When your offense is stagnant, and one of your hitting coaches makes one (or several) of the most ignorant statements concerning modern baseball offensive philosophy, changes have to happen. And, much to the Royals' fans (and possibly players) joy, they have. And what a mighty change it is. In a statement to the media today, the Royals announced that
"George Brett and Pedro Grifol will assume the interim hitting coach and major league special assignment coach roles, respectively, effective tonight when the Royals play in St. Louis at 7:15 p.m. In a corresponding move, the Royals have reassigned coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David to the minor league organization."
Why Can't They Hit?
The Royals offense has been scuffling. In their ongoing eight-game losing streak, they have averaged 2.0 runs per game. In the last 23 games the teams has accumulated a 4-19 record, while the offense has averaged 3.39 runs per game.
Then hitting coach Jack Maloof offered this excuse:
"There is just no reward here (for us) to try and hit home runs. We try to stay down on the ball, be more line-drive oriented, and do more situational hitting at least through the first two or three rounds (at home) here. That's why I'm not overly concerned because I think we'll lead the league in fewest home runs again this year. We don't have a 40-homer guy in the middle of the lineup."
One of manager Ned Yost's goals in the offseason was to increase the Royals power production. The hitting coach basically admitted defeat when he stated that will have the fewest home runs in the league.
"we've got kids. Billy Butler is a doubles machine. No one has told me he is a home run hitting guy. If we try to do it too much, we'll get ourselves in trouble. Same thing with Alex (Gordon). They'll hit home runs on the road, and yes, they'll hit some here. They have. But the risk for them to go out and hit a home run in one of 80 at-bats, the reward isn't great enough."
That only served to set up this gem,
"Here's the thing: Other teams come in here from Anaheim or wherever and they have their swing already down," Maloof said. "This park doesn't even enter into their minds when they hit here. They have their swings, the same swings, because it pays dividends for them at home."
Apparently it never occurred to Maloof that the Royals should have the same swings at home as on the road. It's a travesty he was allowed to work around young, impressionable hitters.
Enter Hall-of-Famer George Brett. The franchise's crown jewel of players past and present. The man who played the game with passion and hit the tar out of the ball. The man who is still the face of the franchise. The man who will try to right the wrongs of misguided hitting instruction.
He's the best hitter in Royals franchise history, and one of the best hitters of all time. Why isn't he the permanent replacement? In short, he doesn't want to. Brett has stated on several occasions that he didn't want to deal with the stress of traveling and being with the team every single day during the season.
This also gives him an "out" if things don't work. If he isn't able to do any better than Andre David and Jack Maloof, Brett can simply return to his front office position. If he's able to turn things around, maybe he won't even stay in the hitting coach position all year. The "interim" position offers a lot of fluidity.
Ned Yost has done his best to deflect criticism and express overall frustration with the way the Royals have been hitting. He says the guys are trying too hard, and nobody is harder on the players than the players themselves. They are playing tight. Statistically, the manager's in-game decisions have little impact on a team's record over the course of 162 games. So, one could argue that the manager's biggest influence on a team's success comes with what he does before and after each game. By his own standard, Yost doesn't seem to be doing so well right now. Now one of the organizations vice-presidents is going to be in the dugout with him. Organizational support for Ned Yost seems to be wavering. And if Yost tries to make a bone-headed decision in the game, only a fool would think George Brett wouldn't have something to say about it.
When George Brett played, he was one of the most passionate, fiery players around. He wasn't afraid to speak his mind to anyone. The Royals lack leadership. Ned Yost has few answers that do not end with "patience". Jeff Francouer and Mike Moustakas, the two everyday players with the most vocal leadership are the two of the biggest offensive problems. Fifty games into the season, the Royals cannot keep waiting for underperforming players to "figure things out." George Brett provides leadership.
The Hitter's Approach
This year the Royals hitters have been criticized for their lack of approach at the plate. Opposing pitchers have no fear when pitching to most of the Royals hitters. They get themselves out. Even if the pitcher makes a mistake, the Royals often got a single - not a home run.
George Brett is a disciple of Charlie Lau. Three of Lau's commandments were:
1. Keep your weight on the backside.
2. Explode through the ball.
3. Extending your lead arm through the swing.
For people that have been watching the Royals this year, the incorporation of Lau's hitting philosophy will be a welcome change. The players must be excited, too. They have had to work within the confines of Andre David and Jack Maloof's hitting tutelage.
Often, when a coaching change is made, fans should not expect any quick changes. I believe that with George Brett in the dugout, players will be held immediately accountable and more relaxed at the same time. I expect the Royals to go 25-17 over the next 42 games and return to their .500 record by the All-Star Game.