First Half Review: Coaching Staff

The worst .400+ OBP seasons
Poll: What was your favorite moment of the first half?

At 51-37, with the third best record in baseball, leading the Wild Card and just three games back in the AL East, the Yankees had a fine first half. Yet it was a tumultuous three months, wrought with streaks and injuries and strange trends, causing mass panic at times among Yankees fans. Over the extended All-Star Break, we’ll go over each position to see what went right, what went wrong, and how things look for the second half. We already looked at the starting pitchers, relievers, corner infielders, catchers, middle infielders, outfielders and designated hitter, and now it’s time to discuss the coaching staff.

The expectations

After a somewhat rocky first season in New York, we were all looking for manager Joe Girardi to be a bit more honest and forthright when it came to discussing team matters. His in-game strategy was mostly fine, save his sometimes LaRussaian dedication to platoon matchups and the occasional boneheaded move that every manager is guilty of. It would have been nice to see a little evolution out of the manager in those regards, but I don’t think anyone was expecting it.

Pitching coach Dave Eiland was given over $240M worth of new toys this year and was expected to continue working with all the young arms on the pitching staff. Hitting coach Kevin Long was expected to get Robbie Cano back on track, and to also get Melky Cabrera back to being a respectable big leaguer. Organizational do-it-all guy Rob Thompson moved from bench coach to third base coach, replacing the sendtastic Bobby Meacham. Tony Pena went from first base coach to bench coach, and Mick Kelleher was the new guy brought in to take over first. Pena was moved basically to act like a second manager, giving Girardi a wingman in the dugout.

The results

It’s tough to say what falls under the cover of the coaching staff and what doesn’t. Girardi has been better with the media and Rob Thompson is doing a good job simply because no one is complaining about him. The pitching staff isn’t performing up to expectations, and the blame is being put on Eiland more and more with each passing day. Despite some ugly slumps, the Yanks offense has been good and there are few complaints about the job Long has done. Overall, the staff has done well, but let’s break it down individually.

Joe Girardi

Girardi vowed to improve his media relations over the winter and he’s delivered. While what he says isn’t much of a concern, it’s expected that the people running the team be truthful. If someone’s hurt and they don’t know how long they’ll be out, he says it, whereas last year he would try to play it off as minor and say it’ll just be a few days. Choosing words a little more carefully has gone a long way.

On the field, Girardi is basically the same guy as last year. There’s the occasional head scratcher but nothing extreme. If anything, I think we would like to see him a little less platoon crazy, maybe let Eric Hinske play third against a lefty when A-Rod needs a day off, things like that. Oh, and no more bunting before the seventh inning. Just don’t do it.

Tony Pena

Pena’s very respected around the game and is fine as Girardi’s right hand man, but his real value comes in his work with young catchers. Jorge Posada‘s defense has improved considerably since Pena joined the team, and he helped nurture straight outta Double-A Frankie Cervelli into not just a passable Major League catcher, but a very good one defensively. In the unlikely scenario that Girardi gets pink-slipped midseason, Pena makes for a damn fine interim manager and would be in consideration as a long-term solution.

Kevin Long & Dave Eiland

The Yankees as a team are leading the planet in OBP (.358), SLG (.471), and (naturally) runs scored (495). There’s very little complaint about the offense, but it would be nice to see the nine-figure first baseman not suffer through prolonged slumps (which he’s already done twice this year) and to see Robinson Cano get back to his early season plate discipline. Something tells me that last part might be akin to asking him to squeeze water out of a rock.

The pitching staff as a whole has been a disappointment, especially when they’ve issued more walks than all but one other AL team. They’ve thrown just 48.2% of their pitches in the strike zone and have one of the worst first pitch strike percentages (57.8%) in the league. Joba Chamberlain hasn’t taken to any recent instruction and it’s Eiland’s job to get him right. If the pitching staff continues to flounder and if it leads to another early postseason exit, Eiland is the member of the coaching staff most likely to get the axe.

