The Yankees are holding their organizational meetings this week, which means they’re still putting their offseason game plan in place. Have to wait until after the World Series to make most major moves anyway, so the Yankees have some time to get things in order (that’s what happens when you miss the playoffs).
Here are a few early notes to have on your radar.
• Not only is Kevin Long out as big league hitting coach, but Butch Wynegar is out as Triple-A hitting coach. Wynegar has been with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre since 2007 and has plenty of success stories — when Shelley Duncan went from candidate for release to getting a big league call-up, he gave Wynegar a lot of credit — and even this year’s young Triple-A roster had the highest team batting average and third-highest team OPS in the International League. But the Yankees are clearly going a new direction with their hitting instruction. Double-A hitting coach Marcus Thames and High-A hitting coach P.J. Pilittere are each relatively new and seem popular within the organization. Pilittere in particular seemed to have a lot of success stories this season.
• Over at Newsday, Erik Boland reports that the Yankees have talked about hiring former Mets general manager Omar Minaya for a job within the organization. His reputation took a public hit when the Mets fell flat during his tenure as GM, but Minaya remains pretty well respected within the game, especially when it comes to scouting.
• Last week the Yankees announced that hitting coach Kevin Long had been fired following this season’s disappointment. No surprise that he’s already popped on the radar of several other teams (also no surprise that after years of emails saying Long should be fired, I immediately got emails worried it was a mistake to let him go). According to Mark Feinsand, Long has already been in contact with the Mets, Blue Jays and Braves about joining their coaching staffs. The Red Sox and others are also expected to reach out. There’s heavy speculation that Arizona could be a logical destination because Long lives in Arizona and is long-time friends with new manager Chip Hale.
• The Yankees will surely discuss Japanese starter Kenta Maeda during this week’s meetings, but recent reports in Japan indicate the Hiroshima Carp might not post him this offseason. That’s significant if only because Maeda was said to be interested in signing with either the Yankees or Red Sox.
Associated Press photo of Wynegar with Francisco Cervelli
In announcing on Friday that both Kevin Long and Mick Kelleher were being fired, general manager Brian Cashman stopped short of blaming them for the Yankees shortcomings, but he made it clear that the organization felt the need to make some sort of change.
“We let the season play out, let everybody put all hands in,” Cashman said. “We were able to fix a number of issues, but the one issue we couldn’t fix was the offense.”
It was Long who seemed most on the hot seat after the Yankees finished 13th in the American League in runs scored. That said, it’s only fair to mention that through Long’s first six years as hitting coach, the Yankees were consistently among the highest-scoring teams in the game.
“I know when I talked to Kevin today he told me, he was like, ‘Cash, I wouldn’t do anything different, because I tried everything,’” Cashman said. “I think Kevin can sleep at night knowing he tried every tool in the toolbox. I know that he publicly stated late in the year that he did everything and tried everything. It wasn’t sufficient, but the effort was sufficient. The results just weren’t.”
So the Yankees know they’ve had success with Long in the past, and they seem happy with the work he did this season. The decision to fire him is where the vagaries of the job come into play.
Was Carlos Beltran’s bad season because of the coaching he received or because of the bone spur in his elbow? Could a different hitting coach have gotten more out of Mark Teixeira or has Teixeira simply declined as a hitter? Is there someone who can better teach Brian McCann to beat the shift, or is he simply a player susceptible to defensive adjustments?
“I don’t make changes lightly,” Cashman said. “I’ve never made a coaching change in-season. Not one. It takes a lot for me to make some adjustments, and obviously the belief is always to try to find better and upgrade if I can. It’s tough because I know Kevin’s good at what he does. I believe (that), but I’m looking for a different voice maybe with a different message and approach to some degree. It’s my job to continue to find different ways to improve upon the offensive side. That will be from some internal options, some external options, and obviously by today’s conversation, it’s also going to be from a change in the leadership from the dugout.”
An overall change in leadership also seems to be at the root of the Kelleher decision. A wildly popular personality in the clubhouse, Kelleher was responsible for an infield that played poor defense in the first half of the season, yet Cashman made it clear that he placed the defensive blame on the players themselves. Yangervis Solarte, Kelly Johnson, Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts simply were not a good defensive group in the first half.
