Jul
14

McCann makes adjustments, eliminates toe-tap before strong road trip

By
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

As we discussed in our Midseason Grades post earlier today, Brian McCann has been a huge disappointment in his first half-season as a Yankee. He is hitting only .239/.294/.377 (83 wRC+) overall despite a strong road trip (13-for-39) heading into the All-Star break. The Yankees didn’t guarantee this guy $85M over five years to hit like that. They expected him to do damage and he has not done that.

In the middle of the road trip we learned McCann had made some changes to his stance and swing mechanics with the help of hitting coach Kevin Long. Minor changes, of course, no one is going to overhaul a seven-time All-Star after a bad half-season, but changes nonetheless. When you struggle for 80-something games, it’s time to start tinkering.

“I’m no longer toe-tapping,” explained McCann to Erik Boland last week. “I’ve gotten wider, I’ve gotten more into my base and basically I’ve been doing four or five unnecessary movements to get to the baseball.”

So, first things first, here is the side-by-side comparison of McCann with the toe-tap (left) and McCann without the toe-tap. I’m not the most tech savvy person, but I did my best to sync the GIFs at the moment his front foot hits the ground:


The toe-tap is pretty noticeable. It also looks like his stance is a little more closed and he isn’t jerking his hands towards his body before his swing, but I’m not sure if that’s something he’s worked to change or if it’s just something that happened on this one swing. The toe-tap is there on the left (game on June 20th) and gone on the right (July 2nd) though, that’s clear and McCann confirmed it was intentional.

Thanks to the magic of MLB.tv, I went back through the archives and found that McCann’s first game without the toe-tap was June 27th, the first game of the home series against the Red Sox, when Vidal Nuno unexpectedly pulled 5.2 scoreless innings out of his behind. McCann did not play on the 26th (team off-day) and he did not play on the 25th either (personal off-day), so he had two consecutive days off and was probably working with Long on these mechanical changes.

“I made some big changes in my swing,” added McCann while talking to Jorge Castillo yesterday. “I just broke down film. I finally got to the point where things that I’ve been doing in the past weren’t working. Long kind of hit the reset button and basically broke down my swing and showed me what I was doing wrong, and I’ve been simplifying my swing.”

McCann actually went 2-for-4 with a double on June 24th, but he went into that game in an 0-for-9 and 4-for-27 (.148) slump. His batting line sat at .223/.284/.360 (76 wRC+) through 268 plate appearances following that game, he took the next two days off, and has hit .310/.339/.448 (115 wRC+) in 68 plate appearances without the toe-tap since. That’s the guy the Yankees thought they were signing, more or less.

Now, courtesy of the amazing Baseball Savant, here are McCann’s spray chart heat maps with (left) and without (right) the toe-tap:

McCann Spray Charts

He’s pulling the ball more! Well, kinda. I know everyone wants McCann to hit the ball the other way because it’s aesthetically pleasing and it beats the shift — McCann already has 20 opposite field hits this year, more than he did in each of the last three seasons — but he’s much more effective when he pulls the ball. He was losing hits to the shift even when he was focused on going the opposite field anyway. Might as well just stick to his strengths and try to yank the ball down the line to right. That’s who he is. Embrace it.

I don’t really know how the toe-tap helps McCann but I assume it’s a timing thing. Get your front foot down earlier and you’ll be better able to see the ball and have a better base underneath you for you swing. That sounds like something that might be right, right? Who knows. All I know is that McCann and Long worked to eliminate that toe-tap and he’s been much more productive since. It might be anything more than a coincidence. I hope it’s not. McCann was very good on the road trip and getting him back to being the guy he was all those years in Atlanta would be the best possible offensive upgrade the Yankees could make in the second half.

Categories : Analysis
  • Mike Myers
    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      I laughed.

  • IvanS

    How does it take half a season to figure out a bad habit that throws off your timing and swing fluency? This seems to happen annually with either one or several hitters and somehow Long is praised for helping after a 90 game slump.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      1. Are you really seeing a whole lot of heaping praise there? Mike made reference to KLong once in the entire post.

      2. This doesn’t just happen to New York Yankees. Is it news to you that major league baseball players are bizzare creatures of habit? They’re freaks.

      • IvanS

        This article didn’t praise him, but you know that if McCann rights the ship long term the YES guys will be all over Long’s jock.

        • The Great Gonzo

          OK at what point in the season would you have told a guy who has hit the ball VERY WELL over the past 5 seasons that he needs to change his approach?

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          You don’t have to buy what YES is selling, if so.