Rob Thompson & Mick Kelleher

Thompson has been an upgrade over the departed Meacham simply because we haven’t seen a runner thrown out at the plate seemingly every game. The Yankees boast a mediocre 70.9% success rate on stolen base attempts (the break-even point is around 72%), but I don’t think we can attribute that to Kelleher not being able to read pitcher’s moves or anything like that. He’s done wonders working with the infielders, with Derek Jeter enjoying his best defensive season ever and Cano rebounding well with the glove.

I’m not really sure what bullpen coach Mike Harkey does other than answer the phone and occasionally stand in the batters box when guys are warming up before the game, so I can’t really say anything about the job he’s done.

Expectations for the second half

The biggest expectations for the coaching staff the rest of the year fall on the shoulders of Dave Eiland, as we all want to see the pitching staff start performing up to its capabilities. There’s only one starter on the team that needs to nibble on the corners to survive, yet for some reason everyone’s doing it. Eiland has to correct that — his job depends on it.

Meanwhile, it would be nice to see Girardi employ Phil Hughes as a multi-inning relief ace, but that seems like just a pipe dream and I’m not expecting it. The team has looked lethargic at times (they had one foot in the batter’s box and one foot on the beach in Anahiem over the weekend), so Girardi does need to get on them a bit and make them realize that every game counts. One thing we know for sure: if the team falls short again, the coaching staff is the one that will feel the pain.

The worst .400+ OBP seasons
Poll: What was your favorite moment of the first half?
  • Moshe Mandel

    I think Girardi’s in game management is decent, but his overall management of his assets has been excellent. I’m just going to repost here what I wrote over at my blog a few days ago.

    I would argue that Girardi’s use of his bullpen and bench has been very good, to the point that no one is overworked and many players are maximizing their abilities.

    In regard to the bullpen, Joe has been very careful not to overwork any pitchers. No Yankee reliever has pitched more than 40 innings out of the pen thus far. Compare that to Joe Torre’s Dodgers, where Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario are both over 48 IP, despite being on a team that has run away with their division. He has used Phil Coke and Phil Hughes well, keeping them fresh and getting them enough work without overusing them. He has been careful not to overexpose Coke for much of the year, and has done a good job managing Alfredo Aceves’ workload as well.

    Outside of the A-Rod snafu, his usage of his bench has been exemplary as well. He has used Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera perfectly, limiting the exposure for both of them and letting them play primarily in roles that they are comfortable with. As a result, Melky is having his best year and Gardner is exceeding expectations. He has also given Johnny Damon sufficient rest to put forth a very good year, and has used Nick Swisher efficiently as well, helping to bring back the Swisher who was a rising star with the A’s. In the infield, his deft touch with Ramiro Pena and Frankie Cervelli put both players in a position to succeed, and he has done a solid job of sticking to a plan for resting Jorge Posada.

    I do not want to overstate the impact of a manager. These players have done well based on their talents. However, there is something to be said about a manager putting his players in the best position to succeed, by refraining from overuse and avoiding asking players to do things that are outside of their skill set. In that regard, Girardi has done an credible job thus far.

  • Zach

    “we were all looking for manager Joe Girardi to be a bit more honest and forthright when it came to discussing team matters”

    we may all have been looking for that, but that doesnt mean the best thing for the team is for Joe to be open about everything.

    • Zach

      “If someone’s hurt and they don’t know how long they’ll be out, he says it, whereas last year he would try to play it off as minor and say it’ll just be a few days. Choosing words a little more carefully has gone a long way.”

      How does saying yeah Jeter or Damon or Rivera is unavailable for 3-5 games help the team? It doesnt, the same way Bellicheck puts Brady on the injury report for ‘Right Shoulder’ for the last three years, or doesnt let Hobbs say hes playing with two torn shoulders and a groin during the SB- it doesnt help your team.

      • Ed

        What you’re saying is right. It doesn’t help but could hurt the team to be totally honest about every little thing. But that’s not the issue.

        The problem is Girardi saying nothing is wrong or downplaying severe injuries into something small even when it’s obvious he’s lying. The worst was when he said nothing was wrong with Rivera after Cashman told the press about his shoulder problems. He continued sticking with his story even after he was informed about Cashman’s statements.

        When things get to the point that the truth is obvious to everyone, there’s no reason to lie about it.