“I would not hold Mick Kelleher responsible for any defensive deficiencies,” Cashman said. “That was personnel related.”
It seems, then, that the decision to let Kelleher go was about opening a spot for a new addition as much as anything.
“I think the overall direction of the staff as we move forward will be better served with some personnel that we’re going to interview,” Cashman said. “As you change the dynamic of the staff, it has to come at the expense of some personnel. In this case, it’s Mick. There are some individuals, I think, as we move forward (who) will bring more for the global perspective of the coaching staff. That despite Mick’s high qualities, some of the people I’m interested in talking to will do the same. I don’t want to go into any specifics. I think Mick is good at what he does, he’s a good infield instructor and he’s very positive, but there are some more things that I want to add to the staff with Joe Girardi. And in my dialogue with Joe, we look forward to interviewing some personnel that can bring those things to the table.”
Associated Press photo
Just a few quick notes and some leftovers from today’s Brian Cashman conference call:
• Anything Kevin Long could have or should have done differently with this offense? “I think he tried everything in his power,” Cashman said. “By his own assessment, I know when I talked to Kevin today he told me, he was like, ‘Cash, I wouldn’t do anything different, because I tried everything.’ I think Kevin can sleep at night knowing he tried every tool in the toolbox. I know that he publicly stated late in the year that he did everything and tried everything. It wasn’t sufficient, but the effort was sufficient. The results just weren’t.”
• On whether Mick Kelleher was to blame for the Yankees defensive problems in the first half: “That was more personnel-related,” Cashman said. “When we lost players like Cano, for instance, who was an exceptional defender, to free agency; or when we lost Alex to a suspension, for instance. We had Derek Jeter coming back, as well as Mark Teixeira, from injury. Those players possessed a certain amount of ability, and I think Mick addressed that to the best of his abilities. As we were able to acquire better defenders as the season went on and they presented themselves, we obviously improved our team defense. I would not hold Mick Kelleher responsible for any defensive deficiencies. That was personnel related.”
• Interesting comment about the decision to get rid of Kelleher: “There are some individuals, I think, as we move forward, (who) will bring more for the global perspective of the coaching staff.”
• The latest on Alex Rodriguez’s offseason workouts: “Matt Krause, our strength coach, just visited with him yesterday in Miami to continue the process that I talked to you all about in Boston at Fenway Park at the end of the season,” Cashman said. “That we’re going to be reconnecting with Alex, all of our staff. Alex reached out and said, ‘Hey, let’s start proactively doing that.’ That’s what Alex is about. He’s proactive and trying to put himself in the best position to be successful and hit the ground running when he gets reactivated.”
• On whether the Yankees want to bring back Dave Robertson or let Dellin Betances transition into the closer role: “What happens as we move forward with (Robertson) and the qualifying offer is yet to be determined,” Cashman said. “But we thank David, and we’re proud of what he’s done here and how he’s handled himself here. The final decision that has to be made here first and foremost is yet to be made. Because of that I don’t think it’s really fair to speculate on alternatives in house. It’s obviously a tough role, and if you’ve never done it, I’d answer that question the same way I answered it maybe to David’s anguish last year, all winter, where I would not assume that anybody could do that. It’s just not that type of role that you could guarantee someone can easily transition to.”
• Any other coaching changes coming? “These are the moves we’re making,” Cashman said. “And any other moves that we choose to make or want to pursue, obviously we’ll reveal them. If we choose to make any other changes we’ll let you know, otherwise everything is status quo until then.”
Associated Press photo
“The one thing that’s done here every year is we’re all evaluated on what we do,” Girardi said. “My coaches work their tail ends off for me, and obviously I have a close relationship with all of them. But it’s what, 20 hours since we played a game or whatever it is, and we haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk about it. I’m sure I’m being evaluated as well, but I can tell you one thing, they worked extremely hard for me. We’ll sit down and talk, and obviously we’ll get a couple days removed here. I’ll sit down and talk to Brian (Cashman). I mean, the players are being evaluated. This happens every year, whether we win or lose. That’s just the nature of New York and it’s the nature of the business. We’re just 20 hours removed from what we did, and I haven’t had a chance to talk to Brian or who I need to talk to.”
