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Would firing Dale Sveum accomplish anything?

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Is Dale Sveum on the hot seat?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The ineptitude of the Royals offense has reached alarming and franchise record-breaking levels. The team is dead last in all of baseball in runs scored, and is near the bottom of the league in nearly every relevant offensive category. While the lineup was not expected to score a ton of runs, it has been littered with several underachievers including Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Brandon Moss, and Alcides Escobar, not to mention black holes in the lineup like Paulo Orlando and Raul Mondesi who have already been shipped out.

The systematic underperformance has caused many fans to being pointing fingers and calling for a change. And the man with the target now on his back is hitting coach Dale Sveum.

Sveum, who had been serving as third base coach, took over the Royals hitting coach job at the end of May in 2014, to replace Pedro Grifol, who was re-assigned as a "catching instructor." The Royals did improve offensively following Sveum, going from 3.79 runs-per-game under Grifol that year to 4.13 runs-per game in the 110 games with Sveum as hitting coach. The team, of course, also took off in the standings, winning 59% of their games after the coaching shakeup, and reaching the World Series that fall.

The Royals made much less significant strides offensely the previous season in 2013, after re-assigning hitting coaches Andre David and Jack Maloof and replacing them with Hall of Famer George Brett. Under David and Maloof (who infamously said there was no sense trying to hit home runs in Kauffman Stadium), the Royals averaged just 3.98 runs-per-game, increasing that slightly under Brett at 4.01 runs-per-game. But again, the team took off in the second half, winning 58% of their games and nearly taking a Wild Card spot.

Does changing hitting coaches make much of a difference? Hitting coaches are basically hired to be fired. Even the great Charley Lau - who is credited with molding George Brett’s career - was dismissed by the Royals. Their impact is rather difficult to quantify. Most of the players they are dealing with are established players who don’t need much advice, or won’t heed it anyhow. In the very short-term, as a mid-season replacement, their impact is probably even further mitigated.

But does the mere firing of the hitting coach mid-season sound a wake-up call to the hitters to start making adjustments? I looked at all the mid-season hitting coach changes in the last ten years to see if there was any kind of short-term impact. The following chart looks at the runs scored per-game under the old coach and the new coach, with the last column reflecting the increase or decrease in runs scored following the change.

Date Team Old Coach R/G Win% New Coach R/G Win% Diff
6/14/2007 LAD Eddie Murray 4.36 .576 Bill Mueller 4.66 .458 6.7%
7/13/2007 ARI Kevin Seitzer 4.12 .522 Rick Schu 4.74 .597 14.9%
7/12/2007 NYM Rick Down 4.53 .552 Howard Johnson 5.47 .533 20.7%
8/1/2007 SDP Merv Rettenmund 4.23 .533 Wally Joyner 5.12 .569 21.1%
6/9/2008 SEA Jeff Pentland 4.02 .349 Lee Elia 4.22 .394 5.1%
6/20/2008 TOR Gary Denbo* 4.01 .473 Gene Tenace 4.74 .580 18.1%
7/13/2008 LAD Mike Easler 4.05 .479 Don Mattingly 4.69 .574 15.7%
5/8/2009 ARI Rick Schu 3.62 .414 Jack Howell 4.62 .436 27.7%
6/14/2009 CHC Gerald Perry 4.24 .492 Von Joshua 4.48 .529 5.7%
7/31/2009 SDP Jim Lefebvre 3.69 .398 Randy Ready 4.37 .576 18.5%
5/9/2010 SEA Alan Cockrell 3.13 .367 Alonzo Powell 3.17 .379 1.3%
6/23/2010 FLA Jim Presley 4.77 .486 John Mallee 4.18 .522 -12.3%
7/11/2010 HOU Sean Berry 3.47 .409 Jeff Bagwell 4.14 .432 19.3%
7/23/2010 PHI Milt Thompson 4.60 .516 Greg Gross 5.00 .716 8.7%
6/9/2011 TEX Thad Bosley 4.73 .556 Scott Coolbaugh 5.63 .616 18.9%
6/9/2011 FLA John Mallee 4.02 .517 Eduardo Perez 3.76 .402 -6.3%
6/19/2011 CLE Jon Nunnally 4.41 .537 Bruce Fields 4.25 .433 -3.6%
7/20/2011 LAD Jeff Pentland 3.63 .433 Dave Hansen 4.56 .625 25.7%
5/16/2012 LAA Mickey Hatcher 3.62 .432 Jim Eppard 5.06 .584 39.8%
6/12/2012 CHC Rudy Jamarillo 3.70 .333 James Rowson 3.83 .402 3.6%
8/19/2012 HOU Mike Barnett 3.76 .322 Ty Van Burkleo 3.12 .390 -17.0%
5/30/2013 KCR Andre David 3.98 .420 George Brett 4.01 .580 0.7%
7/22/2013 WAS Rick Eckstein 3.69 .490 Rick Schu 4.59 .594 24.4%
7/29/2013 FLA Tino Martinez 3.18 .388 John Pierson 3.14 .373 -1.5%
5/27/2014 NYM Dave Hudgens 3.90 .440 Lamar Johnson 3.88 .509 -0.6%
5/30/2014 KCR Pedro Grifol 3.79 .462 Dale Sveum 4.13 .591 8.9%
6/20/2015 SEA Howard Johnson 3.42 .464 Edgar Martinez 4.52 .473 32.0%
9/16/2016 TBR Derek Shelton 4.26 .429 Chad Mottola 3.07 .333 -28.0%
3.99 .458 4.36 .543 9.3%

