The Sorta New Look Coaching Staff [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
Pena. (Presswire)

Yesterday afternoon we reviewed Joe Girardi’s season while acknowledging how difficult it can be to evaluate a manager. We only see the on-field stuff, which is a very small part of the manager’s job. Evaluating coaches is even more difficult. Outside of the pitching coach making a mound visit or the third base coach waving someone in, all of their work happens behind the scenes.

The Yankees reshuffled their coaching staff last offseason. Hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher were both let go, bench coach Tony Pena shifted to first base coach, third base coach Rob Thomson shifted to bench coach, and new hires Jeff Pentland (hitting coach), Alan Cockrell (assistant hitting coach), and Joe Espada (third base coach) were brought in. Well, Espada was working in the pro scouting department. He just shifted back on to the field in a coaching capacity. How did the new-look coaching staff perform in 2015? Let’s try to figure that out.

Bench Coach: Rob Thomson

Thomson left a lot to be desired as the third base coach, especially in 2014, when the Yankees had the fourth most runners thrown out at the plate in baseball (21). The shift to bench coach means we have basically no way to evaluate him. The Yankees outperformed their run differential by a combined 13 wins from 2013-14. This past season they underperformed by one win. Want to blame that on Thomson taking over as Girardi’s second in command? Go ahead. Just understand we have no idea if that is actually the case. Girardi managed like Girardi, so I’m inclined to say Thomson didn’t put any crazy ideas in his head. Thomson’s been in the organization a long time and is highly respected around the game. I’ll defer to those folks. Thomson’s a-okay with me.

Hitting Coaches: Jeff Pentland & Alan Cockrell

Let’s call a spade a spade: Long was scapegoated for the Yankees failing to make the postseason from 2013-14. The offense was terrible those years, mostly because the roster left a lot to be desired, so the hitting coach took the fall. Stuff like this has been happening since hitting coaches became a thing. When the GM says he’s one the best hitting coaches in the game on his way out the door, you know he was scapegoated.

Anyway, the Yankees fired Long soon after the season in October, and it wasn’t until January that they hired Pentland and Cockrell, adopting the two hitting coach system that is taking over MLB. Both men brought big league hitting coach experience to the table. The result? The Yankees finished second in baseball with 764 runs scored in 2015, an improvement of 131 runs from 2014. Almost a run a game.

Of course, crediting Pentland and Cockrell for all the improvement would be like assigning all the blame to the Long. In my opinion, the biggest reason the offense improved was health. Carlos Beltran was relatively healthy all year. Mark Teixeira was healthy until the fluke foul pitch off his shin. Alex Rodriguez returned. Brian McCann was more comfortable in year two. Good players have a way of making a hitting coach look smart.

Here’s a quick side-by-side look at the 2014 and 2015 offenses, specifically their batted ball and plate discipline numbers:

2014 Yankees vs 2015 Yankees

The overarching numbers show the team’s plate discipline didn’t change much if at all, so there wasn’t any kind of significant change in approach. The 2015 Yankees did, however, hit more fly balls (slightly) and pull the ball more often. The big knock on Long was the offense turning into a bunch of pull hitters. Well, the Yankees pulled the ball even more under Pentland and they scored 131 additional runs.

One thing I think we can credit to Cockrell in particular is Didi Gregorius‘ midseason improvement. Gregorius told Brendan Kuty he used to have a long loop in his swing, but Cockrell worked with him to cut it down. “It can be mechanical. It can be thought. It can be fatigue,” said Cockrell. “There’s a lot of contributing factors. But I think once you’ve ID’ed that it is a little bit long, let’s work to shorten it. Let’s work to stay above the ball a little bit more. He’s (done) that.”

Hitting coaches are obviously important, though I also subscribe to the theory that they don’t have nearly as much on-field impact as it may seem. The offense was demonstrably better this past season than it had been from 2013-14, either because they had better players or better coaches (or both). Inevitably the coaches will get credit for that, especially after a change was made in the offseason.

