After firing Dillon Lawson in the middle of the year, the Yankees decided to switch their approach and go with an ex-player, Sean Casey. Most recently an MLB Network analyst, Casey had no formal coaching experience and a more old-school approach to hitting. He had a successful career as a first baseman, and rightfully had ideas in his head that worked for him and other players. The nature of hitting is not binary. Some philosophies work for some and not for others.
Take the Yankees, for example. As John discussed the other day, Casey used some of his ideas to appeal to Yankees veterans but didn’t have the same school of thought that younger players learned through the development pipeline. That shouldn’t necessarily doom him, though. Communicating with folks who operate differently than you can result in a beautiful compromise or harmony. It can facilitate learning on both ends. All that said, even when Casey joined, it was clear that his long-term future with the club was not guaranteed. And that’s not just from the front office perspective, but his own too.
Casey announced yesterday that due to family reasons, he will not return as hitting coach, so the Yankees will be in search for their third in less than a calendar year. Despite Casey’s popularity with some hitters, the offense was still abysmal in his time. It might not be fair to hold him fully accountable for that, since big overhauls are nearly impossible midseason. But either way, it’s clear the Yankees are in need of an alternative hitting philosophy at the big league level that focuses on getting the very most out of their hitters’ current skillset and isn’t so tied down to one philosophy. If I was the one running the hiring process, that would be my focus – finding somebody who doesn’t think in terms of absolutes and uses the benefits of an old school approach and balances it with data and modern technologies that have proven effective for many players.
The argument around the minor league philosophy being sound because of their prospects’ success down there is a valid one. It’s hard to deny winning and results. The data-driven approach has been effective in the minors, but the trickle-up effect to big league hitters is lagging. A future coach shouldn’t have a mental divide between different subsets of the clubhouse. Instead, the approach should be focused on communicating with all players in a collaborative way, regardless of their preconceived hitting ideas.
Challenging players to take in new and valuable information is incredibly important. Nobody wants to fall behind. But that doesn’t mean you throw your prior successes and experiences out the door. Continuing with strategies in the past that have proven to work for a hitter are important to their identity.
However, if you blend in a data-driven approach with those prior successes, you can learn about yourself as a hitter. What are you good at? What are you bad at? Did you have misconceptions about how a specific cue affects your bat path? Can your matchup preparation improve now that you have more information about yourself? These are all potential improvements that can be seen from a balanced approach.
A lot of this is me just projecting frustrations about the Yankees’ hitting over the last few years, but I’ve theorized about these issues iteratively. No single variable is the answer to hitting. No one philosophy can cater to all players, minds, and bodies. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a philosophy; rather, it tells you that whatever philosophy you’ve constructed should always be open to learning and hearing out other’s perspectives.
There are facts to hitting that are undeniable to hitting, baseball, etc. But having somebody who figures out how to communicate these facts (data) to different types of players is incredibly important. You shouldn’t implement somebody just because they blindly agree with you. Instead, find somebody that challenges your hitting thoughts or presents a new perspective on how to communicate ideas where you see eye to eye. I have no clue what Brian Cashman, Aaron Boone, and company will do, but I hope the next hitting coach is a fantastic communicator with an openness to learn.