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Kevin Long

Maybe if you spent more time with, you know, the hitters you’d still have a job. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

When the offense doesn’t perform, who do you blame?

The hitters? Sure, they’re overpaid bums. But they have guaranteed contracts worth millions. Getting rid of them is rarely feasible.

Not content with this reality, we turn our ire to the hitting coach. If the hitters didn’t hit, surely we can blame the guy who coaches them.

The Yankees did just that, dismissing Kevin Long last week despite the year remaining on his contract.

Did Long deserve the axe? Survey fans and you’ll find little dispute. For the second straight year the offense dumpster dived for runs. Isn’t the hitting coach the obvious problem?

In some cases, perhaps. But Long worked exceedingly well with the team since taking over as hitting coach in 2007. Only three times during Long’s first six years did the Yankees not lead the league in runs.

2008: When injuries just devastated the offense.
2011: When they scored eight fewer runs than the leading Red Sox
2012: When they scored four fewer runs than the leading Rangers (and 37 more than the next-highest team)

Wait a minute, you might say. How can you credit Long with the offense’s performance? The Yankees employed really good hitters.

You don’t say.

Let’s look at 2012, the last year the Yankees featured a dominant offense. Did Long help produce a career year from Robinson Cano? Did his work lead to yet another solid year from Nick Swisher? How much did he work with Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez, and did the results on the field reflect that work?

From the stands and our couches we just can’t know this. What we do know is that the Yankees lost two of their best hitters (by OPS+) to free agency following the 2012 season. Their fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-best missed most of 2013 with injuries. After the 2013 season they lost their best hitter. They also lost Curtis Granderson, one of the top four or five hitters on a team that was either first or second in runs scored during his tenure.

How is any of this the hitting coach’s fault?

Take a look at the 2014 Yankees hitters and ask yourself: which of these guys severely underperformed expectations?

Brian McCann immediately comes to mind. Even with world-class defense behind the plate, his 94 OPS+ isn’t even close what the Yankees signed up for. While his .232 average looks pathetic, McCann’s lack of patience ruined him. With even his career-average walk rate his OBP would have been more than 30 points higher. Don’t get me started on BABIP (and as Mike says, don’t blame that on the shift, since teams have been shifting on McCann for years).

So maybe we can blame Long for McCann’s putrid performance throughout 2014, second half power numbers excepted.

Mark Teixeira? Hard to blame the hitting coach for a guy coming off serious wrist surgery. Derek Jeter? Hardly. Beltran? Again, the guy was hurt — and was doing just fine until he got hurt. Ichiro? Brian Roberts? Alfonso Soriano? Please. You need only look at the age columns on their Baseball Reference pages to understand their numbers.

Given this it might seem as though blaming Long is more an act of scapegoating than actual fault-finding. But then I read this and wonder what the hell he’s thinking.

He talked about this two years ago where you said you weren’t going to become the Bronx Bunters, but the way the offense is trending now, do you have to start thinking about doing more things differently?

Kevin Long: “No we’re not constructed like that. (GM Brian Cashman) doesn’t get a whole lot of speed guys. He goes out and gets guys that can hit the ball out of the park. I don’t think hitting the ball out of the park was as much of an issue as the other things. We had about 150 home runs [147 to be exact]. At one point it didn’t even look like we’d get close to that. We did hit some home runs and we did some things (in the second half), but it’s more about the little things. Executing and not missing a pitch when you need to. And I’m going to go to baserunning again — we have to better there, we have to better with men in scoring position.

Did Long even look at the players Cashman handed him in 2014? Did he expect McCann and Beltran to return the offense to its homer-mashing glory of 2012? I found this comment completely out of touch with the reality of the 2014 Yankees. And yeah, the Yankees had 147 homers, which was pretty much average.

If you hit 245 home runs, 31 more than any other team, as the 2012 Yankees did, you might not have to play much small ball. You can do things the way you always have. When you’re right in the middle of the pack, though, changing your approach might make some sense. Don’t you think?

Yes, this is just an interview and might not be reflective of Long’s actual work with the hitters. But that doesn’t make it any less off-putting. (And blaming the baserunning is an unnecessary, finger-pointing aside.)

