TORONTO – Kevin Seitzer believes hitters should use the middle of the field, stay gap-to-gap, try to go the other way when down in the count and be flexible enough to adjust approaches based on what the opposing pitcher features.
With the Toronto Blue Jays, the new hitting coach inherits a largely pull-happy lineup, notably including Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Colby Rasmus, that has had some significant success.
So, how is this going to work?
“I think it’s something that’s going to help them be better, well-rounded hitters, with all due respect,” Seitzer said during an introductory conference after being named Chad Mottola’s replacement Thursday. “They’ve been very successful for a long time and even though it appears to be all-or-nothing, they’ve been pretty successful at putting up runs. I think I can take that to a new level just by putting more tools in guys’ toolboxes, adding to their arsenal to where you understand what you need to do in order to beat (defensive) shifts … to shoot that ball the other way.”
In theory, everything Seitzer preaches makes sense and his impressive 12-year career as a tenacious and scrappy hitter speaks to the merit of his approach. But whenever a new coach arrives on the scene preaching change, particularly when players haven’t struggled, there can be an initial reluctance to accept different advice. How the message is delivered can be as important as the message itself.
Seitzer, who impressed manager John Gibbons during their time together with the Kansas City Royals under manager Ned Yost, doesn’t sound like the scorched earth type. Among the points he was sure to make is that “I also have a philosophy of if it’s not broke don’t fix it. Let the guys continue to do what they’ve had success with, but yet at the same time be able to help them with adjustments they need to make when times are tough.”
As an example, he pointed to Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.
“He just came off a pretty good post-season, but I feel like a few years ago he made up his mind that, ‘I’m not going to let them shift on me and get away with it, especially with men in scoring positing,’” Seitzer explained. “Then you’ve got the Fenway wall he can pepper going the other way. He still pulls plenty of his share of balls, but having the ability to hit the ball the other way to beat a shift to drive in a run is critical. A lot of times it goes with spending a little bit of time and showing guys technique, No. 1, and mindset, No. 2, about what adjustments they need to make to be able to execute that in a game, and I feel like that’s one of my strengths that I can bring.”
The potential payoff should Seitzer get the buy-in from players is a significant one for the Blue Jays, who have largely been an all-or-nothing offensive team for the past few years. Often times this past season they’ve come up a hit short and while that’s going to happen, several people around the team felt the hitters too often let opposing pitchers off the hook easily.
During his time as hitting coach with the Royals, from 2009-12, Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar are among the players to make notable gains, although Eric Hosmer had some regression while there. Still, Seitzer’s approach during that time captured the attention of Gibbons, who has Yost’s bench coach.
“I felt like I had to win him over, I had to prove to him that what I was doing and what I was teaching really worked,” said Seitzer. “He saw the proof in the pudding. There were some pretty drastic changes in guys’ careers when we were together and he got to watch it on a daily basis and that played a role in him wanting to bring me in.”
Seitzer said he’s been studying hitting since his days at Eastern Illinois University, and in the majors with the Royals, Brewers, Athletics and Indians, he posted a .295/.375/.404 slash line in 1,439 games. He walked 669 times against 619 strikeouts, but also made a point of trying to pick up tips and approaches from as many people as he could.
An impressive list of people have influenced his thinking.
“When you get to play a long time with guys like George Brett and Paul Molitor and Robin Yount, those are a few right there,” he said. “But conversations with guys like Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Rod Carew when he was a hitting coach – I would try to have conversations with anybody that would stand still long enough to talk to me. Wade Boggs was another one, and Dave Winfield, I wanted to talk to power guys, I wanted to talk to high average guys, I just wanted to talk to guys who were really, really good, successful big-league hitters. Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, those were guys in our division, too, Harold Baines when you could get him to say (a few) words – those were great conversations. You want to build your knowledge and build your program, things that I saw and things that I heard, I’d go to the cage and try them and see if they worked.”
Seitzer spent the past year at home in Kansas City working at Mac-N-Seitz, the baseball academy he and former Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane operate together. From a distance he watched the Blue Jays, a team he expected, “to pretty much walk away with it. But due to injuries and whatnot, they had a rough year and I think the potential is there to meet people’s expectations of what they were going into this season, for next year.”
“Depending on what happens as far as the off-season goes with moves they decide to make, there’s definitely an expectation to win the division and go to the post-season,” he continued. “If anybody is thinking short of that, they probably need to make an adjustment mentally with all due respect.”