Kevin Long (l), Yankees' Hitting Coach
Through seven games of the 2012 playoff season, the Yankees' offensivenumbers, across the board, are beyond bleak. The team slash line is .205 avg/.277 OBP/.326 SLG/.603 OBPS, an ugly sight by any measure and a perfect example of a situation where the numbers don't lie.
These are the Bronx Bombers, the same guys who hit more home runs, by far, than any MLB team this year. The team that, despite an all-or-nothing approach, still scored more runs than any team in baseball this year with the exception of Texas.
And Texas scored just four more runs—808 to 804.
In terms of the actual numbers, the Yankees hit 245 home runs, scored those 804 runs and hit a respectable .265 as a team. Collectively, their OBP was .337 and their OPS was .790.
The home run total, again, led the league by a wide margin, and the team also led the entire American League in team OBP, SLG percentage and OPS.
Overall, the team average was fourth in the league.
If Scott Boras took on hitting coaches as clients, and maybe he does, Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long would be rock-solid heading into any arbitration hearing. It's tough to argue against a resume like the one outlined above, however it is not impossible.
In fact, based on how the team has performed over these past seven games, it's required.
Long gets a lot of credit for being a hitting guru. This perspective extends beyond the New York baseball and media circles, as somehow Long seems to get a mention on every nationally broadcast Yankee game. He is spoken about with reverence, as if he is Charlie Lau with a stable of pupils on par with the great George Brett.
The reality, though, is quite different.
When you start peeling back the onion, it becomes easier to recognize that even Long's most celebrated resurrection projects, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, leave much to be desired in terms of production.
More damning, though, is the reality that other Yankee hitters who have struggled at times, specifically Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, have actually sought out assistance from instructors they've worked with in the past.
Additionally, Alex Rodriguez has been tinkered with so often that he barely resembles the hitter he once was. Part of that is age and injury, but much of what we've seen from Rodriguez this postseason is related to his mental approach, and this is where Kevin Long has come up short with Rodriguez specifically.
In 2010 and through June of 2011, when Jeter struggled, Kevin Long's instruction had no positive impact on Jeter's performance. It was, instead, the time Jeter spent with his old hitting coach, Gary Dembo, during his DL stint in June/July of 2011, that resulted in the resurgence that he has experienced since July of 2011.
With Curtis Granderson, it's hard to make the case that his 2012 regular-season totals of 43 home runs and 106 RBIs reflect a poor year. However, when you factor in 195 Ks over 160 regular season games and a OBP of .319, which was down 45 points from his prior season, it becomes more difficult to suggest that Long's influence on Granderson has been sustained.
Add in another 14 Ks over seven 2012 playoff games and an OBP of .316, and it's clear that Granderson has regressed back to the hitter he was when he came to the Yankees, as opposed to the one that produced that sparkling 2011 season, in which his slash line was .262/.364/.552/.916.
And while Granderson was not exactly immune to the strikeout in 2011, he did in fact strike out 26 fewer times, while walking an additional 10 times when compared to his 2012 totals. These are not positive trends, and certainly not the kind of results you'd expect from a hitter whose approach was so dramatically altered just a season ago.
Swisher, on the other hand, has enjoyed a good run as a Yankee in terms of regular-season production.
When the Yankees brought him in there was no expectation that his four-year average slash line would be .267/.367/.482/.850. He has also averaged 87 RBIs over that span, as well as 26 home runs, and collectively these are totals that, again, far outstrip whatever expectations the organization could have had for Swisher.
In the postseason, though, the Swisher story begins to take a nasty turn.
We could dig into the numbers as deeply as anyone would want, and the slash line is not attractive by any means, however the number that says it all is seven RBIs in 144 plate appearances over 35 games.
Should the Yankees fire Kevin Long?
If we project that number over the average number of ABs Swisher has had over the past four years as a Yankee, Swisher would be on pace for 26 RBIs over 450 plus ABs.
In the end, is Kevin Long directly responsible for the Yankee's offensive performance during these 2012 playoffs?
No, he is not.
He does not, after all, ever actually step into the batter's box in place of his hitters.
Regardless, though, if Kevin Long is willing to accept the adoration of the baseball world for his perceived successes, he must therefore acknowledge a good measure of responsibility for what has become an annual occurrence for the Yankees—namely an October offensive swoon that erases much of the meaning and value associated with their regular-season performance.
Something must be done, of course.
Joe Girardi insists that his team is built a certain way, with hitters renowned for their plate discipline and who possess the ability to turn a pitch around and hit it a long way, and that this reality dictates how he manages.
There is merit to this argument, of course, as the Yankees are not designed to play small ball by any means. They are Earl Weaver's dream come true, really—a team perfectly suited for the all-or-nothing approach that relies on a regular supply of three-run homers to fuel the offense.
Unfortunately for the Yankees and Kevin Long, though, this is not 40 years ago, or even 10 years ago for that matter.
We are now in a time where pitching strategies are computer modeled, where managers know where to position their defenders down to the exact yard-wide spot on the field to maximize defensive efficiencies.
As such, Kevin Long should be noticing opposing tendencies.
He should have noted, for instance, that virtually every Baltimore pitcher threw first pitch strikes to a Yankee lineup that specializes in working the count. There was little nibbling with the fastball early in the count and few attempts to paint the corner with change-ups or breaking pitches.
As a result, Granderson, Swisher, Alex Rodriguez and the completely lost Robinson Cano found themselves down a strike in virtually every at bat. Moreover, Baltimore pitchers also excelled at challenging Yankee hitters with strikes on pitch two as well, making it seem as if the Yankee hitters were down two strikes warming up on deck.
Notice too that Derek Jeter, universally known to offer at first pitches, was hitting .333 with an OBP of .379 prior to his injury, and that Raul Ibanez, no doubt the most dangerous hitter in the Yankee lineup at this point, seemingly began hacking away the second he left the dugout.
A hitting coach has many responsibilities, and not all of them have to do with swing plane and load adjustments or any of the other fundamentals of hitting mechanics. These are big league hitters, and they arent where they are because a hitting coach got them there.
They got there because they are remarkably talented people, of course, however hitting coaches at this level should be noticing the game within the game and adjusting the mental approach of his charges as a result.
This is where Kevin Long has failed, and miserably so.
We hear a lot about how the Yankees' organization focus is on winning championships. Regular season success is fine, they say, but its what you do after the weather changes that really counts. Just ask Dave Winfield, aka "Mr. May," and Alex Rodriguez, whose legacy is now being shaped largely by a propensity to fail in the postseason, despite his remarkable performance during the 2009 championship run.
Based on the team's performance in the 2012 postseason thus far, and on their string of below par production over the past several postseasons, Kevin Long must be a casualty once the season ends.
The Yankee lineup for 2013 will likely feature players other than Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson, among other departing pieces, as each of them appear to be big-risk, little-reward-type players, considering they will each demand high-dollar, long-term contracts.
With that in mind, this is the optimal time for a fresh voice.
Kevin Long has had a nice run, starting in 2007 and continuing from there. Considering the justifiable postseason expectations associated with this Yankee lineup, the same cannot be said of the offense he has been tasked with mentoring.