The Coaching Staff [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once again, the Yankees made some changes to their coaching staff this past offseason. Not huge changes, but changes nonetheless. Two years ago Gary Tuck replaced Mike Harkey as bullpen coach. Last year the duo of Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell replaced Kevin Long at hitting coach, and Joe Espada took over as third base coach with Rob Thomson moving to bench coach and Tony Pena moving to first base coach.

This past offseason the Yankees replaced Tuck with Harkey — Tuck was reportedly let go due to a disagreement with the front office about the use of analytics — and promoted Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Marcus Thames to replace Pentland. Well, technically Cockrell was promoted to replace Pentland as the main hitting coach, with Thames replacing Cockrell as the assistant. Got all that?

It’s tough to preview or review the coaching staff because so much of what they do happens behind the scenes. Sometimes we can see the results of their work — Thames helped Ben Gamel add a leg kick last year, for example — but oftentimes we’re talking about adjustments the untrained eye won’t see. So rather than provide a rigorous analysis of the coaching staff, here is a more casual preview of the upcoming season.

The Manager

Can you believe this will be Joe Girardi‘s ninth season as manager? The Yankees have had two managers over the last two decades. They had eleven managers in the two decades before that, not counting the guys who were hired multiple times. I was still very young when George Steinbrenner was in his hiring and firing heyday, so I can’t really appreciate the continuity the Yankees have had the last 20 years.

Anyway, I have long believed the manager’s most important work takes place is in the clubhouse, where he has to manage 25 personalities (way more than that, really) day in and day out for eight months a year. That can’t be easy. The Yankees seem to have a very cohesive clubhouse — Alex Rodriguez referred to the veteran players as the “Board of Trustees” because of the way they oversee things — and that surely helps Girardi. Over the last few seasons the team has been largely distraction free and that’s a good thing. Girardi keeps the chaos to a minimum.

On the field, I think Girardi has two key responsibilities this year. One, don’t screw up the laughably great bullpen he’s been given. And he won’t. Girardi’s very good with his relievers. Yes, he makes moves that sometime backfire. That makes him like every other manager. We now have eight years worth of data telling us Girardi is good at a) turning marginal relievers into assets by putting them in good positions to succeed, and b) keeping his bullpeners fresh.

Managing this bullpen with the lead will be easy. Are the Yankees up in the late innings? Bring in Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, or Aroldis Chapman. Any of three will do. That’s the easy part of managing this bullpen. The tough part is all the other innings, when you’re trailing or deep into extra innings and the three big guys have been used. The Yankees are going to shuttle relievers in and out all year again, and it’ll be up to Girardi to get the most out of them.

The second key on-field responsibility this season is resting the regulars. Girardi and the Yankees seem to be all-in on this. They’ve been talking about it since the end of last season. They want to rest the veterans and try to avoid another second half offensive collapse. The versatile Aaron Hicks will make resting the outfielders easy. He can play any outfield position and he’s a switch-hitter. Hooray for that. The infield? Eh, things are a little up in the air there. Either way, keeping players fresh and productive will be very important in 2016.

Beyond all that, I’d like to see Girardi try a few more Hail Mary instant replay challenges this summer, which I discussed a few months ago. The team’s replay success rate may dip, but who cares? They don’t give out a prize for that. Girardi has to navigate this weird transition period as the “get younger and trim payroll but remain competitive” thing continues. I don’t think his job will be (or should be) in jeopardy if they miss the postseason, but who knows. After eight years, it’s pretty clear Girardi is an asset and one of the game’s better managers.

Cockrell and Thames (and Reggie). (Presswire)
Cockrell and Thames (and Reggie). (Presswire)

The Hitting Coaches

The Yankees are on their third hitting coach(es) in three years. They scored the second most runs in baseball last season, and outside of Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury, pretty much everyone in the lineup met or exceeded expectations. That seems to be the criteria by which fans judge hitting coaches. Did the team score a lot of runs? Did the players meet expectations? If the answers are yes, the hitting coach is doing a good job.

