Last week the Royals reassigne Dale Sveum to be their hitting coach, in an attempt to fix the league's worst offense. We have already seen results, no doubt of a changed hitting approach! So who the heck is Dale Sveum?
Dale Curtis Sveum was born fifty years ago in Richmond, California in the east part of San Francisco Bay. He was an All-American high school quarterback, but instead chose to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers, who made him a first round pick in 1982. Dale was the Brewers regular shortstop for three years, hitting .252/.303/.454 with 25 HR 95 RBI in 1987, but he broke his league and missed all of 1989, and spent the rest of his 12-year Major League career as a journeyman utility player with the Phillies, White Sox, Athletics, Mariners, Pirates, and Yankees. He retired in 1999 a career .236/.298/.378 hitter.
Sveum was named manager of the Pirates AA affiliate in Altoona (Pa.) from 2001-2003 where he his record was barely over .500, with a post-season berth his last season. He was named third base coach of the Boston Red Sox in 2004, where he won a championship, but was criticized for his aggressive style In 2006, he joined the Milwaukee Brewers as a bench coach under manager Ned Yost, and moved around on the staff to third base coach, back to bench coach, before being named manager in September of 2008 when Yost was surprisingly fired two weeks before the Brewers reached the playoffs.
In 2009, Sveum was passed over on the managerial gig full-time, but was named hitting coach under new manager Ken Macha. The 2009 Brewers had a team full of young hitters such as Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart, but most of those hitters had already enjoyed great success. Still, the club went from finishing seventh in runs scored in 2008, to third in 2009, where the would average 4.85 runs per game. In three seasons as hitting coach, Sveum's Brewers would always finish in the top five in runs scored, and in the top three in home runs hit, leading the league in 2011. Sveum's teams cut their strikeouts numbers significantly over three years, but their walk numbers also dropped, although personnel changes may have had an impact.
Here's the view of Brewers fan Noah Jarosh of Brew Crew Ball:
For the most part, I would classify Sveum as 'inoffensive'. The Brewers finished 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the National League in runs scored when Sveum was hitting coach. It's hard to say how much of that was because of Sveum and how much of it was having Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, et. al. He was hitting coach when Rickie Weeks hit well and helped reignite the careers of players like Nyjer Morgan and Casey McGehee. He was also hitting coach when catcher Jonathan Lucroy -- now arguably the best catcher in the NL this year -- was first in the majors and still developing.
At the same time, Sveum couldn't get Carlos Gomez to hit worth a lick. It wasn't until after he left and the Brewers and Gomez changed his hitting approach that he took off. McGehee also experienced his decline while still with Sveum as hitting coach. And while Sveum was Lucroy's first hitting coach, it wasn't until after Sveum left that Lucroy started hitting.
For the most part, fans in Milwaukee liked Sveum. He had a variety of roles with the team over the years, but was always fairly successful. Is he a world-beater? Nah. But he's a solid choice at hitting coach and should be a good addition for the Royals.
Sveum's success with the Brewers, and his experience working with the Red Sox got the attention of new Cubs President Theo Epstein, who hired Sveum to manage his Cubs in 2012. Sveum lost 197 games over two seasons with Chicago before being dismissed. In fairness, it was a Cubs team in transition, gutted of most of its talent.
Here's what Dale had to say about hitting instruction back when he was with the Cubs:
I think when you deal with 12 individuals and you're trying to be consistent at this level, you've got to treat each guy individually. Everybody is different.
Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks, each one of those guys is a completely different person, completely different body frame, completely different approach, lower half to hitting. So you can go on and on about the differences. But I think you have to be open minded when you're dealing with hitting in the big leagues because you're not teaching as much as putting a plan together to make sure they're not failing or the failing gets cut a little short.
Here's Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbies Blue:
Dale Sveum managed the worst consecutive seasons in Cubs history. That's not much of a recommendation, is it? He came to the Cubs from the Brewers, where he was a highly-regarded hitting coach (and interim manager for 12 games in 2008). That's good, right?
Not so much. One of the reasons Dale was fired is that he wasn't helpful to the Cubs' young hitters, particularly Starlin Castro, who had the worst year of his career under Sveum's tutelage in 2013. Reportedly, Sveum (and hitting coaches James Rowson and Rob Deer) were tinkering with Castro's approach so much that they messed him up completely. Theo Epstein hinted at something along those lines when he dismissed Sveum last fall. Castro is off to a good start this year (.272/.312/.442 going into Friday's game, close to his career norms) and one of the reasons given is that he's just being himself again and not "thinking" too much.
I'd say good luck with Dale as hitting coach. He didn't do much to help that in Chicago, as the Cubs ranked 28th in the major leagues in runs scored in 2013.
Dale has at least offered answers better than "I don't know" when asked about the Royals hitting woes.
As Sveum scanned his new charges, he settled on one root issue: "Elevation," he called it. "We’ve swung at pitches down in the zone way too much," Sveum said. "And from thigh high to the top of the strike zone, we’re not doing enough damage."
He doesn't plan on having weekly meetings to discuss hitting, and he wants these players to refocus on what it is that makes them successful at hitting.
While the main platform of his administration has been to eradicate the habit of chasing pitches down in the zone and work harder to find pitches to drive on favorable counts, Sveum also sees a bigger-picture element to the job.
"Some of these guys have just hit their whole life," he said. "They never have really understood what it really is all about. And how success works." Among the elements of it, Sveum stresses, is having better senses of conviction about approach, pitch and situational recognition, and even how they see the ball.
"Some young hitters, they don’t know sometimes, ‘Oh, should I swing or not?’" he said. "And you’re defeated before you even got up there when you’re thinking about ‘should I or shouldn’t I?’ "So these are things it’s going to be a little process to maybe change mindsets on."
Sveum strikes me as a coach who wants to manage again someday. He is not a hitting coach specialist like Charlie Lau, Walt Hriniak or even Kevin Seitzer. He is a Major League coach, willing to do whatever role the organization asks of him, who will do his best, but whose ultimate goal is to be the one writing the lineup card again.
He is our sixth hitting coach in eighteen months, and everyone knows you don't really know what you have until you've gone through six hitting coaches. I expect the Royals to improve for reasons I outlined last week, and whether it has anything to do with Dale Sveum, we'll never really know.