      • A.D.

        The problem is the NY media needing to know everything, and for whatever reason, in Baseball there is greater expectation of honesty with injuries, probably because its harder to exploit an opponents injury than it is in football.

        • Zach

          That may be true because there’s no physical contact between players. But if Jeter or Damon has a sore leg and if thats told to the media the opposing pitcher knows they’re probably not going to steal so he doesnt need to switch to a slide step or rush his delivery to the plate, there are tons of other scenarios that work too

  • Cam

    Mike, what do you tend to think is the reason why the pitching has under performed, especially in the strike throwing area? How much of that can actually be attributed to Eiland and how much blame should be placed on the pitchers?

  • Tank the Frank

    I, for one, couldn’t care less about Girardi’s relationship with the media. The only people who ever made a big deal about that are… the media.

    I really hate how “dealing with the media” has become a prerequisite for this job and I hate even more that it is one of the major factors of determining if a manager has done an acceptable job.

    • I Remember Celerino Sanchez

      I understand your point, except that I can’t agree. The media is us, the fans. We get our information through the media. I’m not allowed in the locker room, so the only way to find out what Girardi (or any player) has to say is via the media.

      So when Girardi lies to the media, he lies to me. When he refuses to answer a question from the media, he is refusing to answer a question from me.

      Of course, as Zach noted above, sometimes you don’t want him telling the truth. I don’t want the Red Sox to know Mo isn’t available for a night. Let them think he is and plan accordingly.

      But there are a ton of times when there is no competitive disadvantage to telling the truth, and in those cases, I want Girardi to be more truthful to me (via the media).

      I am enjoying, as a fan, Girardi’s improved approach this year.

      • Rob H.

        I disagree that we are the media. I understand your thought process however I doubt that the Media in NY gives two sh!ts about us versus their own agenda when covering a team. I would hazard a guess that not all the questions that are asked to the players and coaches are the same questions some of us would actually want asked or things that we would actually want to know.

        • I Remember Celerino Sanchez

          I think you missed my point, Rob H.

          I’m not saying I agree with everything the media does. Nor would I ask the same questions many of the writers ask. (I like the RAB rule of trying to avoid linking to Post or News stories.)

          My point is that the only way that the manager and players can communicate to the players is via the media. So while the media might not ask the same questions we might ask, it doesn’t change the fact that the media members are the conduit between the manager/players and the fans.

          • Rob H.

            OK, I got what you are saying. Yeah, I agree with that obviously. However I think where we differ is the amount of information that we feel we should be entitled too. I think severe injuries and things of that nature we should obviously know but certain tactical stuff I don’t mind not knowing since it’s not necessarily a good thing to put a lot of that stuff out there for everyone, including other teams, to find out about.

            • I Remember Celerino Sanchez

              Right. Agreed. In my original message, I wrote this (and I stand by it):

              Of course, as Zach noted above, sometimes you don’t want him telling the truth. I don’t want the Red Sox to know Mo isn’t available for a night. Let them think he is and plan accordingly.

              But there are a ton of times when there is no competitive disadvantage to telling the truth, and in those cases, I want Girardi to be more truthful to me (via the media).

      • Mike HC

        You may want the media to represent you as a fan, but I sure as hell do not. I could(n’t) care less if Girardi was affable or truthful with the media. I am a fan because I enjoy watching the games. Whether you are Jeter like with the media, or A-Rod like in the media, it does not matter to me. It goes in one ear and out the other. I let their play do the talking for them. The game and the entertainment is played on the field, during free agency, trade rumors, etc… I do enjoy those after the fact tell all books from an insider, but that is far different than how the players present themselves to beat writers and reporters.

      • Ed

        I mostly agree with you. However, print media has reached a point where it’s struggling to survive and is relying on controversy to get attention.

        A lot of the reporters in the clubhouse really don’t care what Girardi thinks, they’re just trying to generate controversy. There’s a limit to how well you can deal with someone who walks up to you with a microphone and a tape recorder with the sole intention of trying to get you to say something he can rip apart in print. How are you supposed to deal with that?

