The Real Reason The Offense Is Struggling? Pulling The Ball

Joe Girardi thinks the hitters need to start making adjustments. While that might be obvious to everyone, no one has officially disclosed why and what the problems are. One growing theory is something I’ve been discussing for not only the last week, but the whole year.

The most recent hitting slump, which I would date back to August, showcases numerous unspectacular pitchers defeating this lineup. Most of the slumps come from our left handed hitters, the ones who have been taught to pull pitches toward the right field porch. While they can be particularly deadly when they’re aiming for homeruns, they’ve also displayed an inability to hit the ball to the opposite field.

Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long has preached work on pulling inside pitches since the start of last season. It’s helped guys like Cano and Granderson overcome left handed pitchers jamming them, but at the expense of going to the opposite field. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that guys like Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher also show the same pull-heavy approach.

Then there’s the story of Derek Jeter, who Kevin Long believed needed to work on pitches that were jamming him. Of course, he would go on to hit just .260/.324/.324 with his new approach up until an injury paused his 2011 season in June. During his recovery in Tampa, Jeter worked with a past hitting coach on his swing and just like that he showed a renewed Jeterian swing. He finished off the second half of the season with a .331/.384/.447 slash, and then of course did what he did this year. Did Kevin Long ruin Jeter’s swing? I wouldn’t say ruined it, but I think he focused on pulling the ball yet again.

So, knowing that the very patient Yankee hitters constantly work on pulling the inside pitch, what should an opposing pitcher do? Force them to hit the ball to the opposite field. Bombard them with fastballs away and secondary pitches down in the zone. Guess what pitchers have done this postseason?

Robinson Cano

Curtis Granderson

Mark Teixeira (as LHH)

Nick Swisher (as LHH)

As you see above, each of these hitters are receiving steady diets of fastballs away and secondary pitches in the dirt. These fastballs should be slapped the other way, but the hitters have been programed to pull inside pitches.

This isn’t necessarily all Kevin Long’s fault. It’s the organization’s approach to find left handed hitters that can find the short porch. Guys like Mark Teixeira always pulled the ball to left field, but he’s at least accustomed to taking more of these pitches for balls. Cano, Granderson, and Swisher have looked helpless sending the ball the other way, and are usually found fouling off these pitches over and over. Once they have two strikes, a few mediocre breaking or offspeed pitches with a 2 strike count will give you the embarrassing swings we’ve seen of late.

These hitters will find it extremely hard to make the necessary adjustment for an opposite field swing in the short period of the postseason. One solution to their problem might be to lean in on the plate, which could allow them to hit these fastballs away. Of course, it’ll hurt their ability to hit the inside pitch, but if they can do it for a couple of games, it should force pitchers to change their approach.

This whole situation has long term implications too. What pieces can they obtain that don’t have trouble hitting the ball to the opposite field? How can they fix Cano and Granderson’s swing? And what’s there to do with Kevin Long? This might be the hardest question, as it seems the players love him, and his reputation around the league is as one of the best hitting coaches in the game. This hitting slump might change it all, but then again, he might just be doing what he’s told by his superiors.

For the most part, I’m hoping we see a couple hitter friendly home plate umpires that stop calling the lefty strike away. That’ll force pitchers to keep the fastball in the zone. Maybe getting out of Yankee Stadium and into a large ball park like Comerica will stop them from trying to pull the ball to right field. Part of me hopes that Justin Verlander‘s ego might make him challenge hitters with fastballs rather than obey the scouting report, but he seems like too smart of a player for this. Either way, change has to be good with the way these hitters have swung the bats.

16 thoughts on “The Real Reason The Offense Is Struggling? Pulling The Ball

  1. franco_trapped_the_ball

    Time for a new “hitting” coach? This team isn’t hitting, so by default, the coach must take much of the blame. HRs are nice, but not when they come at the expense of many more K’s and a low batting average. It’s too late to salvage this season, but some wholesale changes for next, even if it means missing the playoffs for a year or two, seem in order. If Girardi gets to pick his coaches, as I believe he does, then he takes some blame if he retains Long any longer.

