In an effort to dramatically improve the second-lowest scoring offense in baseball in 2014, the Atlanta Braves are reaching into the American League for coaching help.
The newly minted Braves front office has tabbed Toronto’s Kevin Seitzer as its new hitting coach, the team announced on Monday afternoon. Jose Castro, a long-time minor league hitting instructor with multiple organizations, was tabbed as the team’s assistant hitting coach.
Seitzer, a former All-Star third baseman, has served seven seasons as a hitting coach in three different organizations: Toronto, Kansas City and Arizona. He’ll serve as the replacement for Greg Walker, who resigned as the Braves hitting coach after a disappointing 79-83 season that saw the Braves offense .241/.305/.360 and 123 home runs — some of the worst marks in all of baseball.
"We are excited to complete our coaching staff for next season," John Hart, the Braves president of baseball operations, said in a statement. "This is Fredi’s (Gonzalez) staff and he was actively involved throughout the process. With today’s two additions, as well as Bo Porter as our new third-base coach, we feel that we have a put a great staff in place."
Seitzer’s Blue Jays ranked among the best offenses in baseball during his only season in Toronto.
Thanks to the efforts of outfielder Jose Bautista, third baseman Edwin Encarnacion and others, the Blue Jays ranked fifth in the majors in runs scored (723), third in home runs (177) and fifth in weighted runs created plus (105), finishing behind only the Tigers, Dodgers, Angels and Pirates.
"When you’re talking to a hitting coach, you’re probably gonna get the same pitch from all of us: same wording, same terminology. ‘We’re gonna be aggressive, but we’re gonna be disciplined at the same time. We’re gonna focus on situational hitting and really be able to lock in and have a good approach and a good plan,’" Seitzer said. "But I guess the big key is being able to give guys different thoughts and ideas in order to be more successful in all of those situations and scenarios. And that comes from the experience that I’ve had not only as a player but working with different guys as a coach."
Added Gonzalez: "In talking to (Seitzer) a few times, he came across as a guy with a good plan. He’s organized, he’s detailed. He has worked with different types of hitters. … I think he was a perfect fit for us."
Hitting coaches will always be reliant on his roster’s overall talent level, but the past two Seitzer-coached teams have shown improvement.
This past season, the Blue Jays’ offense jumped seven points in weighted runs created plus, seeing a slight decrease in plate discipline numbers (strikeout and walk rates) but improving in average, on-base percentage and slugging. When he was hired as the Royals hitting coach following the 2008 season, Kansas City was far from its current World Series status, hitting for 87 weighted runs created plus — the franchise never dipped that low in Seitzer’s five seasons.
He’ll be taking on a similar challenge in 2015, and he’s hoping to change the approach of many of the Braves hitters, focusing first and foremost on driving the ball back up the middle and being able to hit to all parts of the field.
"That’s one of my big strengths is the expertise of being able to show guys how to hit the ball the other way," Seitzer said. "A lot of people — when I first became a hitting coach I was kind of an anomaly from the sense that I didn’t like guys to go up there and turn-and-burn on pitches, just because you’re so vulnerable to everything.
" … I may be the biggest fan on the planet that I love homers. But I know how you get homers and how don’t get them, and trying to go up and hit homers is exactly the recipe for not only not hitting for power but not hitting for average and striking out more and walking less and getting into terrible hitting counts."
Castro, on the other hand, has worked for more than 25 years as a minor league hitting coach or hitting coordinator in four different organizations: Montreal, Florida, San Diego and Seattle.
Gonzalez and Castro worked in the Marlins system together and have remained in contact over the years. In fact, Gonzalez attempted to hire Castro last season before the latter accepted the position of quality assurance coach with the Chicago Cubs.
The division of duties between Seitzer and Castro are still to be determined, but Gonzalez said that it would ultimately be Seitzer’s call.
The talent Seitzer and Castro will be working with in 2015 remains undetermined before the Winter Meetings — the franchise faces major decisions with its three outfielders, catcher Evan Gattis and at second base — but Atlanta is bringing in a name that has found some success recently. However, Gonzalez did warn that bringing in a new hitting coach does not necessarily mean an offensive overhaul.
"I think sometimes people have the mindset of an offensive coordinator is going to come in and change the scheme of an offense. And baseball really isn’t that, you can’t do that. In basketball you can change your offense a little bit: you can go to a run-and-shoot or more of a half-court thing. I think baseball is a different animal when it comes to that.
"I like the other stuff. I like (Seitzer’s) preparation, working with the videos. What does your normal day consist of? He’s a really, really good mental guy as far as staying positive and working that part of the hitting game."
Now, Kevin Seitzer will need to find a way to spark a much-needed turnaround and replicate that success in the National League.