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?
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.