Via Jon Heyman: The Astros have hired Trey Hillman to be their new bench coach. Hillman returned to the Yankees last offseason and spent this year as a special assistant in the player development system. He was a coach in the minor league system from 1990-2001 and was considered a candidate to replace the retiring VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman, but Heyman says Hillman wanted to get back in uniform and on the field. Between Newman’s retirement and both Hillman and Gordon Blakeley leaving, there’s been a lot of change in the front office these last few weeks.
Rays GM Andrew Friedman has left the team to take over as the Dodgers president of baseball operations, both teams announced. After years of building annoyingly good teams on a tiny budget, Friedman will now have the largest payroll in the game at his disposal. Of course, now he has actual expectations too. Team president Matt Silverman will replace Friedman and I have no doubt the Rays will continue to be a thorn in the Yankees’ side going forward. They weren’t a one-man show all these years.
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.
Baseball America continued their breakdown of the top 20 prospects in each minor league with the Double-A Eastern League today. As usual, the list is free but the scouting reports are subscriber only. Nationals OF Michael Taylor, Red Sox IF/OF Mookie Betts, and Indians SS Francisco Lindor claim the top three spots. C Gary Sanchez (No. 11) and 2B Rob Refsnyder (No. 13) represent the Yankees. RHP Luis Severino didn’t throw enough innings with Double-A Trenton to qualify for the list.
“On the field, Sanchez still draws raves for his bat, which shows the potential for both a high average and lots of power. He can get his hands in and turn on the inside pitch with power, but evaluators did note that he struggled with both breaking pitches and changeups this season,” said the scouting report, which also noted Sanchez has a top notch arm but still has a lot of work to do defensively. They also say his maturity continues to be an issue. Sanchez, 21, hit .270/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) with 13 homers in 110 games for Double-A Trenton this summer.
The 23-year-old Refsnyder hit .342/.385/.548 (159 wRC+) with 19 doubles and six homers in 60 games with the Thunder this year before being promoted to Triple-A Scranton. “Refsnyder drew raves from evaluators for his ability to hit line drives to all sectors and also for possessing premium bat speed. He’s got pop, but it’s more of the gap-to-gap, doubles variety than true home run power,” said the scouting report. It also says Refsnyder is “still crude technically” in the field but he has improved at second base.
The Eastern League list is probably the most impressive list I’ve seen so far. There was a ton of top talent in the league this summer. Severino didn’t qualify for the list and others like OF Tyler Austin, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and LHP Manny Banuelos simply didn’t make the cut. The last list relevant to the Yankees is the Triple-A International League, which is due out tomorrow or the next day. The RailRiders were devoid of prospects for most of the summer. Refsnyder should make the list but others like RHP Shane Greene and C John Ryan Murphy will probably fall short.
The Yankees re-signed GM Brian Cashman but fired both hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher late last week. The rest of the coaching will remain though there’s a possibility they will be shifted around into new roles. We’ll just have to wait and see. The dust is still settling following those moves, and here are some random thoughts for the time being.
1. I’m going to start with Kelleher because this will be short and, frankly, I have no idea what’s going here so I’m not even going to pretend to try to understand this move. What does the first base coach do anyway? He keeps track of the pitcher’s time to the plate and the catcher’s pop time, and … holds onto Brett Gardner‘s oven mitt thing in case he reaches base? Outside of Davey Lopes, who turned the Phillies (2007-10) and now the Dodgers (2011-present) into elite base-running teams, I couldn’t even name any first base coaches around the league. I’m much more interested in Cashman’s “global perspective” comment — he gave that quote after being asked about replacing Kelleher — than the actual decision to let Kelleher go. What could that comment mean? I can understand targeting players with marquee value and stuff like that, but coaches? Do they want a Japanese-speaking coach? Another Spanish-speaking coach? Does Cashman simply mean they want a more well-rounded coach? This whole first base coach thing fascinates me. I’m oddly looking forward to seeing how this plays out.
2. I don’t think there is any way we can accurately evaluate coaches as fans. The only tangible decision a coach makes that we actually see is the third base coach sending runners. That’s all. Yeah, we see the pitching coach walk to the mound, but who knows what he’s saying? Just about every task a coach performs happens behind the scenes and we don’t have access to that stuff. Even if we did, I’m pretty confident in saying we still wouldn’t be able evaluate it properly. Was Long the reason the offense underperformed so much this year? Maybe. It’s very possible. I happen to think giving nearly 1,800 plate appearances to Brian Roberts, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano, and Stephen Drew was a much bigger problem than Mark Teixeira being unable to beat the shift a few dozen times. Those five guys accounted for almost 30% of the team’s plate appearances in 2014. Did you know that? That’s a lot. And let’s not ignore the obvious here. It’s not like Long was handed the script to Breaking Bad and came back with The Chevy Chase Show. They had a great offense under his watch from 2007-12 and a not so great offense once the personnel changed in 2013-14. He didn’t have much to work with the last two years. Anyway, Long has been scapegoated — he was a goner as soon as Cashman re-signed, someone had to take the fall — and at this point many so many people have decided he was the problem that there’s no way to discuss this move objectively.