Another factor, one we are again unable to fully discern: did the 2014 Yankees buy into Long’s style? In the past Long had big fans in Swisher, Granderson, and Alex Rodriguez. None were on the 2014 Yankees. Did the new guys buy in, in the same way the old guys did?

Take one hitting coach and put him into two different situations. You’ll see different results. It’s not as though he’s teaching these guys how to hit. They’ve been doing that all their lives. What he does is help them work through issues as they crop up. If the players don’t buy into the coach’s system, then he’s doomed from the start.

For Kevin Long, the 2007 through 2012 Yankees were a completely different situation than the 2013 and 2014 Yankees. Perhaps the new personnel didn’t work for him in the way the previous personnel did.

Whatever the case, it’s difficult to fault the Yankees for firing Long. They stand to lose little by finding a new hitting coach. It’s not like replacing the GM, where you put an entire new system and vision in place for the organization. There are plenty of qualified coaches out there, and players are used to working with many different hitting coaches throughout their careers.

Categories : Coaching Staff
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Sep
18

Game 152: Oops

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Mike’s out, so I told him I’d do the game thread. And then I forgot. Oops. My bad. Here’s the game thread for tonight. I don’t have anything witty to add. I’d just like to see a few more wins before the season’s out. Run the table on the last homestand for Jeter, maybe?

Categories : Game Threads
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Just had a huge and delicious Sunday breakfast. Now have a cup of coffee and nothing particular on the agenda, so let’s get to answering some questions Mike didn’t get to in this week’s official mailbag.

Plenty of people wrote in with shortstop-themed questions, and Mike covered ones relating to Asdrubal Cabrera, trades, and Korean SS Jung-Ho Kang. Yet there were plenty more.

Alcides Escobar

(Credit: Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

C.Roy asks: Could you see the Royals being willing to talk about Alcides Escobar in a trade this winter? I see it unlikely that we will fix our lack of power at the SS position and Escobar would provide great defense and one more solid leadoff type. Possibly get Beltran involved (eating money) to open DH for Arod and in turn 3B for Headley.

No, I don’t see the Royals shopping Escobar this winter. They’re right in the race this year and with some young players coming through the system I doubt they’re ready to sit back and start rebuilding. He’s also under contract and has pretty reasonable team options through 2017, so the Royals really have no reason to trade him.

Well, maybe they have one reason. Escobar isn’t a guy known for his bat, as C.Roy mentions in his question. Great on defense, not much of a bat. Sounds like someone else the Yankees have on the roster, Brendan Ryan. Yes, Escobar’s bat is considerably better than Ryan’s, but remember that Ryan once could hit a little bit. His OPS+ during prime years:

2009: 97
2010: 57
2011: 85

It’s only since 2012 that Ryan has been a complete and total zero with the bat. Escobar’s last three years, by OPS+:

2012: 96
2013: 53
2014: 87

Escobar is a bit younger than Ryan was from 2009-2011, so it’s not a straight comparison. But the point is that I wouldn’t place my bets on a light-hitting shortstop, especially as the league hits lighter and lighter.

Nik asks: The Yanks seemed to have had a dearth of OF’ers and catchers, even arms for the mound over the last large handful of years. Why is it so hard to find shortstops who can hit AND play serviceable d? Has the era of Jeter and Ripken passed? Or is it that the Yankees just decided “Well, Derek will play until he’s 55, we don’t need to worry about it…”??

Not sure how they have a dearth of catchers, unless by dearth you mean abundance, in which case sure, maybe. But that misses the larger part of the question.

Yes, the era of Ripken and Jeter has clearly passed. Offense is down league-wide, as it seems we say in every post these days. Of the 22 shortstops who have enough PA to qualify (and Troy Tulowitzki does not), only seven have a wRC+ over 100 (although another four have 98 or 99). Of those seven, three were below average last year. (Of the four with a 98 or 99 wRC+, three were worse in 2013.)

Point being, it’s incredibly difficult to find consistently good, healthy shortstops. In the last three years there are 26 shortstops who have 1,000 or more PA, and of them only eight have an above-average wRC+. Only 15 of them have 1,500 PA (so average of 500 per year, which is not that much).