  • Adam

    Kevin Long loves his closed stances. I noticed his new stance a few games ago. His new stance looks exactly like Swisher when Long reworked his swing a few years back.

    • TWTR

      Other teams have had success changing hitting coaches. I wouldn’t hurt to try that here.

      • Craig

        And yet the vast majority of teams see little to no improvement with the changing of the hitting coach.

        Change for the sake of change doesn’t mean improvement.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          What about just injecting some of Charlie Lau’s stem cells?

          • RetroRob

            Most teams change hitting coaches for one of three reasons:

            1) Knee-jerk, fire everyone, I need to save my own job. This approach generally leads to failure, because the person with the knee-jerk reaction gets fire eventually anyway.

            2) New manager brings in his own coaches. Totally understandable.

            3) The players do not get along with the hitting coach.

            Number three is what led to Chris Chambliss’ axing by the Yankees. On the pitching coach side, it contributed to Ron Guidry’s demise.

            All reports indicate Long has a good relationship with the players and management. He’s not going anywhere, not should he.

            • RetroRob

              nor

              • Jorge Steinbrenner

                People want to blame Long for things they can’t trully connect to him. You may not like RISPfail, but can you do anything but anecdotally connect it solely to him? That’s just not how it works.

                • TWTR

                  That is a fallacy.

                  The situation is really bad offensively. Since there doesn’t appear to be any other avenue for real improvement, it makes sense to take the path of least resistance.

                  • The Great Gonzo

                    So…. fire Kevin Long because RISPFail and because its easier than firing all the ballplayers?

                    That still doesn’t make it better.

                  • Jorge Steinbrenner

                    Huh?

                    Come on. I don’t agree with you sometimes, but you’re clearly an intelligent fan.

                    I’m telling you that RISPfail cannot be isolated solely to the work of the hitting coach, you call it a fallacy, and then knowingly say the team should just take the path of least resistance? It doesn’t even sound like you’re buying that.

        • TWTR

          With an offense this bad and little opportunity for improving the personnel, I think you are making the case for change. IOW, there is little risk of downside (unless you think that the GM will mess up the hire) and a chance of upside.

        • vicki

          i think i’ve posted this link before. tepid conclusion, but when russell carleton’s research surprises even him it’s worth reading.

          http://www.baseballprospectus......leid=20885

      • Chip

        I would argue that hitting coaches have more of an effect on younger teams where guys are still trying to find themselves. I mean, Kelly Johnson has been hitting a certain way for years so he’s going to have to suck for a long time before he acknowledges the need for a change. Seems it took McCann about 3 months of sucking to get to that point.

        As far as how Long has been, it would be interesting to see how hitters fare before and after they’ve played under him. Obviously there are a ton of factors to consider but both Ibanez and Granderson upped their offensive games after him and a few guys seem to have regressed when coming in. Of course, Granderson also went from average hitter to MVP candidate under him as well plus the Swisher resurgence was unreal. I would be interested to see a study but it would be really really hard to do

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          I’d wager to say that hitting coaches are like therapists. Some are a fit for some players, but not for others. Doesn’t make them a bad coach.

          I can imagine it’d be really tough to truly develop a metric for hitting coaches that removes every other extraneous variable influencing performance.

          • Chip

            We often hear about a pitcher or hitter getting traded and having a coach mention something that suddenly turns them into a much better player. I think you’re spot on about things working for some guys and not others. Long tried it with Jeter to simplify his swing but it didn’t take while it worked great with Swisher. He turned Cano into a lefty bashing power hitter with his net drill but maybe it had something to do with causing Tex to become very one-dimensional. Who knows?

            • Jorge Steinbrenner

              Who do we remember who didn’t like working with Long? I’m sure there are a few.

              Hitting coach is a pretty intimate relationship for a player, I’d imagine.

              I think we’d all agree that Tino did not make a good hitting coach.

              • RetroRob

                Regarding Tino, that gets back to point 3 above. If the hitting coach has difficulty working with the players, then he is going to lose his job, and rightfully so. He might even be right in what he’s teaching, but if he can’t get through to the player, or indeed the player shuts him out, he has failed. BTW I can’t remember what happened with Tino, meaning if it was player related or management related, but it is interesting that hasn’t been picked up by any other team. I do know he is not a good announcer.

                • Jorge Steinbrenner

                  He was accused of choking one of the players and was clearly letting his lack of patience lead him to very inappropriate places with some of the Marlins’ young players.

                  I love Tino, and I hope he learned from the experience, but that was a severe problem.

