On Monday, the Yankees announced former MLB first baseman and current MLB Network analyst Sean Casey as their new hitting coach. The announcement came less than 24 hours after New York fired Dillon Lawson following their 7-4 loss to the Cubs on Sunday. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported the news as official, while Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported the Yankees were aggressively pursuing hiring Casey.
The hire is a little head-scratching at the onset, mainly because Casey doesn't bring any prior coaching experience. He was hired onto the MLB Network shortly after retiring in 2008. But the change of coaching style could do wonders for the Yankees. In my opinion, coaching hasn't been the number one issue, and Lawson was more of a scapegoat than anything. Sometimes, though, a change has to be made just for the sake of making a change. It's the first time Brian Cashman has fired a coach during a season through his entire regime as general manager.
The Yankees have looked completely lost at the plate since Aaron Judge went down on June 4 with a toe injury after crashing into the wall at Dodger Stadium. Since then, they are hitting just .219 and have scored the fewest runs, 107, while going just 13-16 in that span. Their approach at the plate has been abysmal, essentially home run or bust, and they have struggled mightily at getting on base. Even when they do get on base, they have done a poor job of driving runners in. They rank 21st in the majors with just a .245 batting average with runnings in scoring position.
Casey can certainly help change the approach and bring his high-level energy to the entire team. Over 12 seasons in the majors, the Reds' Hall of Fame member hit .302 and had a tremendous .367 on-base percentage. Under Lawson, the Yankees had a "hit strikes hard" approach, which certainly sounds good, but the hitters were doing a terrible job of transitioning that to the batter's box. Putting the ball in play, playing small ball, and using your speed is an area the Yankees need massive work on. If you just work to put bat to ball, as Casey did in his career, the homers will come naturally. The long ball wins games in the postseason, but in the last several postseasons, the Yankees haven't been able even to make much contact, let alone hit the ball out.
"I've been in professional baseball for almost 30 years, and my passion is hitting and the mental side of the game," Casey said. "Working at MLB Network for the last 15 years, I've been able to keep my finger on the pulse of the game, speaking with current big leaguers, watching a tremendous amount of video, breaking down film as part of my job and trying to figure out what hitters are doing physically and mentally."
It goes without question that the Yankees have to drastically improve offensively, as they rank 28th with a .231 batting average and 26th with a .300 OBP. There isn't much to say about it other than it has looked very ugly. It isn't a good look when rookie Anthony Volpe has a tweak in his stance after spending a day with catching prospect Austin Wells and eating some chicken parm. Not exactly sure why the Yankees brought Casey in and not Tony Soprano. When a minor league player notices something the hitting coach didn't, you know there's a problem. Since digesting the chicken parm, Volpe has been mashing the ball to the tune of a 150 wRC+ and .538 slugging percentage.
Casey said that "every guy is different" when asked to describe his hitting philosophy. He said he would have to get to know every hitter and their approach while working with them individually.
“There’s no way to cookie-cut hitters, and if you start doing that, you get into trouble and underutilize strengths they may have,” Casey said. “One thing I will stress is controlling the zone and hunting in the zone. I want them to control their process and stick to their approach with the goal of winning every pitch. At the end of the day, we’re going to focus on making sure each hitter has a process that brings out the best version of himself.”
The Yankees held onto assistant hitting coaches Casey Dykes and Brandon Wilkerson. With a couple of days to accumulate to the team over the All-Star break, Casey will hopefully instill a significant change of approach for the Yankees' lineup as they come out for the second half. It likely won't produce immediate results or changes, but there is not too much time to waste with how tough the playoff race is going to be in both the AL East and for the Wild Card.
Main Image Credit: From Getty Images