Making matters worse, at least in terms of 2013 and 2014, is that the Yankees have Derek Jeter. Who’s going to sign with them to play backup to Jeter? Stephen Drew wouldn’t do it last year, even with Jeter’s status uncertain. As for grooming one through the minors: it sounds nice, but how many teams have developed everyday shortstops in the last five years?

Jon asks: Why not take a chance on Tulo next year?

For starters, he’s under contract with the Rockies through 2020, so it’s not as though the Yanks can just take a flier on him. The Rockies aren’t just going to give him away, even if they do owe him $118 million through 2020.

To that point, why would you want to take on the most expensive portion of that contract? Tulowitzki hasn’t played in nearly two months and he’s constantly hurt. Since 2012 he has 1090 PA, or 363 per season. He’s played more than 140 games just three times since coming up full-time in 2007.

What is a fair exchange for a super expensive player (Tulo got the 18th largest deal in MLB history despite never hitting free agency)? How much would the Rockies have to eat? How little would they take? No, I don’t think they’re parting ways with him this winter, just because doing so will be too complicated.

Categories : Mailbag
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AL Wild Card Standings on September 9

The odds were stacked against them to open September, and they haven’t helped their cause. By playing mere .500 ball at a time when every win is crucial, the Yankees have dropped from 3.5 games back from a tie for the second Wild Card to five games back.

Cleveland and Detroit now sit between them and the postseason. Toronto rides their heels in a virtual tie. The offense can’t generate any runs. The Yankees’ chances don’t look great, even with 21 games remaining.

People love to estimate how many wins it’ll take to put them into October play. Will they need to win 17 of 21? More? To make up five games in just three weeks is a pretty tall order any way you slice it.

The Yanks can forget about the AL East. While eight — EIGHT — of their remaining games are against the Orioles, they simply cannot expect a second-half-2009-against-the-Red-Sox performance. Even if they did, by some miracle, sweep the O’s, those games alone would only get them within two of the AL East crown.

On the Wild Card front, the Yankees have the misfortune of not playing any teams ahead of them the rest of the way. The best chances they had to beat up on the competition came with their recent series against Detroit and Kansas City, and they dropped two of three in both. Oops.

But I’m not here to argue what they could have done and didn’t do. What we all want to know is what comical scenarios will it take for the Yankees to actually make the postseason?

Let’s start with some semi-reasonable expectations. To date the Yankees have a .518 win percentage. Let’s say they get reasonably hot and play close to .600 ball the rest of the way, going 12-9. Seattle, current holders of the second Wild Card spot, would have to go 6-13 the rest of the way after playing .552 ball all season. And that’s while Cleveland goes at best 11-9 and Detroit goes at best 6-12.

(Which would be great for Dave Pinto’s massive tie scenario.)

Clearly, the Yanks will have to get super hot in order to stand an inkling of a chance. If Seattle, Detroit, and Cleveland play .500 ball the rest of the way — which is about as reasonably bad as you can project. (We’ll go one game under, for odd-numbered games remaining.) That would make the final standings:

Seattle: 88-74
Detroit: 88-74
Cleveland: 84-78

Just to tie, the Yankees would have to go 15-6. The odds of even doing that are pretty long. A quick glance shows the Yankees having nowhere near that good a stretch previously this season. My eye sees a 10-4 stretch as being their best to date.

This isn’t meant to bury the Yankees. We’re fans, with no control on the outcome of the games. Anything other than hope is pretty ridiculous. But it sets some solid expectations going forward. The worst the Yankees can reasonably play the rest of the way is 15-6 ball, a .714 win percentage.

We keep tally starting tonight.

Categories : Analysis
Comments (72)
A familiar sight for years to come (Credit:  Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

A familiar sight for years to come. (Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Yes, I’m swiping Mike’s bit, kind of. He’s invited me to do so for years, and now seems like a good time to take him up on the offer.

Brian Cashman‘s contract expires after this season. With the possibility of his team missing the postseason for the second consecutive year, fans have speculated that Cashman’s 16-year tenure as GM could come to an end.

Plenty of fans, particularly the loudest ones, have hoped that is the case. But it appears that they will be disappointed.