                  I’d imagine not every good hitting coach needs to be a Lau-style hitting guru. It probably takes a lot of patience, a good interpersonal manner, and a good analytic process. You try something. It doesn’t work the first time around? You revisit it.

                  • RetroRob

                    Choking a player? Ok, I’m pretty sure that falls under the not getting along well part required of the hitting coach!

            • The Great Gonzo

              Wait… I thought it was the opposite.

              Didn’t Long try and work with Tex a few years back to get him to use the entire field and it just didn’t stick? He ended up going back to being pull happy and everything worked out?

              Am I making stuff up?

              • RetroRob

                It could be both.

                If a player comes to him and wants to try and alter his approach to hit more to the opposite field, he’s going to work with him. That’s his job.

                Yet if it’s not working, he might tell him to go back to what worked and pull away.

        • RetroRob

          I think in the minors, hitting coaches and pitching coaches can have a substantial impact. Their job is a bit different than a MLB’s hitting coaches job. In some ways, an argument can be made that the highest paid hitting coaches, and even most coaches, should be at the lowest levels of the minors where the greatest development, adjustments and habits are occurring.

      • RetroRob

        Sure it could.

  • Chip

    I’ll be happy if McCann just starts getting a few YS cheapies. Seems that the ones he has had go out have been absolute bombs and hasn’t racked up on the cheap ones that Tex and Cano have been getting the past couple of years

  • Rob S.

    It didn’t seem like a strong road trip because McCann still does next to nothing with RISP. This team hits like crazy if the bases are empty but get somebody on second base? Forget about it.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      He hit .429 with RISP on the road trip and is hitting .263/.326/.450 with RISP on the season.

      • Chip

        Edited:

        It didn’t seem like a strong road trip because McCann kept hitting guys into outs at home. He hits like crazy with somebody on second base but empty the bases? Forget about it.

      • The Great Gonzo

        Meh… You and your facts, Axisa.

  • RetroRob

    I’m not sure hitting the other way makes a great deal of difference unless a player can hit line-to-line, which isn’t all that common for a lefty. If not, there’s probably going to be someone there to catch the baseball, since the LFer will be in left center, etc.

    Just hit the ball hard, take advantage of the Stadium. If he’s going to hit .230/.240, it needs to be with power, and then the walks will increase, too. In other words, he needs to be Brian McCann.

    • Chip

      Yeah, it’s not like he’s hitting doubles the other way. If I were him, I would go up there looking for something to crush until I got two strikes and then see if I can poke an outside fastball to left (which is exactly what he did with 2 strikes earlier this week)

  • Farewell Mo

    Good work by Long. He often gets the brunt of the criticism around here for the Yankees putrid offense over the last 1.5 years when it’s really the level of talent has declined and not his skills as a hitting coach.

    I’m glad to see McCann going the other way a little bit too rather than becoming a dead pull hitter which we’ve seen happen all to often as lefties take aim at the short porch since those guys tend to get eaten alive today by those damn shifts.

  • Craig

    A lot of what a hitting coach at the MLB level does is in regards to preparation, video and scouting reports. Yes, they tweak players’ mechanics, but this isn’t like little league. The vast majority of MLB hitters have been wildly successful doing things a certain way and they aren’t just going to throw that away.

    Gary Sheffield did about 10m things horribly wrong in how he hit, but the guy had tremendous bat speed that allowed him to succeed despite these mechanical flaws.

    Also…KLong is just never going to make Roberts or Solarte middle of the order hitters. And no other MLB hitting coach is either.

    Finally…I would imagine the Yankees have a pretty good idea of the value that KLong brings to the team. If they feel he should stay then they’re probably right. Fans just don;t have the chance to see what these guys do so it is really silly to be calling for his firing.

    • Chip

      Just look at Jeter and Ichiro’s swings. There is no way I would teach one of my Babe Ruth kids to try and hit like that but it works for them. I remember when he turned Justin Maxwell into a clone of A-Rod a few years back but he still sucked. Hitting is weird

      • Craig

        Haha…right?

        Hitting is also really, really hard.

      • Mandy Stankiewicz

        I had a friend who grew up in Boston who said about 5-6 years ago he read a local article about how little league coaches in Boston had to teach basic hitting–all the kids showed up trying to hold the bat like Youk.

        • Craig

          I can totally see that!

          A whole bunch of little kids looking like they are taking a crap with the bat in their hands…hysterical and totally what little kids do!