        • Bo

          I don’t care how he treats the print media but they are the conduit to the fans and we want to know some information. For example on injuries.

  • JohnnyC

    Eiland seems to think he’s coaching the Minnesota Twins pitching staff.

    • toad

      How much of the pitching trouble is due to poor tactics rather than poor execution? All the nibbling is ridiculous. If that’s Eiland’s (or Girardi’s) philosophy something needs to change.

  • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    I would just like to see Girardi flout conventional wisdom…go by feel every once in a while…

    • Tom Zig

      Does that mean going with Mo in the 8th when up by 1 run, with the bases loaded and no outs with the 3-4-5 hitters coming to the plate?

      • Mike HC

        If it was a playoff game, Mo would be coming in, as he has in the past. You don’t want to make a habit of that in the regular season if you do not want to overwork him. Of course, you could use Hughes for the 9th inning if you want to limit Mo’s use.

        • RAB poster

          Not overwork him…use him in the eighth and Aceves in the 9th.

          Yes Aceves MAY blow it, but it’s less likely he blows it vs. the 6-7-8 hitters than vs. the 3-4-5.

    • whozat

      I’d like to see him flout conventional wisdom by managing according to leverage, and maximizing his assets. Use Hughes if the game’s on the line in the 6th/7th, and then let him stay in til the ninth. Save Coke and Aceves for tomorrow, don’t blow through all three so that they’re all on 0 days rest in tomorrow’s game.

  • A.D.

    Its looking more and more like Eiland won’t have a job for much longer. He may or may not be the one to blame, but when pitching underachives, and its big money guys & young, talented starters, the coach is going to be the one that goes.

    • JGS

      It’s not the high priced guys that are the issue. I think his inability to work with the guy that needs him more than anyone else–Chien-Ming Wang–is going to ultimately cost him. If they make any coaching staff changes during the season, it’s going to be Eiland getting the axe.

      • Zach

        I dont think its fair to blame Eiland for that. Did Dave Duncan lose his job over Rick Ankiel? Sometimes the pitcher just loses it mentally or physically and you can have the best coach and it wont matter

        • Zach

          And no I’m not comparing Eiland to Duncan. Just saying that even the best fail with guys sometimes

          • JohnnyC

            At least Duncan has a long, successful track record working with veterans, rookies, and reclamation projects. Eiland has achieved bupkis.

            • Bo

              Please dont ever compare a guy like Eiland to the leagues best pitching coach in Duncan. It’s not even worth typing.

              • Zach

                Ok, thanks for reading what I typed Bo

  • Observer283

    Disagree with teh assessment that the “Yankees had one foot in the batter’s box and one foot on the beach in anaheim.” The Yankees scored 18 runs this weekend, which should be more than enough to win at least one game in a three game series. Their heads were certainly in the game when they were in the batters box.

    Now the defense and certainly the pitching were another story entirely.

    • Moshe Mandel


      That is a totally unfair and unfounded assessment. The team put at least two runners on in the 6th, 7th, and 8th against Anaheim in the last game, and scored a ton of runs in the first two games. Unless you are suggesting that Joe properly motivated the hitters but for some reason did not motivate the pitchers, I would just say that the team tried plenty hard and just did not pitch well.

      • Ivan

        The pitching was what killed the yanks in the series.

        When you stake pitchers with 3-4 run leads, it’s the pitcher’s job to hold the lead.

        So that comment of the yanks they had one foot in the batter’s box and one foot on the beach in Anahiem over the weekend is quite false and unfair.

        • Mike HC

          Whether you like it or not, this is an offense centric team. Our C, 2nd, 3rd, SS, LF and RF are all offensive oriented players. It is really up to the offense to hit better with runners in scoring position and make up a bit for the pitching and defense. I hope the pitching staff can step it up, but thus far, this team depends on its offense. That is where the majority of our money lies.

          • Ivan

            Your giving the pitching way too much of a pass here. Too much.

            While the yanks pitching hasn’t been great or live up to the expectations, they are far from terrible and have very good arms.

            Again, it’s the pitcher’s job to pitch well and hold leads for the team especially when it’s 3-4 run leads. It’s hard to win games when the offense does score and suddenly Chamberlain falls apart, same for Pettitte and CC not being CC.