  2. Does anyone know who the hitting coach was that helped Jeter in Tampa? Maybe he should be Kevin Long’s replacement. I wuold rather see guys batting averages increase 50 points and hit half the homers. Look at the ’98 Yankees. None of them were big homerun hitters.

    • Gary Denbo. He was a longtime minor league hitting coach for the Yankees and knew Jeter from his early days in the org. Was hitting coach for 1 season with the big club. They probably demoted him because he didn’t preach swinging for the short porch. They like Long because (like Rick Down from the Torre years)he teaches homerun mechanics really well. But opposing teams are not stupid. Eventually, they figure it out.
      I don’t have much faith in Long making the necessary “adjustments.”

    • Bill

      Gary Denbo is the man’s name and he has been here before. He was actually the hitting coach in 2001 and is currently a one of their pro scouts. And he would be an excellent choice. Kevin Long’s approach has done serious damage to Curtis Granderson and has really affected Robinson Cano in a negative way. The pull happy mentality has to go or their offense will become even more inconsistent than it currently is.

  3. franco_trapped_the_ball

    The 1998 Yankees were a dream team, approaching the 1927-28 and 1961 Yankees, both before my era, so are my all-time favorite. They spoiled it for the rest of the teams that have come along since then, as none could live up to their high standard. THAT team was patient, avoiding strikeouts at the expense of HRs, and getting walks and hits. This bunch could have learned a lot from them, but it’s probably too late. The Orioles and Tigers series so far remind me of the 1963 Yankees, whose hitting flopped in the World Series. But at least they had the justifiable excuse of facing Koufax, Drysdale, and other top pitchers.

    • I was only 10 in ’98, but I was at game 1 of that World Series and is easily the best game I’ve ever been to.

      The Yankees need to go after hitters this offseason who are patient, walk a lot and have high batting averages, even if they barely hit any homers. As long as Pettitte and Kuroda return next year, they don’t need starting pitching.

      • franco_trapped_the_ball

        I watched the comeback from a 5-2 deficit on Knoblauch’s 3-run HR, followed by Tino Martinez’ Grand Slam. Great Game! Great Team! Pitching has not been a problem in this post-season. If Pineda pans out, they should be OK next year. Pettitte will return if Rivera and Jeter do (recall what a broken ankle did to Chi-Meng Wang, but then he was a pitcher). Maybe this will prompt Jeter to move to the OF, where he probably now belongs. The only enjoyable part so far vs. Detroit was watching them destroy The Dancing Fool Valverde.

      • roadrider

        The Yankees were second in the league in walks, fourth in BA and first in OBP this year.

  4. The league’s response to the Yankees’ hitting philosophy has been building for a few years (Maddon’s dramatic shifts were the first obvious signs)and have now attained universal application. They have used the team’s alleged patience and demonstrated dead pull swings against them with breaking stuff and changeups down and away, fastballs inside off the plate, and generally pitching backwards (offspeed pitches in fastball counts). FB hitters are notorious guess hitters and ARod’s problems are in large part due to this. They’re turning the team into a lineup of Adam Dunns…without the high OBP.

    • roadrider

      The Yankees led the AL in OBP this year.

  5. Yeah, put me on the new hitting coach bandwagon as well. Kevin Long was a great minor league coach, did some solid things at the MLB level, but now there isn’t a lot of evidence that he’s succeeding. Pretty much everyone but Cano, Jeter and the bench underperformed significantly this year. Injuries, the players, and luck have a role as well, but I don’t think there’s any evidence that Kevin Long’s doing a great job right now. At worst, that means that an average hitting coach replacement will be a wash. At best, it means improvement.

    • roadrider

      I think the “at worst” case is that you actually get some one who is worse.

      But yeah, I think he will probably lose his job if this continues (as it most likely will). None of us have the inside knowledge of what actually happens between Long and his pupils to say whether that’s justified or not.

  6. franco_trapped_the_ball

    They may be able to get on base (how many times have they had two or three on this post-season), but bringing them in seems to be the problem. Unless via a HR binge like that vs. The Dancing Fool, they seems always to leave an entire line-up or more on base over a game. I wonder where they were in leaving RISP statistically? The hitting coach, rightly or wrongly, will be the scapegoat for this impending post-season hitting flop.

