The Royals have won 13 games in the 18 since George Brett was brought in as the hitting coach. The knee jerk reaction is that Brett, a Hall of Famer and the best third baseman ever (if you allow my bias to creep in) turned the sluggish Royals offense around and now, combined with competent pitching, they’re combining to recover from a terrible May.
By now, Sam Mellinger has weighed in and pointed out that the offense hasn’t performed better with Brett around. Instead, the Royals have seen excellent pitching and defense and that’s the source of their winning.
But that’s not to say that Brett’s efforts have been in vain. I think seeing a legend in the dugout every day, passing on advice and showing how he did it can have a positive impact on a club. When he talks, he has the resume that few others have, so they ought to listen. If the players don’t listen to George Brett, who will they listen to?
So I looked at how the Royals have done since Brett took over. I went on the assumption that a hitting coach can affect change quickly but that it’s probably going to be seen among individuals more than over the whole group. His biggest targets need to be Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, obviously, but everyone can have things to work on.
Here’s where everyone was on the last day of the Maloof Era:
In that stretch, they’d averaged four runs a game.
From May 30th to the present, after Brett stepped in, they’ve averaged 3.78 runs per game.
But look at the names who improved their OPS:
Four of those six are key parts of the lineup, in fact, since the Royals rearranged the batting order, those are your 2 through 5 batters most nights. Johnson has at least earned a split, if not a majority of the playing time at second, and Francoeur has hit two homers since Brett arrived while ceding time to David Lough.
The names who fell back (by OPS):
Kottaras and Tejada aren’t big concerns. Kottaras has played in just four games and he’s facing a small sample size problem. He still hasn’t been good, but whatever he does is just a bonus since Perez will play most nights. Tejada has played more frequently and pinch hit a number of times, but he had a great start before Brett, and really only saw a significant drop in his slugging numbers.
Lough was at a .918 OPS before Brett and while I like Lough as a fourth outfielder type, he’s not a .918 OPS player, so he could only come down. Similarly, Alex Gordon was hitting .340/.379/.502 before Brett, so he was also due to fall a bit. Now, he’s been very bad since Brett got there, so is that a problem due to Brett or is that just a slump? He’s had iffy pitch selection and pitchers are living down and away on him. He hasn’t made the adjustment, but of these six, he’s the least worrisome player and he’s still walking, so I don’t think he’s lost up there.
Johnson specifically mentioned working with Brett as a key to his upsurge in Tampa (I think some personal fire was involved too, but he still got the swings working for him). He may not be a strong everyday player, but he’s capably filling the role when he’s in there for now.
But Hosmer is the key. The story on Hosmer has been to bust him inside. He’s either not going to catch up or he’s not going to hit it farther than the infield. Since Brett arrived, though, he’s seemingly gotten through. ESPN had a heat map last week that showed how Hosmer was hitting the inside pitch and the difference is startling. On top of that, Hosmer’s hitting for more power. Before: 9 extra base hits in 190 plate appearances. After: 7 in 78. That’s nearly twice as frequently.
He’s hitting less infield choppers that don’t get past the pitcher. His hits aren’t all flaring to left field. Hosmer pulling the ball with authority makes him a much tougher out.
You could have nearly cut off right field up until June, but now, he’s hitting to all fields and even better, there are hardly any pesky outs right in front of the plate. I think I was finally convinced when Hosmer ripped a double in Tampa. The pitch came from lefty Matt Moore, a fastball just inside off the corner. Hosmer turned on it and ripped it into the corner. It’s a pitch that, if he’d swung at it in May, would have been a popout to left.
The best thing that I see is the middle of the lineup impact Brett has (seemingly) had. The run scoring is down, yes, but how many more runs would the Royals have if Alex Gordon hadn’t slumped? And if the gains made by Hosmer, Perez, Butler, and Cain hold while Gordon heats back up, it could turn into a really interesting 1-5 lineup.
*note: I’ve omitted Adam Moore since I don’t expect him to reach Kansas City again this year as long as everyone stays healthy and his plate appearances just aren’t enough to draw any conclusions. He did get three hits in two games, though.