3. Despite George Steinbrenner‘s very famous hirings and firings (and occasional re-hirings and re-firings), scapegoating coaches is not something the Yankees have done all that much in recent years because they simply haven’t had to. People get fired when things go bad and and awful lot has done right for the Yankees over the last 20 years or so. Whenever they have changed coaches, it was usually because someone left for a job elsewhere, like Willie Randolph (third base coach to bench coach to Mets manager), Lee Mazzilli (first base coach to Orioles manager), and Don Mattingly (hitting coach to bench coach to Dodgers bench coach). Aside from canning pitching Dave Eiland a few years ago — that seemed to have more to do with off-the-field problems than anything — and replacing the awful Bobby Meacham as third base coach in 2008, getting rid of Long is the first time the Yankees have let a coach go for team performance reasons since before Joe Torre was hired. The Yankees will hire someone to replace Long and a bunch of people will inevitably praise the hiring when, really, no one will know nothing about anything. Remember how great the Orioles looked when they hired Leo Mazzone away from the Braves? Same idea. Other teams do this stuff all the time but a whole generation of Yankees fans will experience it for the first time.
4. Thanks to these two moves as well and the imminent retirement of VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman and defection of senior advisor Gordon Blakeley, the Yankees are undergoing quite a bit of administrative change this winter. There’s also talk there will both other changes in the player development system aside from Newman, with a few other long-time executives on the hot seat. The player development issues have been going on for a while — the Yankees do produce a few useful arms and trade chips each year, but at this point they need more than role players, they need some impact players — and it’s time for a change there even though we don’t really know who is really responsible for what. As fans, all we know is the system isn’t producing enough. We don’t know why. Are they drafting the wrong players? Do their hitting instructors stink? Do they not spend enough time teaching changeups? Who in the world knows. But there is a lot of change going on in the front office and on the coaching staff this winter, and while we can’t really know how much these guys are to blame, I’m glad to see some changes are being made. The status quo wasn’t working.
5. One thing that won’t change is Cashman. I’m not at all surprised he’s coming back but I also thought the chances of a GM change were higher this year than they have been at any other point in his tenure. It wouldn’t have been surprised me at all if the Yankees didn’t retain him or if he left on his own. I’m fine with Cashman staying because a) I do believe he knows the team needs to get younger before they can get back to being a perennial contender, b) he consistently comes out ahead in trades, and c) his loyalty to the Yankees is unwavering. I never worry he’ll make a rash, knee-jerk decision in an effort to save his job. There are a lot of GMs out there looking out more for themselves than their teams. I think Cashman knows what needs to happen. He just hasn’t been able to put it into motion for whatever reason. I think this will be his last GM contract with the team — it’s a coincidence Cashman’s and Joe Girardi‘s current contracts expire at the same time (Cashman’s been signing three-year deals for 15 years now), but it will make for a mighty interesting 2017-18 offseason — regardless of whether things go good or bad. Then again, I’m pretty sure I said the same thing three years ago.
10:23pm: Andy Martino reports that if the Yankees do hire Minaya, it would be in a scouting or advisory role. He would not replace Newman as the head of the farm system.
9:44pm: Via Erik Boland: The Yankees are strongly considering former Mets GM and current Padres executive Omar Minaya for a high-ranking front office position. The two sides have had “serious dialogue” recently, though it’s unclear what role he would fill. Boland speculates Minaya could replace the retiring VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman or senior advisor Gordon Blakeley, who recently took a position with the Braves.
Minaya, 55, is a really old school guy who is very highly regarded around baseball for his scouting ability. He didn’t exactly shine as GM of the Mets or Expos, but he helped build powerhouse farm systems while working with the Rangers, Mets, Expos, and Padres during his career. The Yankees will reportedly make some player development staff changes this offseason in addition to replaceing Newman, and Minaya can be a major asset in the right role (i.e. not GM).
Now that Brian Cashman has been re-signed, the Yankees started their annual organization meetings at Yankee Stadium today, according to George King. They’ll last all week and the staff will evaluate their roster, upcoming free agents, the whole nine. Needless to say, they have a lot of work to do this winter. I’m curious to see where it’s all headed. Recent comments by Joe Girardi (link) and Hal Steinbrenner (link) make me think the team will make a sincere effort to incorporate some more youth in the roster going forward. I hope so, anyway.
Here is your open thread for the night. Game Three of the ALCS was already rained out, which is a damn shame. They’ll make it up on Thursday, if necessary. The 49ers and Rams are the Monday Night Football Game and the Knicks are playing a preseason game. Talk about those games or anything else right here.