          • The Great Gonzo

            You should see all the little bastards adjusting and spitting into their batting gloves after every pitch. There is also tell of some of them pointing to and arguing with the official scorer trying to make sure he was credited with a base hit.

            Horrible stuff, this professional baseball.

            • Jorge Steinbrenner

              Wait until they’ve got pine tar on their necks.

              • Craig

                D’oh! It’s funny because it’s true…get well Big Mike!

  • Yangeddard Solarte

    Or maybe McCann is just on a hot streak. Why is 68 ABs proof for McCann but not anybody else the sabermetricians don’t view as worthy?

    • Chip

      A tangible change was made 68 ABs ago so its possible that it was the cause. Mike isn’t concluding that’s the case but just pointing out that the initial returns look promising from when the change was made.

    • The Great Gonzo

      LOLZ at Eddard arguing sample size.

      • I’m One

        Yup. He uses them to his advantage when he feels like it, but shouts “SSS!” when that fits his argument too. Plays both sides of the fence on everything. He clearly knows better, so it’s simply baiting.

  • Pinedamaybegreata (formerly Monterowasdinero)

    So the no toe tap coach took it away from Jeter -> disaster and took it away from McCann-> so far so good.

    Not to step on any toes but whatever works…..

    A new league, huge shifts, decimated starting staff and having to learn about lots of new arms, NYC….alot of adjustments but I think McCann will end up having decent #’s when the year is over.

  • vicki

    stance/load adjustment, check.

    (now show me some of the fiery, regulatin’ mccann whose signing i celebrated.)

    • Craig

      I hope he didn’t lose it with the beard.

  • Craig

    Kendrys Morales is hitting .229/.254/.328

    Cashman failed for not signing him and now KLong has gone and ruined him, even though he’s on the Twins.

  • The Great Gonzo

    Why would I notice his toes when he has that gorgeous man caboose backside.

    • trr

      Was he shaking it as he prepared to swing?

  • Craig

    LMAO

  • trr

    Sometimes a very small adjustment in a swing works wonders.

    As far as K-Long, look, hitting + pitching coaches always get a good amount of blame. I doubt if veteran hitters really take everything the
    hitting coach says to heart, but I do feel they have an important role on the team as sounding boards if nothing else. I have no axe to grind with Long; yet if pressure for change were to come down from above, he’d probably be the first to go. Hell, if George were still around, he’d already have had fim fired, shot, buried, dug up, rehired, refired and shot again…

  • Craig

    Shaking it, not Faking it, Baking it and Quaking it.He’s a Brick House.

  • Tom

    Seems like confirmation bias more than anything.

    McCann was 3 for 17 in the 5 games after the change (change didn’t help).
    McCann was 6 for 25 after the change (change didn’t help)
    McCann hit .310 in 68 AB’s after the change (change helped)
    McCann had a 8 game hot stretch against Min/CLE/Bal where he went 12 for 33 (random hot streak that occurred some time after the change).

    He was 6 for 24 before the change and 6 for 25 after the change. So then you can argue there was an acclimation/adjustment period to the change? Or you can argue it had no impact.

    Just a matter of what endpoints you want to pick and what conclusion you want to draw.

    Personally I think it’s just he’s been slumping for whatever reason (new league, dealing with all the new pitchers, who knows what minor injuries or nicks and bruises that we never hear about, the ol’ tried and true “luck”) and he is starting to regress back to his true talent level (A .424 BABIP in July isn’t exactly hurting the #’s either) Maybe the change helps him pyschologically, but his swing is not really any different and while I get that hitters use some small movements as timing mechanisms, I have a hard time believing a guy who’s been hitting for 5+ years is suddenly ‘fixed’ with a change like this and it’s more likely he’s just starting to hit a lot more like he used to hit.

    • Looser trader droids FotD™

      I’d add another possibility: maybe the change didn’t fix him, but the change did “fix” him in that it gave him one, single, solitary thing to think about during his ABs, which got him out of his head and allowed all the other parts of his stance and swing to return to their most natural, instinctive, successful states.

  • Bobby Lucarelli

    I can see McCann hitting .300 the rest of the way and finishing the season with a .270/.330//.420 line with 20 homers 80 RBI

    Not great but respectable. He will be a fine power source going forward

  • Munson

    I have been disappointed with McCann’s blocking ability/effort. The stats may not show a large number of passed balls but the eyeball test reveals a guy who is either not athletic or lazy. His throwing on the other hand looks very good. Recently I have been thinking that Cervelli would be an upgrade over McCann. Hope the second half proves me wrong.