Although the Yankees scored the second-most runs in baseball just two years — and although they’ve led the league in runs scored for three of his eight seasons — hitting coach Kevin Long has certainly taken the most heat of anyone on the coaching staff. He’s presided over some terrific offensive seasons, but this year the Yankees scored the third-fewest runs in the American League.
“I don’t see really, anything different (in Long’s work),” Girardi said. “For me, he works tirelessly. He’s always working with the guys on their swings, he’s looking at tape, but as I said, we’re all being evaluated. We’ve missed the playoffs two years in a row. That’s part of being a coach.”
What does Girardi look for in a hitting coach?
“Philosophy, work ethic, preparation, helping the players prepare for the game,” Girardi said. “You can do all those things right and as a team you may not have as much success as you want. That’s part of the game. So that’s why we’re constantly being evaluated as coaches and as players. And as a player you can do all the same work you did as the previous year, and it may not work out the same.”
After missing the playoffs two years in a row, it seems entirely possible there will be some sort of coaching staff shake up. I think it’s always hard to determine how much credit or blame a coach deserves. But I also think the Yankees front office might feel a need to do something in response to two disappointing seasons.
“As I said, we’re going to sit down and evaluate everything, just like we do every year,” Girardi said. “I can remember being here in winning years and we sit down and evaluate what do we need to do to get better. And that will be done shortly I’m sure.”
Associated Press photo
Postgame notes: “We’re running out of time” • 08.16.14
One week ago, there was some actual optimism around this Yankees team. Maybe not enough evidence to think the team was out of the woods and on its way, but certainly reason to think they just might be ready to at least make it interesting. As of last Friday, the Yankees had won three of four against the Tigers, six of seven overall, and they’d just scored 10 runs against the Indians. They were seven games above .500 and had generally played pretty well since the All-Star break.
They haven’t won a game since. And the offense – even with its new additions filling the bottom of the order – has scored just seven runs in its past five games.
“Morale’s down a little bit,” hitting coach Kevin Long said. “But it’s our job to try to keep it up and keep guys as positive as we can during a time like this. That’s one of our biggest challenges. We’ll stay at it, come ready to work tomorrow. We need something to turn. And we need it to turn in a hurry.”
As of tonight, the calendar is crossing into the second half of August. There’s a month and a half remaining, there are three teams between the Yankees and the second wild card, and it could be five teams if the Yankees are swept this weekend at Tropicana Field.
“We’re running out of time,” Brett Gardner said. “Every day that goes by and we don’t win, it makes us one step closer to being home at the end of September.”
Alex Cobb pitched well tonight. A few days ago, the Yankees were beaten by Cory Kluber, who’s been terrific. But at some point, tipping a cap is a pretty empty gesture. At some point, the Yankees are simply a team that other pitchers see as an opportunity to pad their own stats.
“You want to score four or five runs a game,” Long said. “That’s what you set out to do. Sometimes the pitching doesn’t allow you do that. Sometimes there’s days when I feel like we really should, and we don’t do it. Against a Corey Kluber, or this guy tonight, it’s understandable that the runs are going to be down. But you’re going to have some days where — not to throw Chris Tillman under the bus, but he didn’t have his best stuff the other night. That’s a guy where you want to capitalize and take advantage of it. Again, when you have a couple guys like tonight, and Kluber, and before that we faced the three Cy Young guys, there’s going to be tough days. But some of those other guys, we should be able to get to.”
Joe Girardi seems to have settled into a stance of absolute confidence. That’s his approach — really, it’s his personality — and it’s honestly hard to imagine this veteran roster responding to some sort of fiery speech from the skipper. Girardi is trying to show confidence that veteran hitters will eventually hit. Maybe he believes in them, they’ll believe in themselves. While Mark Teixeira said he thought morale was just fine, there’s a definite sense in the clubhouse of players who realize the margin for error has worn extremely thin. And everyone is well aware that the offense is the biggest culprit.
“It’s not really baffling,” Teixeira said. “We’re just not getting the job done. You win and lose as a team, and we definitely haven’t been winning as a team lately because up and down the lineup, we just can’t get it done. We all need to step it up.”
It has to happen soon, because just one week after things seemed to be coming together, it’s all falling apart again. And there’s not much time left to pick up the pieces.
• Quick injury update: Brian McCann said he doesn’t really expect to be activated tomorrow. He said he’s really shooting for Sunday. Today was the first time he’d done any on-field drills since the concussion.