The dated listed is the date the new hitting coach took over. The 2008 Blue Jays firing of Gary Denbo was made in concert with a managerial change. The 2008 Mariners hiring of Lee Elia lasted just a few weeks until Jose Castro replaced him full-time, but I counted from June 9 since that is when the coaching shake up occurred. I did not count the 2007 resignation of Nationals hitting coach Mitchell Page due to health reasons.

You will first notice that no one fires their hitting coach in April, so relax Dale Sveum, you have at least until May to turn things around. It is a sample of just 28 cases, but I did find that yes, on average, teams that fired their hitting coach mid-season improved their runs-per-game production by 9.3%. Interestingly, teams also improved their winning percentage, going from a .458 winning percentage to a .543 winning percentage following the firing.

Now, a major part of that improvement is almost certainly regression to the mean. Hitting coaches get fired because hitters are underperforming. When a hitter with an established track record is underperforming, typically that hitter turns it around, or at least improves somewhat from a terrible start.

Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus did a much more detailed analysis on the impact of firing hitting coaches mid-season, taking a look at individual hitting performances for semi-regulars. He found that firing a hitting coach added about 25 points of OPS to a hitters numbers. However, he arrives at the same conclusion, that much of that is likely regression to the mean.

At the very least, firing a hitting coach doesn't seem to hurt most clubs. Only four of the teams actually got worse after the coaching shake up. Four of the teams made the playoffs, including the 2014 Royals, and a fifth (the 2007 Padres) reached a one-game playoff.

I am skeptical Sveum is to blame and that a new hitting coach would make much actual impact. When Royals hitters were still getting their feet wet, they reportedly shunned the advice of George Brett. What would make them more likely to accept advice now that they are All-Stars and World Champions? Does this sound like a hitter open to suggestion?

"I know I’ve been through it long enough now to realize you’ve just got to stick with your approach and it will change."

-Eric Hosmer

It was actually under Sveum that Mike Moustakas turned his career around and enjoyed his best offensive season. It was under Sveum that Eric Hosmer reached a career-high in home runs last year. It was under Sveum that Salvador Perez enjoyed his best power seasons. Maybe they would have done those things had Sveum not been there. But if we're going to blame Sveum for the ineptitude now, he should get some credit for some of the hitting accomplishments the Royals have achieved.

The Royals have had an overly aggressive hitting philosophy for decades. Plate discipline and pitch recognition has repeatedly taken a backseat to other tools. It seems unlikely that players in their late 20s and 30s can suddenly change their approach and get drastically different results. Ultimately that is why the Royals offense will continue to be near the bottom of the league once again. Yes, they will almost certainly improve, whether they fire their hitting coach or not. But the offense will remain a concern that this club may not be able to overcome.