This summer the Cockrell/Thames tandem will be tasked not so much with keeping the veterans productive, though that’s obviously important. Given the team’s direction, the more important goal is helping the young players, specifically guys like Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. We could also lump Hicks and Gary Sanchez in there as well. The Yankee have put aside the present for the future, that couldn’t be any more clear, which is why the young guys are the priority. That’s … pretty much all I have to say about the hitting coaches. Go team.

The Pitching Coach

This year the Yankees did not give Larry Rothschild a project. Last season they dropped a shiny new Nathan Eovaldi into his lap and told Rothschild to turn him into a better pitcher. And he did! Rothschild taught Eovaldi a splitter and he was way more effective with that pitch. Based on that, the project was successful in the short-term. We’ll see what happens in the long-term.

In 2016, Rothschild’s pet project will be Luis Severino and perhaps Bryan Mitchell, assuming he’s in the Opening Day bullpen. Severino is very refined for a kid his age, but the Yankees do need to monitor his workload, and Rothschild is in charge of mapping that out. Mitchell has to improve his control and command and gosh, that’s a tough one. Rothschild can only do so much there. Baseball history is full of live arms who washed out because they couldn’t locate.

Rothschild is about to begin his sixth season as pitching coach — how the hell did that happen? didn’t they just hire him? — and in those five years the Yankees have had plenty of pitchers exceed expectations, and I’m talking about both veterans (Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda) and young pitchers (Betances, Adam Warren, even Ivan Nova). Most of their pitching failures have been injury related. How much credit does Rothschild deserve? We can’t say, exactly. After five years, I feel pretty good with him running the show.

The Other Coaches

Harkey left the Yankees two years ago to take over as the Diamondbacks pitching coach. Arizona canned him at the end of last season, which was inevitable. He was a holdover from the previous regime and it was only a matter of time until GM Dave Stewart and head baseball operations hocho Tony La Russa brought in their own guy. They gave Harkey a year, then moved on, so now he’s back with the Yankees as bullpen coach. It’s like he never left.

Thompson returns as bench coach and I have no opinion about that whatsoever. Pena returns as first base coach — his is Pena’s 11th season on the coaching staff, by the way — and I also have no opinion about that. Both guys have been around forever and they wouldn’t continue to be around if they weren’t quality baseball minds. All bench and first base coaches are cool with me because I’m don’t really know what they do or how much influence they have. Pena works with the catchers. I know that much.

Third base coaches generally get a bad rap. They’re either hated or unnoticed. Espada was conservative sending runners last year and at least part of that was out of necessity. The Yankees are not a fast team aside from Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. Also, the Yankees scored a lot of runs last year, and when you can hit for power like they did, it makes sense to hold a runner if you think there may be a play at the plate. Teams that struggle to score runs have to really push it. The Yankees aren’t one of those teams.

That said, Espada did appear to be overly conservative at times, perhaps due to poor reads or not knowing the scouting reports on the outfielder’s arm. (Guessing it was the former, not the latter.) That’s something that has to be cleaned up. Espada’s not a rookie third base coach — he was the Marlins third base coach from 2010-13 — so he has experience. Hopefully his second year in New York goes a bit more smoothly now that he’s seen the league and is more familiar with his personnel.

Same Skipper, Familiar Faces Headline New-Look Coaching Staff [2015 Season Preview]

For the first time in several years, the Yankees made sweeping changes to their coaching staff this past offseason. Joe Girardi returned despite a second straight postseason-less year, but hitting coach Kevin Long did not. The base coaches were also shuffled around. It all adds up to a new-look coaching staff that still features some familiar faces. Let’s look at the coaching staff heading into the new season.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Joe Girardi: More Responsibility Than Ever Before

It goes without saying that being a big league manager comes with a ton of responsibility. Managers don’t just bring in relievers or wait for the thumbs up to ask for instant replay. We see a very small part of what managers actually do. Most of their work happens behind the scenes, in the clubhouse or on the field hours before or after first pitch. They have 25 players and 25 egos to manage. More than that when you include support staff.