• Leadoff man reached base five times for the Yankees, and at no point did that runner advance past first base. But the best run-scoring opportunity was the eighth, when both Jacoby Ellsbury and Teixeira struck out with the bases loaded. Those are the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, in case you’d forgotten. “And we weren’t able to do it,” Girardi said. “You’re where you want to be in the order, but we weren’t able to come through with a hit.”
• Here’s Teixeira on the idea of hitters trying to do too much in those situations: “That’s natural,” Teixeira said. “If you’re not scoring runs as a team and you get up there and there’s a man on first (you think), ‘If I hit a home run here, we’re back in the game.’ Or, bases loaded, ‘I have to get a hit here.’ Yeah, that’s natural. That’s baseball. That’s why you win and lose as a team because if you’re relying on one guy to get the job done, or you yourself think ‘I’m the only one that’s going to get the job done,’ you’re not going to score runs. Good teams feed off each other. Unfortunately, hitting’s contagious, but not hitting is contagious as well.”
• Of course, here’s the line everyone will love: “I felt like we had a chance (in the eighth) until that guy came out and just made quality pitches,” Teixeira said. “Ells and I were talking about, we didn’t feel that we got a pitch to hit. The guy throws 96 with a good changeup, and we just couldn’t get it done.”
• Quite often guys like Long or Girardi will say that at-bats are good even if results aren’t. Long wasn’t saying that tonight. “At-bats, the last five days, they haven’t been as good as they probably should be,” Long said. “That tells me guys are probably trying a little too hard. There’s not a lot of laughter, there’s not a lot of at-ease at bats, and that makes this game even more difficult.”
• Brandon McCarthy wasn’t hit hard tonight, but he got no run support and took his second loss. Not a lot of ease for the pitching staff, either, when the offense is struggling like this. “It puts pressure on all of us,” McCarthy said. “I know the hitters are feeling it. Anytime you go through this, it affects as a team. You feel it. It’s not a me situation of woe-is-me, they’re not scoring runs. We’re not scoring runs. That’s something I’m sure that weighs on everyone, and everyone is doing what they can to correct it. It’s not a time to have your own personal feelings hurt and worry about yourself.”
• Bad first inning for McCarthy, which he said was all about not feeling quite right in the bullpen during warm-ups, and carrying that feeling into the game. “First inning, I didn’t really have a feel for anything. Warming up, I felt really weird. Same in the first inning. I went out for the second and everything kind of felt normal again, and I was able to get back in a groove and throw strikes. First inning was just kind of weird.”
• Twice the Yankees had a chance to turn a double play in the first inning, and each time they couldn’t do it. Neither was a routine double play, but each seemed to have at least a chance. Girardi didn’t seem to have a problem with the Yankees not turning them, and neither did McCarthy. “I know one kind of ate Stephen up, and Chase has to reach for that other one,” McCarthy said. “Some days those might turn into double plays. Some days they’re tougher plays. I’ve got to do a better job of not getting into that jam where you’re relying on something happening behind you.”
• Headley snapped a streak of 62 straight games without an error at third base. His career-high errorless streak at third is 67 games.
• Derek Jeter actually reached another obscure milestone tonight. It was his 1,007th multi-hit game with the Yankees. According to Elias, that’s the third-most since 1900 for a player with one team, passing Hank Aaron who had 1,006 with the Braves. Stan Musial had 1,59 with the Cardinals and Ty Cobb had 1,211 with the Tigers.
• Final word to Teixeira: “It’s definitely getting late. I said it when we were in Baltimore, or before that series, every game is kind of must-win at this point. We really need to win some games. There’s definitely a sense of urgency in here. We just haven’t been scoring runs.”
Associated Press photos
Everything “zen” for A-Rod • 10.03.11
After injuries to his right knee and left thumb hobbled him down the stretch, Alex Rodriguez has started this ALDS 0 for 8. His only trip on base was a first-inning walk issued by Max Scherzer in Game 2.
A-Rod’s woes climaxed in the eighth inning Sunday. Fans showered the third baseman with boos after he popped out to second against Joaquin Benoit.
Rodriguez acknowledged the jeers but said they were “no big deal.”
“There’s no need to even get emotional,” he said. “Again, it’s one pitch at a time. One big hit can change this whole series around. You really have to stay in the moment. Like Phil Jackson, you have to go into a little bit of a zen mode.”
