Steverson to teach 'selective aggressiveness'
Former big leaguer spent past two years as A's Minor League hitting coordinator
CHICAGO -- Todd Steverson delivered a mission statement of over one minute when asked Thursday morning about his basic philosophy being brought in as the new White Sox hitting coach.
One or two comments, though, really stood out as the basis of the team's quest to turn around one of Major League Baseball's worst offenses in 2013.
"Selective aggressiveness," said Steverson during a conference call to officially announce his hiring. "Be aggressive to your pitch within the zone.
"Nothing really good happens for a hitter outside the strike zone," Steverson added. "Period."
This hiring of Steverson to replace Jeff Manto, who was relieved of his duties on Sept. 28 after two seasons at the post, was a fairly extensive and comprehensive process as described by general manager Rick Hahn. It began with a "very expansive list of candidates," according to Hahn, including several individuals who already had held this job at the big league level.
There also were names recommended by baseball parties that reached out to the White Sox. Steverson's candidacy came up as the White Sox researched certain organizations where they admired their approach to hitting as well as their continuity of instruction from the Minors to the Majors.
In examining Oakland, a team that finished third in the American League in runs scored and fifth in on-base percentage, the A's Minor League roving hitting instructor was brought into the mix.
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."
The White Sox finished fourth in runs scored during Manto's first year as hitting coach in 2012, a season during which the White Sox sat atop the AL Central for 117 days prior to a late-September fade. They were the only AL team with fewer than 600 runs scored in '13, a season during which the White Sox lost 99 games.
Their walk total of 411, as well as their 237 doubles, left them last in the AL. They finished second-to-last in on-base percentage and OPS. So it was time for a new voice and a new philosophy to address the White Sox hitters, a voice belonging to a man who spent the last 10 seasons in the Oakland organization, including two years as first-base coach and four seasons managing in its Minor League system.
Studying a successful Oakland offense serves as an admirable approach by the White Sox in the overall hitting coach hiring procedure. Then again, the White Sox don't have the same sort of hitters as Oakland, leaving it up to Steverson to impart a consistent philosophy.
His goal is to talk with or meet with every White Sox hitter prior to the start of Spring Training in February in order to get an idea of what they like to do and where they would like to improve. He also has watched video of Jose Abreu, the young slugger from Cuba who agreed to a six-year, $68-million deal with the team.
"A strong man. A very strong man," said Steverson of Abreu.
Abreu also has a good idea concerning his own swing and has the ability to hit the ball up the middle and the other way, proving to be more than just a power hitter per Steverson's impression after watching video of the right-handed hitter. Abreu should fit well in Steverson's plan of selective aggressiveness.
"Have a good educated plan and attack when you go to the plate," Steverson said. "Put yourself into good, solid position to recognize pitches, recognize strikes, and lay off balls to continue your at-bat.
"Hitting is confidence and belief with an ability to react and execute accordingly. Believe in that confidence and what you came up there to do. A hitter's job is to swing at strikes, and a pitcher's job is to throw strikes. So, take a walk when presented to you, but don't go up looking for a walk.
"Grind out an at-bat," Steverson said. "If you were to put a time clock on the game, it's the 27 outs you have. Maximize those 27 outs with a good mindset. That ability to get on base creates more plate appearances. More plate appearances mean more opportunities to score runs."