    • roadrider

      With RISP: 17th in BA, 6th in OBP, 5th in SLG (among all MLB teams)

  7. bg90027

    I understand the frustration. We’re in no position to judge how KLong is doing unless you think you can on a pure simplistic bottom line basis. I really doubt that KLong is preaching trying to pull outside pitches so that they can hit weak grounders to 2B. I doubt he’s telling Granderson to swing at everything. Cano when he’s hitting well still hits to all fields and I doubt KLong is trying to change that. They did try to get Tex to hit more to left field but he abandoned the approach in May.

    One of the problems of this team’s construction is that we have a ton of streaky hitters – Swisher, Granderson, Tex, A-Rod, Martin, Jones, Cano & Ibanez. They can all go on complete tears where they look capable of carrying the team, but they also suffer through terrible spells where they get themselves out. Right now it seems like we have too many guys who are just in cold spells and they are pressing as a result and not trusting each other to just take a walk.

    Granderson probably needs to sit and give Gardner a start. I’d consider batting Martin or Nix in the two spot and I’d bat Ibanez right behind Cano hoping that it would help get Cano some good pitches to hit and help get him going. Ultimately though, it’s up to the players. This is a veteran team and I think people tend to overestimate what the coaches can do.

  8. hawaii dave

    I’ve been commenting on this topic for 3 seasons now. There is no need to get rid of Long. First, no one knows what Long is teaching. Second, no one knows if the players are following his advice or ignoring it. Teachers can give solid gold to students and the students can let it go in one ear and out the other. Study what hitting guru Charlie Lau wrote on hitting…very similar to what Mark McGwire taught St Louis hitters as their hitting coach. You will learn that he/they believe that the successful batter does not decide what pitch to swing at…the pitcher does. You hit it where it is pitched, rather than preparing for a certain pitch in a certain spot. The majority of Yankee hitters are spot guessers and pitch guessers. It shows in all the strikes they take which leads to falling behind in the count. Having a guy or 2 with that approach is fine but 4-5-6 guys who are all guess hitters who prefer pulling the ball will lead to disaster. Stats have shown this for a long time but as we all know, stats do nothing to change the process of hitting. The philosophy needs a change as I wroter on this website in yesterdays article by Mike Jaggers-Radolf. Long is not the problem, as guys like Tex verbally declare that they are done trying to adjust. Long made a great statement saying the “memo” was the 1st step in changing the approach, which I’m sure was sarcasm, then further stated that they needed to be taught how not to swing at curve balls 2 feet out of the zone. I think Long knows he is gone and has nothing to lose by mocking the front office for firing a guy for not passing a memo, as if that is what made them swing and miss. I use my eyes to see what these Yankee hitters do. I see Swish, Tex and Grandy (and others) take pitches in the strike zone, over and over again…why? Because it was not the pitch they were prepared for. That’s the death blow to this team, preparing for an exact pitch to the neglect of any other pitch. It will produce numbers over 162 games, but when all the focus is on, it produces what you see in these playoffs. When i see the Tiger hitters go the other way, because that is all the pitcher gives them, I want to shoot the TV. Cabrera was interviewed after the game and asked about hitting so many singles, and he answered, we know that singles add up to bigger things….this from the triple crown winner. Detroit scored with 3 consecutive opposite field hits. I dont need to wait till after the game for the Sabertronic analysis. I saw it live on the screen. i’m jealous. I want the ghost of Charlie Lau to come tell these hitters to start hitting outer 3rd strikes instead of pull, pull, pull. Tell them to adjust or get traded. But since some contracts are ending, don’t re-sign. Now I don’t care to much about fancy-prancy new age stats…but if those new stats can generate a list of outfielders who pull inside strikes, hit to centerfield, and hit outer third strikes to the opposite field, then I’d grab 2 of those guys to replace grandy and Swisher…resign Ichiro and Gardner…and encourage Cano to improve his pitch selection. That will leave Tex as the only guesser and we can survive w that.

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