However, the Yankees indicated they don’t believe Pentland was the reason for the offensive resurgence because he was let go after the season. After a relatively brief search, Cockrell was elevated to main hitting coach and Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Marcus Thames takes over as Cockrell’s assistant. Another year, another new hitting coach to blame for every slump.

Pitching Coach: Larry Rothschild

Rothschild has been New York’s pitching coach since 2011 and it’s become clear they have a lot of faith in him. For starters, he has a multi-year contract while most other coaches work on year-to-year deals. Secondly, the Yankees have acquired several young pitchers in need of refinement in recent years with the idea of turning them over to Rothschild for fine-tuning.

Rothschild. (Presswire)
Rothschild. (Presswire)

This past season’s project: Nathan Eovaldi. The Yankees acquired Eovaldi’s big but hittable fastball from the Marlins, then let Rothschild go to work. After a few weeks (months), Rothschild helped Eovaldi develop a legitimate out-pitch splitter that was the key to his midsummer run of dominance. Once he gained feel and really showed confidence in the split, Eovaldi was a much different pitcher. That’s something tangible we can credit to Rothschild.

The Yankees as a team had a 4.05 ERA and 3.97 FIP in 2015, ranking 16th and 13th in baseball, respectively. The rotation in particular had a 4.25 ERA (18th) and a 4.04 FIP (14th), yet I feel like it’s hard to blame Rothschild for the rotation being middle of the pack. The team gave way too many innings to CC Sabathia because of his contract and way too many innings to Ivan Nova following Tommy John surgery.

The only pitcher on the staff who I think really underperformed expectations was Michael Pineda, and I’m not sure he’s ever going to have an ERA (4.37 in 2015) that matches his FIP (3.34 FIP) because he’s around the plate so much — Pineda might throw too many strikes — and Yankee Stadium is not pitcher friendly. Rothschild’s done some really good things as pitching coach, including Eovaldi in 2015. I truly believe he’s one of the best pitching coaches in the game.

First Base Coach: Tony Pena

During games, the first base coach’s primary job involves timing the opposing battery to determine stolen base possibilities. He scouts the pitcher’s pickoff move and literally has a stopwatch to time the pitcher’s delivery and the catcher’s pop time. I’m not joking. The Yankees stole only 63 bases in 2015, their lowest total in a non-strike season since stealing 39 bases (!) in 1993. They averaged 118 steals from 2003-14.

Of course, the Yankees didn’t have the personnel to steal more bases. Jacoby Ellsbury hurt his knee in May and pretty much stopped running after that. Brett Gardner‘s days of 40+ steals are over. Those two stole 21 and 20 bases, respectively. Know who was third on the Yankees in steals? Rico Noel with five. The Yankees were never going to be a big stolen base team this summer, though their 72% success rate was tenth best in the game. They had nine runners picked off, seventh fewest in MLB.

Pena’s value to the Yankees isn’t necessarily his work as a first base coach, it’s his work with the catchers. He’s been handed young guys like Francisco Cervelli and John Ryan Murphy over the years, and tasked with improving their defense. Cervelli’s defense improved tremendously over the years. Murphy’s was very good this past season. As a first base coach, who in the world knows how Pena performed. His best and most important work is with the catchers, and the Yankees continue to have strong glove guys behind the plate.

Third Base Coach: Joe Espada

Finally, a coach we can really evaluate. The Yankees had only 14 runners thrown out at the plate this summer, fifth fewest in the baseball, but that’s because Espada seems to employ an ultra-conservative approach. He waved a runner home from second on a single just 59.3% of the time, the lowest in baseball. The MLB average is 69.8%. Espada waved a runner home from first on a double just 51.1% of the time, second lowest in baseball and well below the 65.4% league average.

Of course, the Yankees are not a fast team, so the conservative approach isn’t all on Espada. Sometimes he just has to hold up slow runners because they had no chance to score. There were definitely times when Espada seemed to either misread plays or not know the outfielder’s arm though, leading to curious holds or bad sends. The most obvious example came on July 27th, when Teixeira was thrown out at home trying to score from second because Espada told him he could go “easy.”