Rodriguez was on deck with two on and two out in the ninth when Robinson Cano —representing the winning run — grounded out to second to end the game. If he had an opportunity, Rodriguez would’ve no doubt had his zen challenged by a steady diet of fastballs from Jose Valverde. The Tigers have attacked A-Rod repeatedly to see whether or not he can respond. Through two games, he hasn’t.
“He’s a tick late on them,” hitting coach Kevin Long said. “We’ll talk about that, about being a little more ready for fastballs. I would certainly expect more fastballs, but that’s OK. We want him to see fastballs.”
Long and Rodriguez thought Sunday’s at-bats were a step down from those on Saturday, when Rodriguez was called out for strikes on a questionable call and ripped a deep drive to center that fell a little short of a home run.
Rodriguez would not point to his surgically-repaired right knee or injured left thumb as a problem, although he hasn’t been the same since he returned Aug. 21. A-Rod is just 13 for 76 with five extra-base hits and 10 RBI in the subsequent 21 games. He missed 19 others resting the injuries.
“This time of year, nobody wants to hear ‘banged up,’” he said. “You just basically have to take it one pitch at a time and try to win.”
Long said Rodriguez has already made an impact by forcing the Tigers to pitch to Cano, who tied a club postseason record with six RBI in Game 1. But Rodriguez expects he’ll have opportunities to turn the series directly before it’s over. That could be as soon as tonight against Detroit ace Justin Verlander.
“There’s no question,” he said. “I’m assuming over the next day or two or three there’s going to be some big at-bats that I’ll be ready for. Two outs, men in scoring position. That’s something I relish.”
Long thought it was too soon for fans to boo the Yankees’ 2009 postseason hero.
“If we want to beat him up over two games, certainly people have the right to do that,” Long said. “I just don’t think it’s fair.”
All about a leg kick (but not Jeter’s) • 05.09.11
About two weeks ago, the Yankees started seeing a lot of breaking balls. They had been hitting a home run, then they started facing curveball pitchers like Gavin Floyd, and the lineup began seeing a steady dose of soft offspeed pitches.
Alex Rodriguez’s recent struggles might have developed one curveball at a time.
“He started getting a little bit out in front, started getting some breaking balls,” hitting coach Kevin Long said. “We talked about this: Subconsciously, what you do is you get bigger with your leg kick because that obviously is going to make you wait on the ball. Bad move. You want to stay consistent with your leg kick, make sure you let the ball travel without actually raising it up.”
Since April 26, the day Floyd carved through the Yankees lineup for eight innings, Rodriguez has hit .170/.204/.191. Just three days earlier he’d gone 2-for-5 with a home run. When Rodriguez got to the stadium in Arlington yesterday, he was almost immediately with Long, in front of a computer screen, watching video of spring training and the first few weeks of the season.
“I always tell him, ‘You’re quick to make adjustments,’ and this one for some reason took a little bit longer,” Long said. “… He’s a click away from being really, really hot again. Today was a huge step in the right direction. I told him if he continues to do what he did today, it’s going to turn around pretty quickly.”
Throughout this road trip, Rodriguez never seemed especially concerned. It was clear that he was working on things, but two weeks wasn’t enough to make him panic.
“I was happy with all my swings (Sunday),” Rodriguez said. “I wish I’d get three or four hits, but the bottom line is we won a game. Overall, my balance was good, my strike zone control was good, and if I do that, there’s going to be a lot of damage.”
Here’s Long speaking after yesterday’s game. He talked mostly about Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, but he touched on Russell Martin, Curtis Granderson and the offense as a whole.
Jeter sticking with the game plan • 04.11.11
“Everybody is talking about abandoning stuff. That’s so far from the truth,” Long said. “I think it’s wrong to write because that’s not right. He really has stayed to the plan. What you want to do when you step in the box is compete, and that’s what he’s doing.”
Jeter’s lead foot has been easy to spot. That foot hasn’t stayed on the ground for every swing, proving that Jeter’s stride has not completely disappeared. And the stride was the most visible part of the changes.
The stride, though, was only a product of the greater goal, Long said. Primarily, Jeter is working to move directly and quickly to the ball. The important thing is that his foot doesn’t cross over toward the plate.