Playoffs or no playoffs, the Yankees intend to offer Brian Cashman a new contract this winter, according to pretty cool guy Jon Heyman. His sources indicate that ownership doesn’t blame Cashman for the way the last two seasons have unfolded.

(Perhaps because their own meddling has played a role?)

Few fanbases stand 100% behind the general manager. There’s always a set of people who believe that they’re the smartest people in the room, and they’re vocal so they can prove it to everyone. Yet it seems that this group is larger than it was the last time Cashman’s contract expired.

At that point, after the 2011 season, I fully supported bringing back Cashman. Since the inception of RAB the three of us (now four with Jay) have felt that Cashman is the guy for the job.

Now? I’m not so sure. Hence, a “thoughts on” post.

1. Where is this team headed? The Yankees had some tough decision to make last off-season. Not only did they face a depleted roster, but their far-and-away most productive hitter hit the free agent market. The time seemed ripe for a rebuilding effort.

They could have acted far differently. They could have re-signed Robinson Cano and signed Masahiro Tanaka without sacrificing the 18th pick in the draft. Instead they went in a completely different direction, trying to patch multiple weaknesses with high-priced free agents.

As Mike wrote earlier this week, the Yankees face an even tougher set of decisions this winter. Do they double down on their spending strategy to bring in Jon Lester? Do they seek out an offensive upgrade — Nelson Cruz or Hanley Ramirez? They’ve already committed $168 million to the 2015 team, and that covers just 10 players.

It seems kind of silly to hold back this off-season after going big and seeing little results this past season. Yet, as Mike noted, they certainly need to rethink how they operate as the team around them modify their philosophies.

The point is, in the past we’ve had some idea of the direction the Yankees were taking. Right now? I have none, and I don’t think anyone else outside the organization does, either.

The further point is, I’m not totally sure Cashman is the guy to take the team in a different direction.

2. Is it a higher ups problem? There are plenty of young executives from other clubs the Yankees could poach for a potentially vacant GM spot. But if they’re not allowed to actually make decisions, will it even matter?

The larger question is of whether ownership is truly a problem here. Yes, the Steinbrenners have opened their wallets to help the team, but are they spending that money wisely? Are they meddling to too great a degree? These are questions we have difficulty answering from the outsider perspective.

We’ve seen certain instances where the higher ups step in to make decisions. Rafael Soriano remains the most prominent example. Ichiro Suzuki, too. So how many decisions is ownership forcing on the team? How independently can the GM act?

The Diamondbacks just fired their GM, Kevin Towers. They’ll find someone soon to fill that role. Will he have any success? It’s tough to say, because, as my dear friend Leo said, Ken Kendrick still owns them. It has become pretty apparent that ownership is part of the problem here. Knicks fans have known this for far more than a decade.

If the problem does lie with the higher ups, then does it even matter who holds the GM position? In that case, having Cashman, who has been around the Steinbrenner family his entire adult life, might be an advantage.

3. Would a good candidate even want the job? Many of us have dreamt of becoming the GM. (And a few among us have delusions that we’re qualified.) Who would turn down the opportunity if offered?

Plenty of people. Perhaps the most qualified candidates wouldn’t find the Yankees’ job attractive. Two highly regarded executives, Jason McLeod of the Cubs and David Forst of the A’s, declined to interview for the Padres GM job earlier this year. Would they interview for the Yankees’ gig, knowing that ownership gets involved in baseball decisions?

The absolute worst case scenario is to let Cashman walk only to hire some retread GM, because none of the elite candidates want the job. I like Kevin Towers well enough, but I don’t want to see him replace Cashman as GM of the Yankees.

There’s no point in letting Cashman go if they’re not going to replace him with an elite GM, or a young executive on his path to greatness. Firing Cashman and then hiring (shudders) Ed Wade or Jim Bowden or Jim Hendry seems like a sure step backward. What if they’re the only guys lining up to interview for the job?

4. A Theo/Hoyer situation? By most visible measures, Billy Eppler has done a fine job in the last few years, first as pro scouting director and now as assistant GM. The Padres courted him for their vacant GM position, and nearly hired him. The man is in demand. Might it be his time to shine?

