Much has been made, both in the media, and on Royals Review, about the effect of new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer on the Royals' batters this year. The references to Seitzer's work are largely tongue-in-cheek, as it appears most people believe that a hitting coach has little tangible effect on a team's overall offensive performance.
While that is probably true, I thought it would be interesting to attempt to measure and follow any noticeable changes in hitting performance for which Seitzer might deserve some credit. Although I'm a complete newbie and hack when it comes to advanced statistics, I decided to chart certain stats for each Royals batter and compare those stats to each player's career numbers. (As always, many thanks to Fangraphs for providing this great info.) In an exhibition of poor judgment and a complete lack of shame, I've decided to make my amateur spreadsheet available for public ridicule and mockery here at RR. If you click on the following link, you should see a Google spreadsheet listing the Royals' hitters.
Players are listed by descending order based on wOBA. (I know it's very early, and it's highly unlikely to continue, but just seeing Wee Willie leading all Royals' batters with a crushing .441 still makes me do a double take.) Of course, there are a couple major caveats with the numbers here. First, as far as the 2009 numbers go, say it with me....small sample size. Second, many of the numbers, such as 2009 BB/K rates, can still fluctuate pretty wildly given the still relatively small number of PA's for everyone so far.
Despite these caveats, you can't help but notice some of these stats. Seven out of 12 regulars' wOBAs are up over their career numbers, and up significantly, too. Of course, there are some slumps in there, such as Aviles and, lately, Jacobs. Especially when it is early in the season, you will always have guys that get off to very hot starts (Callaspo, Bloomquist) and those that struggle out of the gate (Aviles, DeJesus). Those starts are easily and most effectively shown through a player's wOBA, which one could call a "production stat."
Seitzer's stated (and practiced) hitting philosophy is to have consistently good plate appearances, showing great plate discipline to increase walks and the number of quality pitches that a hitter sees. When a hitter does see a quality pitch, Seitzer seems to emphasize using the middle of the field and hitting line drives. With that stated philosophy, if Seitzer's influence and guidance can possibly be quantified or measured, it would have to be through what I would call "approach stats," such as O-Swing%, BB%, and BB/K.
Looking at these sorts of stats yields some very interesting early results for The Seitzer Effect. I first looked at O-Swing%, which is the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone at which the batter swings. Strangely, for a guy who preaches plate discipline, most of Seitzer's players' O-Swing percentages are higher than their career averages. (They're also higher than the MLB average over the last couple years, which Fangraphs pegs at 25.0% and 25.4%.) Looking at the next two categories is where things get interesting, though.
Both the BB% and BB/K ratio are up, and up significantly, for the overwhelming majority of batters. I and many others made fun of Dayton Moore calling Bloomquist an "on-base guy," based on his fairly long history of decidedly not being an on-base guy. But I guess Dayton, his scouts, and Seitzer are making us eat our words (for the time being at least), as The Spork is walking 7.8% more than he has throughout his career. That increased walk rate has obviously been a big part of his team-leading wOBA of .441. Crisp has also had a huge increase in his walk rate, getting a free pass 7.6% more than he ever did with Cleveland or Boston. While the rates for the others aren't quite as dramatic, they are still showing noted increases in plate discipline results...even though almost everyone is swinging at more pitches outside the zone than they should. Weird. Finally, in another oddity, most of the Royals have thus far seen a decrease from career rates in both overall contact rates and LD%.
So, what do these numbers tell us? Well, it seems to me that Seitzer has had a tangible, noticeable effect on the plate discipline of many, if not most, of the Royals' batters. It is still early, but so far it really does look like he's actually been able to positively alter their approach at the plate. If true, then this would certainly be a welcome change from years past. Whether he's using The Force or some other mind control technique, Seitzer may truly have become the OBA-Wan Kenobi of Royals' hitting coaches.
It is probably impossible to measure the true effect of a hitting coach's instruction, if there really is any. The increase in these numbers may just be natural fluctuations in the Royals' hitting that may come back to each player's career norms over the course of the season. Furthermore, we can't just apply "The Seitzer Effect" equally to each player. Despite what the numbers may tell us, we don't really know who is intently listening to every word that comes out of Seitzer's mouth, and who may be completely ignoring him. We can only rely on random quotes from certain individuals who may consistently praise the coach, such as Buck. His increased numbers seem to evidence his belief that Seitzer's teachings have been a tremendous help. On the other hand, Olivo still appears to be following the Pedro Cerrano School by giving regular offerings to Jobu in an attempt to wake up his bats. I think he's going to need some more rum.
I'll try to keep this chart updated at regular intervals over the course of the year, and may update with new posts accordingly. I think it will be interesting to follow, whatever value it may have. Let me know what other stats you think would be good potential measures for Seitzer's influence. And if you think this is pure idiocy, then please be gentle in the comments.