“He’s trying to keep his stride direction and keep his stride short,” Long said. “You work on it as long as you can, and when you go into the game, really all you can do is compete. And that’s what he’s doing… We talked about getting him more in line. That’s it. When we started it we did it with no stride. He’s picked up at times and set it down. And there’ll be times when he goes in, and we’ll discuss it.”
On Saturday, Jeter made it clear that he didn’t want to keep discussing his swing. The subject seems to have worn thin. Jeter is hitting barely better than .200 – and he’s hitting a lot of balls on the ground again – but Joe Girardi said he won’t make any judgments until Jeter’s had 100 to 150 at-bats.
“Obviously I would love for the results to be there, but all you have to worry about is being comfortable,” Jeter said. “I felt pretty comfortable the last few games. (Sunday) I’m sure you could have thrown anybody out there that was comfortable and it would have been an uncomfortable day for them. As long as I’m comfortable, then I’m confident the results will be there.”
There’s no denying that Jeter’s not hitting right now. At this point, it seems the Jeter followers fall into two camps: Those who believe he’s finished based on what he’s shown so far, and those who are reserving judgment until he’s played more than a week and a half. What Long took exception to was not that Jeter’s struggling, but rather the idea that he’s no longer working on the things he set out to master.
“For somebody to say he’s not doing things the way we set out to do, that’s not the truth because he’s really worked hard at it,” Long said. “I don’t agree with that. I think it’s completely opposite of what he’s been trying to do and trying to accomplish.”
Associated Press photos
I only covered Johnny Damon for about a month in the playoffs, but he’s an instantly likable personality, and the other New York writers seem to always enjoy saying hello to him. Today Damon said he was never close to coming back to the Yankees this winter, but he spoke pretty highly of his time in pinstripes.
“My time in New York was nothing but great,” he said. “I loved every minute of it. I loved going back there. I loved a bunch of the players over there, the coaching staff, the way the organization is. It’s going to be four years I’m always going to remember. Now it’s time for me to help my home team win a championship. It’s been a long time coming for me to have this opportunity to come play for Tampa, so I’m excited about it.”
Here are a few notes and links to wrap up the day.
• At this point I’m guessing we won’t hear anything definitive on Francisco Cervelli until tomorrow. His MRI results are being reviewed by team doctors in New York.
• Nice story by Dan Barbarisi about the Yankees rallying around Red Sox first-base coach Ron Johnson, whose daughter lost her leg in a terrible accident. Johnson used to be Kevin Long’s manager in the minors.
• Great interview with VP of baseball operations Mark Newman. There’s a lot of good stuff about the Yankees minor league system in there, including some notes about guys who could very well make the big league roster this year.
• Writing for Baseball America, George King notes that Brandon Laird could put himself into the big league mix at some point this season as a power hitter who can play all four corners.
• Speaking of Baseball America, they’re reporting that the Yankees have signed 1B Nick Ebert, a non-drafted free agent out of South Carolina.
• Yankees single-game tickets go on sale Saturday morning.
Sorry, went to the wrong page on Yankees.com. Single game tickets are on sale March 11 at this link. Saturday’s ticket thing is for season tickets.
Associated Press photo of Damon
Derek Jeter and his new swing • 02.20.11
Derek Jeter said the conversation about his stride began a few years ago. It wasn’t unusual for him to eliminate the stride through his first few batting practice swings, and one day Jeter told Kevin Long that he’d like to take that approach into the season at some point.
“This was a couple of years ago, and I felt at the time it wasn’t necessary to try to do it,” Jeter said. “Last year we got into a situation where we felt it was necessary, so we tried to cut that down.”
Necessity forced the issue. Jeter went 1-for-7 in Texas on September 10, dropping his average to .260 with a .326 on-base percentage. He sat out on September 11, and used that day to work on his new swing. He put it into action on September 12 — against Cliff Lee — and went 1-for-2 with two walks and a two-out, RBI double that gave the Yankees the lead. That was the start of a .342/.436/.392 slash line through his final 19 games of the regular season.