After the game, the normal reserved Teixeira was upset because he could have gotten hurt. “There was no miscommunication. Joe just told me, ‘Easy, easy,’ which means there’s going to be no play at the plate. It’s just a mistake … That can’t happen. I’m sure it won’t ever happen again,” he said. Teixeira, Espada, and Girardi later met to talk it all out.

Espada’s conservative approach is part necessity (the Yankees lack speed in general), part sensible (no reason to risk it all the time given how the Yankees were scoring runs in the first half), and part his poor reads. Third base coach is a thankless job. They never get credit for a good job and are only noticed for mistakes. Espada’s conservative, and I also think there is room for improvement going forward.

Bullpen Coach: Gary Tuck

The bullpen coach typically acts as a second pitching coach, but Tuck’s specialty is catching. He’s regarded as a catching guru and McCann credited him for improving his throwing. McCann threw out only 23.1% of base-runners in his last three years with the Braves, but, under Tuck, that number has jumped to 36.5% with the Yankees the last two seasons. It was 35.9% in 2015.

Outside of that, we really don’t have any way to evaluate Tuck. The Yankees did deem him expendable, however. He was let go following the season, reportedly due to a disagreement with the front office over the use of statistics. A few weeks later former bullpen coach Mike Harkey returned to the team as Tuck’s replacement. McCann’s improved throwing, which he sustained in 2015, is enough for me to say Tuck did some mighty fine work in pinstripes. That level of improvement is significant.

Cashman on Girardi’s status for 2016: “Nobody should be looking for anybody different”

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Any time a Yankees season ends without a World Series title, the coaching staff and management will have their job security called into question. It happens every year. The Yankees didn’t win so changes need to be made, and it’s easier to get rid of coaches than players. That’s the general line of thinking.

Don’t expect to see a new manager in 2016, however. Brian Cashman all but confirmed Joe Girardi, who just completed his eighth (!) season as manager, will return next season. Here’s what he told George King:

“It’s a fact, nobody should be looking for anybody different,” general manager Brian Cashman said when asked if Girardi, who has two years and $8 million remaining on his contract, was in trouble. “He is signed for two more years and managed the team to the playoffs. It’s not his fault we didn’t hit. He managed a perfect playoff game.”

September was not Girardi’s best month as manager, but almost every move he made backfired, even the ones that made perfect sense. The decision to bench Jacoby Ellsbury in favor of Brett Gardner in the wildcard game will be second guessed until the end of the time — or at least until people have something new to complain about — but it was the right move.

Personally, I think Girardi is an average-ish manager in terms of on-field moves. He assigns his relievers specific innings and he weighs platoon matchups heavily, which makes him like most other guys out there. Girardi seems to go his best work in the clubhouse. The Yankees are largely distraction free — even something as serious as CC Sabathia checking in to rehab more or less blew over — and they play hard for him. You can’t quantify it, but there is absolutely value in that.

As for the coaching staff, Cashman stopped short of saying everyone will be back next season, though he says that pretty much every year. Here’s what he told King:

“I will go through that with our ownership and Joe. Since you live through it for six months you have a pretty good feel about everything,” Cashman said when asked about the coaches’ status. “Now is the time to have these conversations. You live and you know it and you have a feel for what you might want to do with it as you move forward. Those conversations take place with your manager, take place with your coaches and take place with ownership.”

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has one year left on his contract and bullpen coach Gary Tuck can pick up an option in his contract for next season. Bench coach Rob Thomson, first base coach Tony Pena, hitting coach Jeff Pentland, and assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell all have contracts that expire this month. I’m not sure what third base coach Joe Espada‘s contraction situation is.

The Yankees did not hit at all from mid-August through the end of the regular season, though they jumped from 20th in runs last year to second this year. Firing the hitting coaches after that would be weird but it’s not impossible. Marcus Thames served as Triple-A Scranton’s hitting coach last year and it seems like he is being groomed for the big league job. Pentland and Cockrell took over after Kevin Long was fired last season.

