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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

BP: Sveum’s unheard guide to fixing Royals’ offense

Freddie Patek says just get shorter hitters!

[The Royals] fired [their] previous hitting coach, Pedro Grifol, at the end of May. The replacement was Dale Sveum, before that the manager of the Cubs. The position of hitting coach is widely believed to be largely ornamental (and sometimes sacrificial) in nature. They don’t do much to change the hitters in their tutelage, but they are the first to be fired when the offense underperforms. Accordingly, the Royals were on their fifth hitting coach in two years.

Dale Sveum seemed different from the moment of his hiring, however. At introductory press conferences, hitting coaches are asked what steps they’ll take to improve the offense. The answer is - almost invariably - a nondescript and banal quote about increasing or decreasing the selectiveness or aggressiveness of the hitters. Sveum said something altogether different:

‘The bottom line is we’ve struggled with elevation and we’ve swung at pitches down in the zone probably way too much,’ he said. ‘From thigh high to the top of the strike zone, we’re not doing enough damage.’

In this graph, darker colors represent the average height of pitches at which each player took a swing in 2013, and lighter colors represent the same measure, but for the first two months of 2014… It appears that Sveum was on to something…

Examining the swing heights of all the hitters at once, we see that Sveum did nothing to increase their swing height. Overall, under Sveum, the average swing height actually fell by a tenth of an inch… So it appears that even though Sveum correctly identified an issue with the Royals’ bats, he was unable to do much, if anything, to rectify it… Here’s the kicker, though: Despite Sveum’s complete failure to fix the problem he’d identified, the OPS of Royals’ hitters went up rather drastically after his arrival… That leaves Sveum in a tragic position. Whereas his arrival coincided with the Royals’ offensive resurgence, he might not have had much to do with it; and the critique the players didn’t listen to is the one that might help the most. In the long tradition of hitting coaches as designated patsies, he will get all the glory of fixing the Royals offense, even when he probably didn’t, and then when the bats fall silent again, he will likely be blamed.



The District Attorney Posted: August 12, 2014 at 03:04 PM | 4 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: dale sveum, royals, sabermetrics

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   1. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 12, 2014 at 03:24 PM (#4769615)
I thought this was a really interesting piece. I wrote when Sveum was hired that the Royals would probably get better through no fault of Sveum - they were just due to regress back to their true talent level. Its interesting to know that Sveum's hypothesis was correct, but that the Royals will probably continue to struggle offensively.

This is my big worry with the success they're having - the Royals will learn the wrong lessons, get complacent and think they have things figured out when this is mostly luck and they'll crash back to earth.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: August 12, 2014 at 05:22 PM (#4769728)
Although I doubt there's been significant change, I'd be interested in seeing data not just on swings but on contact as well. He may not have gotten them to change the mixes of pitches they swing at but, possibly although not likely, by getting them to look more for higher pitches, they are making more contact on higher pitches than they used to (and possibly less contact on lower pitches).

Also unlikely to have changed but is worth checking if somebody's got the data is whether the distribution of swing heights has changed even if the mean hasn't. It could be guys were hacking both at pitches too low and pitches too high and they have been more aggressive in the middle zone and less aggressive on the edges.

Anyway, team BABIP is up from period 1 to 2 by about 13 points with 2000-2400 PA in each period so that should be about 1 SD. By Royals' standards, ISO is through the roof. Interestingly, RoEs are way down -- 27 in period 1, 16 in period 2 -- which would be consistent with hitting the ball in the air more.* (As near as I can tell, there's no way on b-r to get team GB/FB by month but if somebody can figure that out, it might be interesting.)

* Maybe that's just a change in scorer. :-) Semi-seriously, hits on BIP are up about 22, RoEs down by 11, seems a little too convenient. Maybe the key to being a successful hitting coach is buying drinks for the scorer.
   3. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: August 12, 2014 at 05:37 PM (#4769741)
But what does Phillipe Patek say?
   4. Zach Posted: August 12, 2014 at 08:02 PM (#4769820)
It certainly matches the eye test. The Royals can be really infuriating when they make weak contact on pitcher's pitches early in the count.

It would be interesting to see the same analysis on counts with less than two strikes, when swings are more a matter of choice. As I've heard it, Sveum emphasizes letting the low ball go until you have two strikes.

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