The Royals bats may be heating up, but don’t be fooled, new hitting coach Dave Sveum, who moved from third base coach to hitting coach on May 29, likely isn’t the reason.
He certainly isn’t hurting the team as the Royals have scored six runs or more seven times and posted a 10-4 record in his short tenure. His first two games featured 14 runs, 23 hits, 5 doubles and three homeruns. But, Moustakas still sucks (although he had hits in consecutive games and both – HR and 2B – were hit hard), Hosmer still has a horrid – I mean a GOD AWFUL – swing (although he homered twice in three games and is up to 3 on the year now). Just watch it. He has no balance, is falling all over the place and across the plate and virtually swings at everything now. And, no one draws walks. But, coincidence or not, the Royals (34-32) march toward first-place Detroit (34-29) began when the Sveum hitting coach era began – where the Royals are averaging 4.78 runs a game under his tutelage, compared to 3.79 under reassigned to catcher instructor Pedro Grifol (52 games), .71 HR per game (10 HR) compared to .40 (21 HR) under Grifol. The Royals have had two three-HR games this season, and both have come in the last 14 games.
But, lets not get carried away, Sveum is not a wizard. Although he has made subtle changes to the hitters approach – such as having player’s concentrate on their head and his hands instead of the lower half like Grifol and to punish pitches up in the zone (I have seen more hitter swing at pitches up in the zone in the last 2 weeks than I’ve seen all season), hitting coaches rarely make that much of an impact – especially not that quickly.
“Honestly, man, I really don’t think that had anything to do with it,” Hosmer said. “But something had to happen, obviously. If anything, it was a spark for us. Woke us all up.”
Maybe that is all it took to get the bats going. A change. Sveum took over an offense that, at the time, was on pace to match the 1976 club for the fewest homers in franchise history for a non-strike-shortened season, where last in the American League in runs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage and, if anything, even if it is as simple of providing a spark like Hosmer says, now they’re improving. But, the Royals were underperforming so badly before Sveum, that they were likely to improve no matter who was hitting coach the rest of the season. While this was not projected to be anything better than average offense and based on how bad they were last year, they couldn’t be this bad, again. Based on career norms, virtually the entire team was underperforming – and many STILL are. Billy Butler is not a sub-.250 hitter with virtually no power. Yea, he’s fat, hits into double plays, and he’s likely having a career worst season after his career worst season, but he’s not THIS BAD, and simply had to get better. Players with his track record generally don’t just fall off a cliff like this at his age. Billy will eventually start to hit. It’s inevitable. So will Hosmer. He simply has too much talent not too. This team will start to hit HR’s too. They have to.
Sveum is the fifth hitting coach since Kevin Seitzer, whom the Royals parted ways with because they wanted more power – even though Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas all had career-best HR seasons under his watch. Now, Seitzer sits back in the Blue Jays dugout and watches them launch homers out of the park (MLB-best 92 – already better than the Royals current pace).
Jack Maloof and Andre David were hired before last season, but they made it only a couple of months before they were reassigned. It was at that point that the Royals hired Grifol and Hall of Famer George Brett on an interim basis. The Royals showed signs of life once that duo was in charge, slowly climbing into playoff contention. Grifol was given the job on a full-time basis after Brett stepped down in July, but he lasted less than a year in the role.
“He’s the one that pulled us out of our trouble last year,” Yost said of Grifol after the change. “A year later, we find ourselves in the exact same spot.”
Sveum, a former Brewers and Cubs manager, has plenty of experience as a hitting coach, helping Milwaukee finish in the top three of the National League in homers in each of his three seasons (2006-2008).
The offense is certainly turning it around. But, let’s not be so quick to give all the credit to Sveum. As we said in the offseason, the law of averages almost certainly guaranteed the Royals would progress (in a good way) closer to the mean. That is happening right now. And as Butler said at the time of change, “all of our bats were cold.”
They’re starting to heat up, now. But is it because of Sveum? I guess we’ll really never know. Has Dale Sveum can’t helped a few of these hitters out? Possibly. Or were the Royals simply going through an atrociously-AWFUL slump that swept through the whole team like a plague? Far more likely.