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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1:01pm: Nick Cafardo clarifies that the Yankees did have to grant Pena permission to go to the interview today since it’s an off-day during the ALCS. He could have waited until after the season and gone on his own, but the Red Sox appear to be in a bit of a rush.
11:00am: Via Rob Bradford: The Red Sox will interview Tony Pena for their managerial vacancy today. It’s a travel day for the ALCS and the Yankees are not holding a workout at Comerica Park, so he’ll head up to Beantown during the off-day.
Pena, 55, has been with the Yankees since 2005, first as the first base coach (2005-2008) and then as the bench coach (2009-present). The team also considered him for their manager’s job after parting ways with Joe Torre in 2007. Pena managed the Royals from 2002-2005, winning the 2003 Manager of the Year award along the way. I don’t know much about his managerial style (or his bench coach prowess, for that matter), but I do know that he has a reputation of being a player’s coach and that’s probably something the Red Sox are looking for after the Bobby Valentine fiasco.
Via George King, Dominican Republic team GM Moises Alou has interest in Yankees bench coach Tony Pena to manage in next spring’s World Baseball Classic. Alou met with Pena at Yankee Stadium yesterday.
Brian Cashman said he would grant Pena — who is not under contract for next season anyway — permission to manage in the WBC even though Alou has not yet made any kind of formal request. I know Pena plays a big role in Spring Training, particularly with his brutal catching drills, but there’s no reason not to let him run his home country’s team during the event. As long as the Yankees don’t sent any pitchers to the WBC, it’s cool with me.
Rosalinda Padilla, mother of Yankees’ bench coach Tony Peña, passed away in the Dominican Republic today, ESPN Deportes’ Enrique Rojas reported this afternoon. We don’t have further details at this time, but our condolences go out to the Peña family right now.
At 51-37, with the third best record in baseball, leading the Wild Card and just three games back in the AL East, the Yankees had a fine first half. Yet it was a tumultuous three months, wrought with streaks and injuries and strange trends, causing mass panic at times among Yankees fans. Over the extended All-Star Break, we’ll go over each position to see what went right, what went wrong, and how things look for the second half. We already looked at the starting pitchers, relievers, corner infielders, catchers, middle infielders, outfielders and designated hitter, and now it’s time to discuss the coaching staff.
After a somewhat rocky first season in New York, we were all looking for manager Joe Girardi to be a bit more honest and forthright when it came to discussing team matters. His in-game strategy was mostly fine, save his sometimes LaRussaian dedication to platoon matchups and the occasional boneheaded move that every manager is guilty of. It would have been nice to see a little evolution out of the manager in those regards, but I don’t think anyone was expecting it.
Pitching coach Dave Eiland was given over $240M worth of new toys this year and was expected to continue working with all the young arms on the pitching staff. Hitting coach Kevin Long was expected to get Robbie Cano back on track, and to also get Melky Cabrera back to being a respectable big leaguer. Organizational do-it-all guy Rob Thompson moved from bench coach to third base coach, replacing the sendtastic Bobby Meacham. Tony Pena went from first base coach to bench coach, and Mick Kelleher was the new guy brought in to take over first. Pena was moved basically to act like a second manager, giving Girardi a wingman in the dugout.
It’s tough to say what falls under the cover of the coaching staff and what doesn’t. Girardi has been better with the media and Rob Thompson is doing a good job simply because no one is complaining about him. The pitching staff isn’t performing up to expectations, and the blame is being put on Eiland more and more with each passing day. Despite some ugly slumps, the Yanks offense has been good and there are few complaints about the job Long has done. Overall, the staff has done well, but let’s break it down individually.
Girardi vowed to improve his media relations over the winter and he’s delivered. While what he says isn’t much of a concern, it’s expected that the people running the team be truthful. If someone’s hurt and they don’t know how long they’ll be out, he says it, whereas last year he would try to play it off as minor and say it’ll just be a few days. Choosing words a little more carefully has gone a long way.
On the field, Girardi is basically the same guy as last year. There’s the occasional head scratcher but nothing extreme. If anything, I think we would like to see him a little less platoon crazy, maybe let Eric Hinske play third against a lefty when A-Rod needs a day off, things like that. Oh, and no more bunting before the seventh inning. Just don’t do it.
Pena’s very respected around the game and is fine as Girardi’s right hand man, but his real value comes in his work with young catchers. Jorge Posada‘s defense has improved considerably since Pena joined the team, and he helped nurture straight outta Double-A Frankie Cervelli into not just a passable Major League catcher, but a very good one defensively. In the unlikely scenario that Girardi gets pink-slipped midseason, Pena makes for a damn fine interim manager and would be in consideration as a long-term solution.
Kevin Long & Dave Eiland
The Yankees as a team are leading the planet in OBP (.358), SLG (.471), and (naturally) runs scored (495). There’s very little complaint about the offense, but it would be nice to see the nine-figure first baseman not suffer through prolonged slumps (which he’s already done twice this year) and to see Robinson Cano get back to his early season plate discipline. Something tells me that last part might be akin to asking him to squeeze water out of a rock.
The pitching staff as a whole has been a disappointment, especially when they’ve issued more walks than all but one other AL team. They’ve thrown just 48.2% of their pitches in the strike zone and have one of the worst first pitch strike percentages (57.8%) in the league. Joba Chamberlain hasn’t taken to any recent instruction and it’s Eiland’s job to get him right. If the pitching staff continues to flounder and if it leads to another early postseason exit, Eiland is the member of the coaching staff most likely to get the axe.
Rob Thompson & Mick Kelleher
Thompson has been an upgrade over the departed Meacham simply because we haven’t seen a runner thrown out at the plate seemingly every game. The Yankees boast a mediocre 70.9% success rate on stolen base attempts (the break-even point is around 72%), but I don’t think we can attribute that to Kelleher not being able to read pitcher’s moves or anything like that. He’s done wonders working with the infielders, with Derek Jeter enjoying his best defensive season ever and Cano rebounding well with the glove.
I’m not really sure what bullpen coach Mike Harkey does other than answer the phone and occasionally stand in the batters box when guys are warming up before the game, so I can’t really say anything about the job he’s done.
Expectations for the second half
The biggest expectations for the coaching staff the rest of the year fall on the shoulders of Dave Eiland, as we all want to see the pitching staff start performing up to its capabilities. There’s only one starter on the team that needs to nibble on the corners to survive, yet for some reason everyone’s doing it. Eiland has to correct that — his job depends on it.
Meanwhile, it would be nice to see Girardi employ Phil Hughes as a multi-inning relief ace, but that seems like just a pipe dream and I’m not expecting it. The team has looked lethargic at times (they had one foot in the batter’s box and one foot on the beach in Anahiem over the weekend), so Girardi does need to get on them a bit and make them realize that every game counts. One thing we know for sure: if the team falls short again, the coaching staff is the one that will feel the pain.