with a power outage;
  • the Royals weren’t a patient team: they were below league average anyways and, except for 2010, walks declined steadily;
  • 2011 was his big year with the Royals (hence the green highlight), as they improved almost across the board, sometimes dramatically;
  • 2012 was a step-back for the team offensively that wasn’t reflected in their record;
  • KC hit .274 in 2010 and .275 in 2011, 2nd and 4th in MLB, respectively;

Youth and Talent vs. Experience and Talent

Okay, there are many more inferences we can draw from this simple table. One thing that doesn’t show up is what Seitzer will have to work with in Toronto. Billy Butler and Alberto Callaspo were the 2 biggest threats on the ’09 Royals, a fairly weak offensive team. They were 23 and 26, respectively. KC tied with TEX as having the 3rd-youngest hitters in the AL. He won’t be molding young hitters in TOR; he’ll be tweaking the approaches of veteran hitters.

Who is likely benefit from his approach? I believe that there are at least 3, but maybe 5, players who are worth watching as they work with Kevin Seitzer and vice versa. (If one or more of these guys are traded, then please disregard any comments made about them. I left the crystal ball that I’ve never owned in the cottage that doesn’t exist.)

  1. Edwin Encarnacion
    • since being demoted, claimed by OAK, and returning to TOR, Edwin’s become a monster at the plate;
    • he doesn’t strike out much, making him dangerous and a tough out;
    • he’s also become more of a student of hitting, spending considerable amounts of time in the video room;
    • it seems to me that a slight tweak will raise Edwin’s faltering BAbip (.292, .266, .247 over the last 3 seasons), and allow him to round out his offensive approach;
  1. Brett Lawrie
    • this is a tough call: he was beginning to excel under Mottola’s tutelage;
    • the leg kick and waggling bat have been toned down, and he hits the other way more often, resulting in a post-AS break offensive upswing;
    • there are 3 reasons why I believe Lawrie will benefit:
      1. Mark DeRosa’s option was picked up;
      2. Lawrie has adopted Edwin’s camp-out-in-the-video-room approach; and
      3. Lawrie’s not a bomber: a gap-to-gap approach may suit him very well, making better use of his speed and line drive power
  1. Adam Lind
    • Does any hitter on the Jays show more obvious improvement when he uses the whole field than Adam Lind?
    • he has very good power when he’s hitting well, and his sweet-looking swing is well-suited to a gap-to-gap approach;
    • the one area where Kevin Seitzer may turn Lind into an All(most) Star is the increased contact/reduced SO rate that’s consistent with his philosophy;
  1. Wild Card: Jose Bautista
    • Joey Bats adapts well, otherwise he’d still be Joey Bounces Around the League;
    • his grip-it-and-rip-it approach has worn a little lately, but he has the talent to make very good contact as well as hitting for premium power (2011);
    • his K-rate has held steady since 2011 but his walk rate is falling (20.2%, 14.8%, 13.1%);
    • aside from 2011 (.309), Jose’s BAbip as a Blue Jay has been middling or worse (.275, .233, .215, .259);
    • Would improved walk and contact rates arrest his decline, and treat fans to a return to something resembling his 2011 form?
  1. Dark horse: Melky Cabrera
    • There may be too much going on here to make a good judgment…
    • Melky broke out under Seitzers’ guidance with KC in 2011;
    • that said, Melky was a miserable failure as a Blue Jay in 2013;
    • that said, Melky had a tumour on his spine;
    • that said, Melky has other injury issues and there’s the turf at The Rog…;
    • that said, Melky is a good candidate to bounce back from a miserable 2013;
    • Who better to lead Melky out of the wilderness than Kevin Seitzer?

An important observation needs to be made here. All of the players that I’ve mentioned, including Colby Rasmus below, have spent significant chunks of time on the DL in the last 3 years. I have no idea what overall impact more injuries might have, except to slow down the process of assimilating and putting into practice Seitzer’s philosophy. That I can guarantee.

As much as I would like to see the Jays’ offense improve, my opinion is guarded. Very few of the moves made to this point have had a positive effect, and this may be no more than the ‘next move’.

I think Kevin Seitzer has a lot to offer, especially since the Jays’ usual approach hasn’t yielded the intended results since 2010. A different philosophy may help the Jays to become more efficient on offense without sacrificing much power. Heck, even Colby Rasmus—the Blue Jays’ 2013 WAR leader (!!!)—may enjoy another upswing rather than a regression with a focus on making contact and reducing strike outs. It remains to be seen. Will he provide a tonic? Perhaps. He has experience, and much of it is positive. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, indeed.

Wes Kepstro

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