Thanks to the World Series news brownout, there was a five-day delay between the report that the White Sox hired Todd Steverson as their new hitting coach, and the White Sox finally being able to acknowledge said news. That gap gave us time to dig into his background and see why Rick Hahn and Robin Ventura picked the veteran of the Oakland Athletics system.
On Thursday, the Sox and Steverson explained it for themselves, but they hit upon the same points -- a history of working in an OBP-first environment, with some malleability in preaching "selective aggressiveness" if a hitter knows what a pitcher is trying to do to him.
But we now know how the Sox agreed upon Steverson:
After assistant to the general manager Jeremy Haber put together a dossier of about 16 or 17 candidates, thorough research by the front office narrowed those candidates down to six. Hahn and assistant general manager Buddy Bell sat down with them for interviews, with White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, executive vice president Ken Williams and manager Robin Ventura joining the mix for the couple of ensuing finalists who came to Chicago. The White Sox offered Steverson the job on the same night they met with him.
"We came away very impressed with his clear and simple approach to swing mechanics, as well as his devotion to have a plan and approach to every at-bat and pitch to pitch," said Hahn. "It became fairly evident he was the unanimous choice after we sat down in Chicago."
"It's part his personality and part his knowledge and passion and ability and belief to get something out of people," Ventura said. "Those are the first things about Todd that really jumped out."
While this is Steverson's first crack at the "toughest uniformed job in baseball" -- a major-league hitting coach -- Ventura said that Steverson already had plenty of experience in uphill climbs as a Triple-A manager, where being upbeat in the face of mounting failure is a job requirement.
While the challenge is implementing a mindset, Steverson's unofficial opening statement sounds appealing nevertheless, and highlights the biggest outward difference from the man he replaced, Jeff Manto.
"There is no time clock in baseball but there are 27 outs and you want to maximize those with a good mind-set,’’ Steverson, 41, said. "The ability to get on base creates more plate appearances, and the more plate appearances the more opportunities to score runs.’’ [...]
"Nothing good happens for a hitter outside the strike zone. Balls not over the plate aren’t very hittable so our job is to swing at strikes,’’ Steverson said. "You want to be able to take a walk, not going up there looking for a walk, but if the pitcher doesn’t throw strikes you take your base.’’
One advantage that Manto had over Steverson was a knowledge of the Sox system, which might've made the transition a little less ragged. Steverson is coming in cold, and so he plans to contact every hitter to get an idea of what to attack when spring training rolls around.
"Very strong man," Steverson said. "Obviously has a good idea about his swing. He’s been playing a long time. One good thing I saw, there were home runs, but he drove the ball up the middle and the other way a couple times, which shows he can use the whole field, not just a power hitter, all-or-nothing kind of guy. He’ll take what’s given to him and do what’s necessary based on the position of the pitch. That’s a plus that he’s not coming in trying to be an all-or-nothing type of hitter. He has a clue of the strike zone and what he wants to do with the baseball."
Assuming this is the last we'll hear from Steverson for a while, he seems to pass the initial screening. Whether he can get results is a whole 'nother matter, but that caveat is a given.
On the same day, the Blue Jays introduced Kevin Seitzer as their new hitting coach. Seitzer, the former Kansas City Royals instructor who still has fans in the organization, was a rumored candidate for the Sox post that Steverson won.
He lived up to his billing in his introduction as a hitting coach who isn't enamored with pulling the ball, but he said he isn't going to get in the way of Toronto's turn-and-burn guys like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Everybody's following the script so far.