Breaking News: Sean Casey Won't Return As Hitting Coach
By Andy Singer
October 25th, 2023
Sean Casey himself broke the news today on his podcast that he will not return to the Yankees as the Hitting Coach in 2024. Casey noted that factors in his personal life, chiefly spending time with his two daughters, takes precedence over MLB coaching offers at this time. He didn't shut the door to coaching again in the future, and Casey noted that though the Yankees had not presented an official offer to return as Hitting Coach, he believes that the Yankees would have welcomed him back had he been willing to return.
My Initial Reaction
I was neither here nor there about Casey returning as the Yankees' Hitting Coach. While the Yankees made the uncharacteristic decision to move on from Dillon Lawson in the middle of the season for good reason, the Yankees' offense was not better with Casey at the helm, statistically. Admittedly, we're talking about a small sample size, without an off-season for Casey to really get to know the hitters, implement his personal philosophies, and gel with his assistant coaches, but the fact remains that Casey didn't help the Yankees last season in any tangible way last season.
I will be very interested to see where the Yankees go from here. All indications are that both Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone are sticking around, an idea reinforced by Casey's admission that the Yankees seemed willing to retain him despite the lack of a contract offer. I can't imagine that willingness to retain Casey would exist without assurance that the Yankees' core leadership between the bench and the front office would remain intact. It will be fascinating to see if the front office has learned anything from their experiences with Lawson and Casey.
Dillon Lawson bore the brunt of the criticism for the offense last season, and it's likely true that his propensity to rely on data, particularly exit velocity, above and beyond other means of analysis and coaching was a detriment to the offense. However, I'm not sure that an entirely old school approach will fix the Yankees either.
I think Aaron Judge's post-season comments hint at the right way forward. Judge noted that Yankee hitters are overloaded with data, and that while the data is great, sometimes it's not filtered in a digestible format. What does that mean for what the Yankees should be looking for in a hitting coach?
For one, I think the next hitting coach needs to have played ball at a high level. That doesn't necessarily mean someone who played Major League Baseball; even someone who played decent college ball can speak the same language as the players on the field. While the current conversation around the fanbase has revolved around devaluing analytical concepts in the Yankees' hitting philosophy, I think that the next hitting coach needs to have knowledge and understanding of advanced hitting analytics so that the coach can translate applicable concepts to the players - not overwhelm them with it, but to use it as appropriate. I also strongly believe that the next hitting coach needs to have a strong knowledge of mechanics and kinesiology such that they can help players maximize their body and movements to achieve mechanical improvements.
In short, I think the Yankees need to get back to doing what they were good at prior to the last few years: blend modern analytical concepts with advanced training analysis and traditional baseball scouting and evaluation. The next hitting coach should be well-rounded in all of those facets, or bring along assistant hitting coaches that fill in any gaps. Getting a "household name" at hitting coach isn't as important to me as being well-rounded.
Some candidates I like, just off the top of my head:
The "Bring Him Home" Candidate: Don Mattingly. I don't think that I need to explain this one much, but I wonder if he'd consider Hitting Coach a downgrade from his current Bench Coach role with the Jays. He checks basically every box you'd want.
The "Manager In Waiting" Candidate: Shelley Duncan. Duncan has managed at a variety of levels in the minors and has also served a variety of roles on Major League coaching staffs. He played professionally, managed many of the kids who are on their way to the Majors with the Yankees, and is known for both his ability to communicate and properly utilize analytical concepts in coordination with his professional experience.
The Outside The Box Candidate: Rachel Balkovec. Balkovec has managed many of the kids that are both at the big league level now and on their way; she played Division 1 softball, and has earned the respect of Yankee minor leaguers both as a roving hitting instructor and manager in Tampa; and she has a significant background in kinesiology, exercise science, and hitting mechanics. On some level, Balkovec has spent her entire coaching career training for a role like this.
The Fast Riser: Jake Hirst. Hirst has a ton of fans among the class of Baby Bombers, and multiple of those guys (most notably Anthony Volpe) rave about his work ethic, ability to communicate with players, and help find any edge possible. Hirst has risen quickly through the Yankee minor league coaching ladder, and I can't help but notice that multiple Yankee prospects broke out while he was their hitting coach.
The reality is that I'm probably way off with my predictions. All I know is that Casey won't be back, and I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.