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Did the Yankees make a mistake in firing Kevin Long?

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Former hitting coach Kevin Long was fired after the 2014 season, and may have played a large role in helping the Mets reach the playoffs over the last two seasons.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Offensively, the 2014 season was not a good one for the Yankees. Cumulatively, the Bombers put up a .245/.307/.380 slash line, sending the Captain out on somewhat of a sour note, as they failed to make the postseason for the second year in a row. Perhaps a victim of circumstances, hitting coach Kevin Long was sent to the chopping blocks, as the Yankees fired him after the season. He wasn't unemployed for long, though, as the crosstown rival New York Mets scooped him up for the 2015 season.

Over the last two seasons, the Mets offense has been downright atrocious at times. But there is reason to believe that their roughly league average offense could have been even worse. In the last two years, the Mets have leaned on players like Curtis Granderson, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Neil Walker, all players whose production improved when they joined the Mets.

In 2014, former Yankee fan favorite Curtis Granderson struggled in his first year with the Mets. Three years after finishing fourth in the American League MVP voting, he hit .227 with 20 home runs. He may have been too used to the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, as his pull rate was an astronomical 54.9%, and his flyball rate was also well above average, at 46.9%. Over the last two seasons, he has brought both of those numbers under control, with a combined OPS of .810.

Once considered a potential successor to Derek Jeter, Asdrubal Cabrera's career was also scuffling. He joined the Mets in 2016 and hit 23 home runs, his highest total since 2011. He also had a career high OPS of .810. Neil Walker also hit 23 home runs in his first season with the Mets, tying a career high. But unlike Cabrera, he did so in just 113 games.

Other potential Kevin Long success stories include Wilmer Flores and Yoenis Cespedes. Like Walker, Flores tied his career high in 2016, with 16 bombs. But he only needed 103 games to match his personal record. In his first full season with the Mets, Cespedes had an .884 OPS, which was also a career high.

Of course, evaluating a hitting coach's performance often involves a lot of speculation. But one interesting trend among these hitters is that they have all made slight improvements to their plate discipline while working with Long:

Player O-Swing% (Year Before Long) O-Swing% (1st Year w/ Long)
Curtis Granderson 26.7% 23.3%
Asdrubal Cabrera 36.9% 31.8%
Neil Walker 33.2% 30.3%
Yoenis Cespedes 37.5% 33.1%
Wilmer Flores 31.7% 30.6%

Obviously, there are several caveats. For example, Granderson became more of a free swinger with the Yankees, where he was under the supervision of Long. His return to a more patient, discerning hitter might have had more to do with the realization that he couldn't just lock on to the right field bleachers in Yankee Stadium anymore. Also, someone like Cespedes is still a free swinger by most standards, even if his chase rate has improved.

But if there is a connection between Kevin Long and improved plate discipline, it may have been a mistake to let him go. Yankee hitters like Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro could stand to gain a lot from improved plate discipline. Also, a large part of Alex Rodriguez's struggles this year stemmed from his increasing chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone.

In any case, it is good to see Kevin Long doing well in Queens. Part of the disillusionment with his work in pinstripes may have something to do with the 2013 season, during which everyone got injured and the Yankees' offense was abysmal. As long as they aren't playing the Yankees, he deserves the opportunity to turn the page.

Data is courtesy of Fangraphs.