“It’s really something that you shouldn’t be trying to do during the season, but in that situation, we felt we really had no choice,” Jeter said. “… I was striding late, I was striding too far forward (toward the plate), and I think it was tying up everything in my swing. So toward the end of the year when we made those adjustments, I tried to take the stride out, but I’ve been hitting like that for 30 years so it’s pretty difficult to do in one day in Texas. I’m trying to continue that throughout the offseason. You really can’t tell until you start facing pitching. I feel pretty good about it now, but it’s going to be an adjustment. That’s what spring training is for.”
Jeter said he believes the change will put him in a position to hit more quickly. He won’t be tied up on inside pitches, and the balls he does get to won’t be hit into the ground as often. Could this be proof that his swing is slowing down in his late 30s?
“I think it’s more getting into bad habits,” Jeter said. “Could be the other one, but I’ll go with the first one.”
For more on the technicalities of what’s going on with Jeter’s swing, Kevin Long gave a tremendous demonstration this afternoon in the Yankees clubhouse. Some of it was explained physically, but I think the text of Long’s words paints a pretty good picture. Everything in italics is quoting Long.
This is a lot of text, but I think it’s worth it. Long’s terrific when he’s breaking down a specific hitter’s swing, and a specific hitter’s approach.
What exactly are you changing?
The issue with the stride foot is when it crosses over and goes this way (toward the plate) and the ball is coming inside, you don’t have a path to get to that pitch. Now, let’s say a cutter from (Jon) Lester is coming in at 93 mph. You’re going to try to do what Jeter does best, which is stay inside of it. So he’s going to try to do this (keep his hands and body inside) and try to stay into it. You can’t do it (when you cross over). Now, by staying square and going up on his toe and going to here (mimics the beginning of an inside swing) he’s creating an avenue for his hips to get through and to become square to the baseball.
Why so many ground balls last year?
When you block off and you can’t clear your hips and you hit the ball, you’re basically smothering the baseball. You don’t have an avenue to get the barrel to it. If we’re square and I go here (clean swing at an inside pitch) and I can clear my hips, it allows by bat head to get there, and it allows me to elevate the baseball a lot more.
If it worked before, why doesn’t it work now?
I think the game has changed where the pitching is better. This cutter is a serious pitch that’s basically been brought into existence in the past two or three (years). Mariano’s had it, but nobody else. Every guy has a cutter now. You’ve got a Jon Lester cutter that’s coming in at, let’s say 95. Try to stay inside that pitch. You can’t do it. Guys have better command in and out I would say than they ever have. There’s no secrets. People pitch Jeet in, and he sees a lot of pitches inside. This will free him up in there and at least give him the opportunity to maybe get to those balls and pull them correctly.
The other thing is, we’re tying to shorten his swing. We’re trying to get it to be more direct to the baseball. It’s kind of a catch 22 because there wasn’t a lot of length before other than, he’d try to catch it in here and he couldn’t get the ball in the air because he was closing off.
Will this change the kind of hitter he is?
Does it mean you’ll probably see more balls to left field and left center? I think so. I don’t know. I think it’s going to allow him and give him the opportunity to get to some pitches and do some things with some balls that he might not have been able to do in the past… I don’t think it’s going to be his approach. I think his approach is still going to be going the other way, but I think it’s going to be much easier to react and he’s going to find that I can get to some of those pitches very easy and pull them.
What if pitchers adjust and start pitching him away?
That’s his strength. If they want to go to his strength, then go to his strength and he’ll abuse people… As long as he’s close to the plate and he’s able to hit that outside pitch without reaching and without striding in (he’ll be fine). We already talked about he’d probably have to get a little bit closer to the plate.
Did you wait too long to make this change?
I asked Jeet, I said, ‘Did we wait too long to do it?’ He said, ‘In my opinion, no.’ And in my opinion we didn’t wait too long. I think you have to let this thing play out a little bit.
What’s the role of age in this situation?
I’ll just talk about it from my personal standpoint. I don’t feel as good any more as I used to. There’s got to be a point in time when things are going to slow down. Is that part of this equation? I’m sure it is somewhat. How much? I don’t think any of us know that. But when you get older, things become a little more difficult. The big thing is keeping Jeet’s durability, keeping his body fresh. I think Joe does a good job picking spots for him to sort of be fresh with his body and active with his body. I’m sure he’s slowed down a little bit. I would say that. Is Derek Jeter’s best baseball behind him? I wouldn’t say that. I’m not ready to go there.
Associated Press photo of Jeter from today’s press conference