            This team is not only built to score a massive amount of runs but to prevent alot as well. The pitching was way to short and killed them in the Angel series.

            • Mike HC

              I just don’t see run prevention as a strength of this team, nor was it expected to be. Pettitte and Wang are currently shells or their former selves. Hughes and Joba are two young, developing, unpredictable pitchers, neither of whom have come close to pitching effectively for an entire season. Mo is our only proven bullpen guy. After that there was a bunch of question marks and keep your fingers crossed type guys. CC and AJ were both big money additions who have pitched as well as was expected. Neither was supposed to be the best pitcher in baseball, no matter how much money CC got. The defense has been below average for years now, and adding Teix has helped, but defense is still not a strength. Scoring runs is what this team is paid to do, and we will only go as far as our offense takes us this year. It is really that simple.

              • RAB poster

                Aceves has been having a remarkable season out of the pen.

  • Matt ACTY/BBD

    My only problem with General Joe this year has been his micro-management of the bullpen.

    • A.D.

      They have talented arms that can get both types of batters out, i’d prefer giving them full innings at a time instead of matching up.

      • cr1

        He carries that whole lefty-righty obsession into making out the lineup, too — sometimes to the detriment of other factors.

    • Chris

      In what regard? I think he’s done a pretty good job considering what he’s been given. He doesn’t overwork the hot hand, and give everyone a shot.

      • RAB poster

        The other day in Anaheim. Melancon in two outs in the (8th? 7th?). There were two outs, Melancon got them easy and would have gotten three if not for the Jeter error. He’d settled down fine. So what does Girardi do? Takes out Melancon and brings in Bruney, who promptly lets on the next batter and gives up a 3 run bomb to all but put the game away.

        Things like that are what I think they’re talking about when they say micromanaging.

        • Zach

          Thats just 1 example. I can name an example: Coke came in for 1 quick out then Hughes came in and shut the next two batters.

          • Matt ACTY/BBD

            Or when Aceves came in for 1/3 IP against a righty and Coke got the next two lefties vs. SEA when both guys are very capable of getting both LHH/RHH out.

  • gxpanos

    I don’t like Long Eiland, solely because he had that quote about how he “cant stand behind the mound” while CMW throws. I dont care if CMW was angry about Gator getting fired, or that Eiland doesnt mesh with him. It’s not his job to get along with Wang, it’s to fix him. And the baseline, number one, completely necessary thing you do as a pitching coach, the thing you do BEFORE you try to fix mechanics or release point or whatever, is NOT publicly throw a pitcher under the bus. You dont wash your hands of a guy just because you think he’s not taking your instruction well.

    News flash for Dave: it doesnt matter if you think you’ve publicly divested yourself of all responsibility for Wang; you’re still accountable. That comment didnt give you any more job security. If management has to make a choice, you’re going to lose out; the pitcher is inevitably more valuable commodity than a coach.

    Now, I’m not saying go back to Gator, nor am I nostalgic about Mel. I just want them to hire Mazzone, who is currently a damn TV announcer because he couldnt turn around an Orioles’ staff that Mo himself would have had trouble with.

    • Ivan

      “I just want them to hire Mazzone”

      And then we can ressurect Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine.

      To be fair, Mazzone in Bal didn’t fair so well.

      Mazzone was a good pitching coach but don’t think he will be that much of a difference.

      • A.D.

        He also resurrected Jaret Wright & John Burkett

        • Ivan

          And did wonders with Daniel Cabrera.

        • Thomas

          As well as getting great seasons from Neagle, Merker, John Thompson, Milwood, Horacio Ramirez, Byrd, Damien Moss, Hampton, and Russ Ortiz. He also got great season out of relievers like Lightenberg, Remlinger, Rocker, McGlinchy, and Mullholland.

          While Mazzone always had the luck of having three HOF, he did make a lot of mediocre/washed up players really good for a season or two.

      • gxpanos

        Rodrigo Lopez, Kris Benson, Daniel Cabrera, Adam Loewen, Bruce Chen, Steve Trachsel, Brian Burres.

