Yankees’ fans dream about the team finding a hitting coach as impactful as Matt Blake has been in the pitching department. This is especially true given the high number of struggling hitters currently under contract.
If the Yankees somehow managed to “fix” half of the players that were productive as recently as the last couple of seasons, they would probably have one of the league’s best offenses. But it’s easier said than done.
Hitting coaches Marcus Thames and PJ Pillitere will not be back with the Yankees in 2022, and the team is on the hunt for a new face with fresh ideas. Here are five struggling hitters on the team who could use some external help and a renewed approach from the Bombers’ next hitting coach.
The new Yankees’ hitting coach should be looking to get Joey Gallo back to where he was with the Rangers this season (.223/.379/.490, 139 wRC+). That should be a reasonable goal, and if that happens, the Bombers will have a legitimate masher to plug into the middle of their lineup.
Gallo’s 2019 season, while excellent (.253/.389/.598), shouldn’t necessarily be the blueprint given the fact he finished with an abnormally high .368 BABIP: the four campaigns that sandwiched that year, he was between .240 and .250.
Improving against breaking (.310 wOBA) and offspeed (.247 wOBA) pitches would be a good start, but Gallo’s plate discipline numbers were very similar in Texas and New York except for a sizable uptick in called strike percentage (15.1 to 16.6 percent). There is a good floor here, and under the right guidance, he should be better.
Getting Sánchez back to being an above-average hitting catcher is a must for the new mystery hitting instructor, because his defense is clearly not helping his case to be the starter on the Yankees.
Sánchez wasn’t his disastrous 2020 self (69 wRC+, 36 percent strikeout rate) but was just average, checking in at a 99 wRC+ in 2021. He still made hard contact frequently and barreled the ball, but he had a career-high in contact rate outside of the strike zone (63 percent) and a career-low contact rate in the zone (79.1 percent). Pitch selection is still an issue. If El Gary does return in 2022, then he could be another player to work on.
The new hitting coach will surely have reviving Gleyber Torres’ bat high on their to-do list. There are tools to work with, like his 83rd percentile chase rate and 82nd percentile max exit velocity, but he needs to hit the ball hard much more frequently (26th percentile).
The comparison is tedious at this point, but he had a .603 slugging percentage against fastballs in 2019, and a horrendous .352 one in 2021. He needs to attack heaters, and that could mean a swing or mechanical change on Torres’ part.
There is a lot of work to be done, but Torres still has offensive potential. They Yankees would be foolish if they sold low on him.
Urshela was a below-average hitter in 2021 by nearly every offensive metric, including wRC+ (96). Yes, he had to endure several injuries, but never really got in a groove until the last month of the season. He went from this, in 2020:
To this, in 2021:
Urshela may not have the highest of ceilings, but he did finish two consecutive seasons with a wRC+ over 130 in 2019 and 2020. There is something in his bat, so he makes for an interesting project for the new hitting coach.
Clint Frazier made serious plate discipline gains in 2020, which he sustained to some degree in 2021 (his walk rate last year was 15.6 percent, and it remained steady at 14.7 percent this season). The problem is that he didn’t inflict as much damage on contact, seeing his xwOBAcon decrease from .437 to .366.
He went from slashing .267/.394/.511 in 2020 to .186/.317/.317 in 2021. There is one problem, though: he wasn’t healthy. And he still isn’t healthy, as according to Brian Cashman, Frazier “is in constant contact with our medical staff” regarding the fogginess and dizziness that he is continuing to suffer.
His health is the obvious priority, but if he is able to play — and is tendered a 2022 contract — his renewed eye and excellent bat speed are a good starting package for the right coach.