The Yankees could choose to promote Cashman and move Eppler into the GM role, a situation similar to how Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein operate in Chicago. On a practical level that might not accomplish much. Epstein surely continues to call shots in Chicago, just as Ken Williams continues to call shots in Chicago even though Rick Hahn is the GM.

At the very least, this kind of nominal move could keep Eppler in New York. Given the work he’s done in the last few years and the reputation he’s established, that seems desirable. The Yankees have an obstacle, in that they already have a team president. While most of us have less than perfect impressions of Randy Levine, it’s not as though the Steinbrenners are just going to fire him because they want to move Cashman into that position.

Categories : Musings
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RAB Shop

What’s this? We’re plugging our shop again? (And it’s still not done?) Yep. Blame the lack of afternoon baseball. Again, you can click the banner to check out the bare bones store, or use the links below to buy Yanks gear at the following shops:

MLB Shop
Fanatics
Amazon

Thank you again for all of your support.

Comments (1)
Aug
10

Reintroducing the RAB Shop

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RAB Shop

You buy your share of Yankees gear throughout the year, right? I’m guessing that most of you reading this don’t go to Modell’s or Dick’s or Sports Authority. There are so many places to buy online that it rarely makes sense to trek all the way to the store to make a purchase. With good prices and fast shipping, shopping online makes far more sense.

RAB is getting in on that action. We’ve set up relationship with three major MLB gear outlets. So when you buy your gear, you can help support the site.

You can check out what we currently have going at the RAB Shop. It’s limited right now, since I just started loading in products. Before long it will allow you to sort by what you’re looking for: Jerseys (home, road, replica, authentic), t-shirts, caps, and other gear.

Here’s the deal for the moment. If you plan to buy some Yankees gear and want to help support the site, drop me a line, joe at riveraveblues dot com. Let me know what you plan to buy, and I’ll create an affiliate link for it and add it to the Shop. I’ll also email you back the URL. You don’t have to go through this trouble, of course, but we appreciate any effort.

Alternatively, you can just click on these links to make any purchases at the following stores:

MLB Shop
Fanatics
Amazon

Thank you again for all of your support.

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Podcast Logo_horiz

Guest: Tim Kurkjian of ESPN. He’ll be covering the Yankees-Red Sox game on Friday, and then the Yankees-Rays on Monday. We talk about how those rivalries have changed over the last few years. There’s also plenty of trade deadline talk.

Before that Mike and I talk for quite a while about the state of the team — it turns out you can talk for a while when you miss a week and change.

iTunes link: here

Remember to email in your questions before Friday’s show (recorded Thursday night), podcast at riveraveblues.com.

You can also give us a call us at 716-393-5330 and leave a voicemail. We’ll play it on air and answer it. It’ll feel more radio-like that way.

Categories : Podcast
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Podcast Logo_horiz

Guest: Jason Wojciechowski of BeaneBall, an A’s blog, and Back of the Bullpen, a general baseball podcast. We’re talking about the upcoming A’s series and how they have turned players like Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson into stars.

To open the show Jay and I are running down some general items, including the recent series against Seattle and some frustrations with the team.

Mike joins us a bit later to talk about the draft, particularly about the Yankees’ strategy and how it fits with their intentions during the international signing period. And of course we’re talking Rob Refsnyder.

Spoiler: We don’t talk potential trade targets at all. Not once. A disappointment, I know.

iTunes link: here. Wanna leave us a review? It would be much appreciated.

Remember to email in your questions for the next show, podcast at riveraveblues.com.

You can also give us a call us at 716-393-5330 and leave a voicemail. We’ll play it on air and answer it. It’ll feel more radio-like that way.

Categories : Podcast
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Podcast Logo_horiz

Guest: Matt Klaassen of FanGraphs. If you follow him on Twitter, @devil_fingers, you’ll know that he’s pretty die hard on the Royals. For which we pity him.

There’s plenty to talk about, both about the upcoming series and about the Yankees, uh, not ideal play for the past week or so.

Remember to email in your questions before Friday’s show (recorded Thursday night), podcast at riveraveblues.com.

You can also give us a call us at 716-393-5330 and leave a voicemail. We’ll play it on air and answer it. It’ll feel more radio-like that way.

Categories : Podcast
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