SSTN Mailbag: The New Hitting Coach, The Draft, Second Half Predictions
The All-Star break is over and the second half is about to start. The Yankees find themselves in a precarious situation. The first half went about as badly as it could for the team, with Judge hurt and the offense struggling mightily. Hitting Coach, Dillon Lawson, was fired. Call it eye wash or whatever you want, but the Yankees had to do something to jumpstart the team. Changes of some kind were necessary, but we'll talk about it more below. The reality remains, though: as bad as the Yankees were in the first half, they are still on-pace for 87-89 wins. That's absurd to consider, given the quality of baseball we've all witnessed.
That's why the calls to sell are premature. The Phillies last season and the Braves the year prior are proof that all you have to do is get into the playoffs and be both healthy and hot at the same time. If we consider that the first half was the 20th percentile outcome for the Yankees, what does the 80th percentile outcome look like? After all, in baseball and life, bet on the law of averages. There remains a path to set the team up to win both this season and next season without selling...and unlikely as it seems, the Yanks are still in it.
As Yogi Berra said: It ain't over 'til it's over.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll discuss the hiring of Sean Casey as Hitting Coach, talk about the draft, and I'll give my second half predictions! Let's get at it:
Brian asks: Thoughts on Sean Casey taking over as hitting coach?
"Wow," was my first reaction. Actually, my real first reaction literally seconds after hearing the news is captured in my answer to a text my brother sent me about the move. I'll quote it below:
"Woof, I really don't know...I mean, he and Boone are tight...but I don't like going with yet another guy with zero coaching experience. That said, Casey does know a thing or two about hitting, and he certainly has a personality to thrive with the players..."
So...my thoughts have expanded from my original reaction, but they're pretty close to what I wrote above. The negative piece to my reaction remains: it is incredibly risky to hire a guy straight from a television studio to the dugout with zero coaching experience. The Yankees did that with Aaron Boone, and it largely hasn't worked. Sean Casey knows hitting, and he was actually one of my favorite players growing up, but that doesn't mean he has an ability to communicate those thoughts effectively or diagnose issues with individual players.
Now that the negative is out of the way, we can get to the positives. We need to evaluate this move in context of where the Yankee offense stands currently, and where it's been in the last year. Dillon Lawson was hired as MLB Hitting Coach after serving as the Yankees' minor league hitting coordinator for years, and it was under his program that multiple Yankee prospects experienced offensive breakouts, Anthony Volpe and Oswaldo Cabrera among them. The idea that Dillon Lawson was a nobody and had no credentials couldn't be further from the truth. The Yankees wanted to unify the teaching occurring at the minor league level with the Major Leagues, and that idea made sense in order to help prospects continue their growth at the MLB level.
Along the way though, it was apparent that Lawson didn't have the rapport necessary to work with the players day-to-day, or at least that's my read on it. Multiple sources have reported recently that losing Hensley Meulens as Assistant Hitting Coach was a huge blow, as the players looked to him for day-to-day advice and to translate Lawson's suggestions into actionable mechanics by someone who had been there before. That very report is indication one that something was wrong. In fact, reports suggest that the Yankees wanted to hire Casey as either MLB Hitting Coach or Assistant Hitting Coach this offseason, but he resisted due to the fact that his girlfriend was undergoing chemotherapy. The Yankees knew that Lawson might not be in the right role as recently as the offseason.
Casey represents the opposite of Lawson in some respects. Casey has been there, and knows how MLB hitters tick. He also respects many aspects of the analytical revolution, but also believes there's a balance that guys need to strike in order to be successful everyday; not every guy is capable of holding tons of statistics in their head in each at-bat.
I am encouraged by Casey's interviews to this point. He stated that he wants to use the analytics staff to pinpoint a few key statistics as points of emphasis for his hitters, and use those statistics to develop programs to help hitters take better at-bats and improve their mechanics.
Most importantly, Casey has a huge personality, is well-liked, and knows what veterans need to be successful. A lot of people have written off his potential impact on veterans, but I think that's way off. I actually think he'll have the most impact on veterans. Vets know what they're doing; what they need is confidence, something that has clearly been lacking with this crew in recent weeks. Casey is just the type of motivating voice that could help unlock some more fire from the vets in the clubhouse.
All of this is by way of saying: I actually think I like the move. I think the Yankees, at their best, balance an analytical approach with coaching and video analysis, and this move helps get the offensive approach back to the right level of balance.
Chad asks: Who are your two favorite picks in the draft?
This is going to be really boring: I really like the Yankees' two first picks, SS George Lombard Jr., and 3rd round pick LHP Kyle Carr. Lombard might not stick at SS, but his tools are undeniable. He's raw, with a big, projectable body, but his arm, defensive actions, sweet swing, and feel to find the barrel of the bat all indicate that he can become a plus prospect. High-upside high school talent is exactly what the Yankees should be looking for in the late first round, and this is a pick that I think will pay off.
I particularly like Carr, though. The lefty has a smooth, easy delivery that already produces good velocity, living in the low-90s, but getting it up as high as 97 MPH. He has an average or better slider already that he can locate and throw for strikes. It's a projectable body, with room to fill out, but he does need to find a third pitch. I like the delivery and feel to pitch, so I buy that the Yanks can help him find a change-up or cutter that works as a third pitch. You can squint and see mid-rotation upside.
Mike asks: What are your predictions for Yankee performance in the second half of the season?
The Yankees will buy modestly at the deadline, not sell; one of Bellinger or the cadre of available Cardinal outfielders will be in LF in August.
The veterans will play better. Not perfect, but better. Stanton has a big hot streak coming, and I think he has a huge July and August. LeMahieu gets back to being playable, hitting .280 the rest of the way.
Anthony Volpe hits .245/.330/.470 the rest of the way and plays steady defense.
Judge comes back at the end of July, spending most of his time at DH initially, easing into the outfield as August progresses.
The Yankees maintain one of the best pitching staffs in baseball; Nestor comes back close to the pitcher he was last season. Sevy throws to a usable 3.85 ERA the rest of the way.
The Yankees have a .600 winning percentage in the second half and claim a Wild Card spot.
I think they surprise everyone in the playoffs.