Pena has been with the Yankees since 2005 and Thomson has been with the organization since 1990. He’s worn many different hats over the years — minor league coach, director of player development, big league coach, the works. Perhaps the Yankees are considering bumping Thomson back up into the front office now that assistant GM Billy Eppler is leaving for the Angels.

The one coaching staff change that wouldn’t surprise me is Espada at third base. The Yankees had 14 runners thrown out at home this season, which is actually the fifth fewest in MLB, but there were some really egregious ones in there, sometimes due to apparent communication issues. Remember the incident with Mark Teixeira in Texas? That was pretty bad. Espada worked in the front office the last few years and maybe he’s the one moving back with Eppler leaving. We’ll see.

Anyway, I’m not at all surprised Girardi’s job is safe and I don’t think it should be in danger anyway. The offense disappeared, none of the Triple-A relievers impressed, no starting pitcher threw 170+ innings, and the problem was Girardi? Please. Maybe the coaching staff will be shuffled around a little bit, but I would be surprised if there were any major changes in the dugout this offseason.

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.

Yankees announce new hires and changes to coaching staff for 2015

Pena has a new role for 2015. (Presswire)
Pena has a new role for 2015. (Presswire)

The Yankees have finalized and announced their 2015 coaching staff. As expected, Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell have been hired as the hitting coach and assistant hitting coach, respectively, and Joe Espada joins the team as infield coach. We heard those moves were coming yesterday.

There are other changes, however. Espada is taking over as third base coach with Rob Thomson shifting to bench coach. Tony Pena is now the first base coach. Bullpen coach Gary Tuck and pitching coach Larry Rothschild remain in their roles. Back when former hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher were let go, we heard the Yankees could rearrange their staff a bit, and that’s exactly what happened.

Espada, 39, was the Marlins third base coach from 2010-13, so he has experience in that role. Thomson had been the team’s third base coach since 2009. He served as Joe Girardi‘s bench coach in 2008 and before that was the first base coach. Pena had been the bench coach since 2009 and prior to that he spent the 2005-08 seasons as the club’s first base coach, so he’s returning to a familiar role.

Thomson caught a lot of grief last year because the Yankees had 21 runners thrown out at the plate, the fourth most in baseball, and some were due to aggressive sends that were obviously bad. The Yankees had among the fewest runners thrown out at the plate in baseball from 2010-13, however. The Marlins also had a relatively small number of runners thrown out at home during Espada’s tenure, but that doesn’t tell us too much about him as a third base coach.

Either way, the most significant moves are the additions of Pentland and Cockrell. The rest is just rearranging furniture, really. The Yankees, like several other teams, have decided hitting coach is a two-man job and will count on the new voices of Pentland and Cockrell to turn around an offense that has been below-average the last two years. It seems like an impossible task to me, but that’s the job.

Yankees bring entire coaching staff back for 2014

The Yankees have re-signed their entire coaching staff for 2014, the team announced. That includes Tony Pena (bench coach), Larry Rothschild (pitching coach), Kevin Long (hitting coach), Mick Kelleher (first base coach), Rob Thomson (third base coach), and Mike Harkey (bullpen coach). All of their contracts had expired on October 31st. Not surprising news.

Cafardo: Tony Pena unlikely to take over as manager if Girardi leaves

Via Nick Cafardo: Bench coach Tony Pena is not likely to replace Joe Girardi as manager if the incumbent winds up heading elsewhere this winter. “I don’t think anyone in our front office is even thinking about that,” said one Yankees official, referring to Girardi leaving and not Pena receiving consideration for the job.

Pena, 56, has been with the Yankees since 2005, first as the first base coach (2006-2008) and then as the bench coach (2009-present). He managed the Royals from 2002-2005 and won the Manager of the Year award in 2003. He also manages in winter ball just about every year. Experience is not an issue for Pena, who has been considered for other big league openings in recent years. That includes the Yankees after 2006 and the Red Sox after 2011. He’s reportedly a very player-friendly coach and after these last few years, he’s familiar with the New York market. I’m sure the Bombers would consider him for the job again, but I never thought it was a slam dunk that he’d automatically take over as manager if Girardi left.