        It was under Mazzone that Bedard had his best years (’06, ’07).

        What the hell was he supposed to do with all those other guys?

        He’s been improperly rated as a coach his whole career. He isn’t the Atlanta God that he was supposed to be, but he isnt the irrelevant Baltimore bum, either. He’s still probably one of the best pitching coaches alive, and he doesnt have a job.

        • Ivan

          I did say he was a solid pitching coach.

          Nevertheless, this perception that he could of made that much of a difference is quite myth made up by the media and other 19th century thinking fans.

          If Daniel Cabrera had success under him, he would of been considered a genius, but since Daniel Cabrera wasn’t so successful, oh well he was never a good pitcher to begin with. That’s not fair nor consistent.

          Pitching coahces or any specific coach for that matter get too much credit or too little.

          • gxpanos

            In Cabrera’s individual case, if Mazzone had made him a good pitcher, I think it’s valid to say he’s a true guru/genius. Dude has a career 5.2 BB/9, his motion is all over the place, he’s 6’7″, all arms and legs…that’s a guy that’s tough to fix. There’s a greater chance Betances becomes Dan Cabrera than Randy Johnson–because it’s difficult for guys like that to harness their stuff. I don’t hold it against any pitching coach if he can’t fix a guy like that.

            This is why I think, rationally speaking, you cant blame Mazzone for B’more. He did well with one guy with great stuff (Bedard) and did poorly with the other, more difficult case (Cabrera). More difficult because of his body and mechanics.

            And for the record I generally agree that coaches are overrated. All I’m saying is that Mazzone is just sitting out there, while the staff under Eiland isnt doing that well. Can it hurt to bring him in? I think you could buy low on Mazzone because of an unfairly tarnished rep, and the worst case is that he’s no worse than Eiland.

    • cr1

      That was an ugly, spiteful moment, but it also was a signal that Eiland had no idea what to do next. Fixing Wang was then and is still now a big priority for whoever holds that job. I’d rather not have it be someone who has nothing more to contribute to that than blaming the pitcher that he can’t fix.

      It may sound ugly, but with coaches I always go back to the philosophy of animal trainers: it is never, ever the animal’s fault. It’s up to you to find out how to work them.

  • DSFC

    Mazzone was given absolute garbage in Baltimore. No one was fixing Daniel Cabrera.

  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    Time for a first half review of the RAB triumvirate and RAB regulars.

    • jsbrendog

      oh the possibilities

  • Simon B.

    Do we really have any documentation that Joba has been ignoring the coaching staff?

    Ordinarily, I don’t really care too much to worry about the coaching staff, but there are just so many questionable things about Dave Eiland. Even if he didn’t directly contribute to Wang’s mechanical woes, you figure that he was the main guy in charge of fixing him. He just seems so blind. He kept saying Wang was fine after every bullpen session only for Wang to shit the bed in his subsequent start during his historically terrible stretch.

    There are things he’s said that are just demonstrably wrong. In one of Wang’s later starts, he said the release point was “inconsistent” except that Wang’s release point was actually very consistent according to Pitch F/x.

    Of course, we still don’t know what exactly is up with Joba, but if it has anything to do with the “adjustments” he made in Spring Training, that would be cause for firing him right now.

    There’s also something to be said for almost everybody’s BB/9 jumping a ton. Part of that is probably the New Stadium too, but I’m extremely skeptical of Eiland.

    • RAB poster

      “Do we really have any documentation that Joba has been ignoring the coaching staff?”

      No, the fans just love saying that.

      • Zach

        Just because the results arent there right now doesnt mean hes not listening. Its human nature to go back to things we’re comfortable with when we’re not seeing success with something ‘new.’

        • RAB poster

          Nice…my first ever point on RAB.

          I’m so proud.

  • Conan

    Why would Girardi rest ARod against a lefty in put in Hinske, who’s career numbers against lefties are not good.? I’d prefer Girardi to sit ARod against a righty to put Hinske in the lineup as a 3B.

    • Zach

      Hinske has 11 games at 3B since 2006

  • Bo

    Who gets the discredit for turning Joba into an average pitcher with no fire?