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.


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.

Report: Red Sox to interview Tony Pena today

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.

Pena in the running to manage in 2013 World Baseball Classic

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.