Season Review: Joe Girardi & Coaching Staff

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Evaluating a manager and his coaching staff is a very difficult thing for outsiders. The vast majority of their work takes place behind the scenes, so we’re left looking for clues in places they might not be. That pitcher learned a changeup? Great job by the pitching coach! That hitter is only hitting .250 when he usually hits .280? Fire the hitting coach! We have no idea what clues we dig up are actually attributable to the coaching staff, so we end up guessing.

Because of that, I don’t want to review Joe Girardi and his coaching staff in our typical “What Went Right/What Went Wrong” format. This review is almost entirely subjective and we can’t really pin anything (good or bad) on the coaching staff specifically. We know Curtis Granderson essentially revived his career after working with Kevin Long two summers ago, but having a specific example like that is very rare. Instead, we’ll have to take a broader approach.

Joe Girardi
I think 2012 was Girardi’s worst year as Yankees’ manager. Every manager makes questionable in-game moves during the season, but I felt Girardi made more this year than he had in any year since 2008, and it all started in the very first inning on Opening Day with the intentional walk to Sean Rodriguez. That still bugs me.

Girardi has long been considered a strong bullpen manager given his ability to spread the workload around and squeeze water out of scrap heap rocks, but this year he leaned very heavily on Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano. Working Soriano hard wasn’t a huge deal because he was expected to leave after the season, but Logan made more appearances in 2012 (80) than any other reliever under Girardi, including his time with the Marlins. Robertson appeared in 65 games despite missing a month with an oblique injury. Part of it was a lack of alternatives (blame the front office for that) and the tight race, but this was something that started before the Yankees blew their ten-game lead.

Girardi also had two notable meltdowns (for lack of a better term), lashing out at a fan following a loss in Chicago and then getting into a shouting match with Joel Sherman after calling him into his office. Maybe my conduct standards are too high, but that kind of stuff is a major no-no in my book. It stems from pure frustration and there is zero good to come from it. Girardi didn’t have a bad year as manager, he did a fine job guiding the team despite an overwhelming about of injuries, but I feel that he’s had better years in the past.

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Larry Rothschild & Kevin Long
When the Yankees hired Rothschild as pitching coach two years ago, he came to the club with a reputation of improving both strikeout and walk rates. That is exactly what has happened overall, and we can see it specifically with someone like CC Sabathia (strikeouts, walks). Obviously the personnel has changed over the last few years, but the Yankees managed to get productive seasons from scrap heap pickups like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia last year while getting better than expected production from Hiroki Kuroda and even Andy Pettitte this year. We don’t know how much of a role Rothschild played in all of this, but the team’s pitching staff has exceeded expectations the last two years.

Long, on the other hand, came under big-time scrutiny following the club’s offensively-inept postseason showing and Mark Teixeira‘s continued decline from elite all-around hitter to pull-happy, one-dimensional slugger. At same time, he remade Granderson and helped Robinson Cano go from good to great. Long does preach pulling the ball for power and apparently that contributed to the team’s poor postseason, but the roster overall is built around guys who pull the ball for power. Outside of Cano and Derek Jeter (and later on, Ichiro Suzuki), the Yankees lacked hitters who could hit to the opposite field. Like Rothschild, we don’t know how much a role Long has played in all of this, and I’m not even convinced preaching power these days is a bad thing given the decline in offense around the league.

Tony Pena, Mike Harkey, Rob Thomson & Mick Kelleher
Not really much to add here. Thomson, the third base coach, does have a knack for being a little overly-aggressive with his sends in tight games while at other times he will hold guys who would have clearly been safe, but every third base coach does that. The Yankees have had an above-average stolen base success rate in recent years (77-79%), so I guess Kelleher is doing a fine job of reading moves and relaying that info over at first base. Other than that, we have very little basis for which to judge these guys on. Despite the whole “everyone should be fired because there are obviously better coaches available!” mentality than can fester following an embarrassing playoff loss, all indications are the entire staff will return fully intact next year.