Girardi is about to enter his eighth season as Yankees manager and over these last seven years we’ve learned a lot about him as an on-field strategist. He’s very good at ensuring his hitters get the platoon advantage — the Yankees had the platoon advantage in 62.9% of their plate appearances the last three years, sixth best in baseball. Girardi is also very meticulous with his bullpen and making sure his relievers are rested.

This season, the Yankees heaped more even more responsibility on Girardi’s shoulders by building what amounts to a pitching and defense team. They built up a ton of bullpen depth and are counting on Girardi not only deploying his relievers in the best way possible, but also ensuring they are rested for the long season. That’s the formula. Scratch out a few runs, then turn it over to Girardi and the bullpen. He won’t have many opportunities to platoon his hitters this season though, with only Chris Young and Garrett Jones on the bench as usable platoon bats.

Girardi is also going to have to manage the Alex Rodriguez circus. That hasn’t been too crazy in Spring Training, but it will be once the regular season starts, at least at first. Trips to visiting parks will be headaches. Girardi and the Yankees dealt with this when A-Rod returned in 2013 and that went about as well as everyone could have hoped, so hopefully the chaos will be kept to a minimum. Either way, Joe’s got his work cut out for him in 2015, on and off the field.

Larry Rothschild: The Fixer

The Yankees hired Rothschild during the 2010-11 offseason and since then they’ve handed him several project pitchers. He’s been able to fix some (Brandon McCarthy) but not all (A.J. Burnett). This year, Rothschild will be tasked with not only helping Nathan Eovaldi take a step forward in his development, but also implementing a plan to keep Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia healthy. Right now, that plan seems to be extra rest whenever possible early in the season. And, of course, the Yankees will look to acquire McCarthy-esque pitchers at a discount price during the season and hope Rothschild turns them into top shelf producers. The Yankees seem to have had two or three pitchers kinda come out of nowhere to contribute each year under Rothschild. They’ll need him to do it again in 2015.

Jeff Pentland & Alan Cockrell: It Was Him, Not Us

Pentland. (Presswire)
Pentland. (Presswire)

When the Yankees missed the postseason for the second straight year in 2014, someone was going to take the fall. And once Brian Cashman signed his new contract, Long was the obvious scapegoat. He was fired in October and eventually replaced by not just one hitting coach, but two. Pentland is the hitting coach and Cockrell is the assistant hitting coach. It’s a two-man job these days.

Simply put, Pentland and Cockrell will be asked to show Long was the problem with the offense the last two years, not the team’s collection of aging, past-prime hitters. The hitting coach duo has to get Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann to overcome the shift, coax a productive year out of soon-to-be 38-year-old Carlos Beltran, convince Stephen Drew he isn’t a true talent .162 hitter, get Brett Gardner to repeat last year’s power output, and help Didi Gregorius take a step forward. Nice and easy, right? Good luck, fellas.

Gary Tuck: Catching Instructor Extraordinaire

Tuck, the Yankees’ bullpen coach, has long been regarded as an excellent catching instructor. The Yankees value defense behind the plate very much, so while Tuck is the bullpen coach first and foremost, part of his job this year will be developing the glovework of either Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy, whoever wins the backup catcher’s job. The pitchers are Rothschild’s responsibility. Tuck is in charge of the catchers.

Tony Pena & Joe Espada: Base Coaches

In addition to firing Long, the Yankees also fired first base coach Mick Kelleher and shuffled around their coaching staff. Rob Thomson moves from third base coach to bench coach, Pena moves from bench coach to first base coach, and Espada moves from the front office to third base coach. Thomson had a knack for bad sends — I blame some of that on the offense, Thomson had the push the envelope on occasion to score runs — and hopefully Espada is an upgrade there. We really don’t know what to expect from him though. Evaluating base coaches is pretty tough, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They’re important enough that the Yankees remade the staff to get new ones this winter.