(Has the hitting doctor lost his touch?)
Kevin Long has done a lot of good things since becoming the Yankees’ hitting coach. He cleaned up Nick Swisher’s swing to help him make more contact, hit for a better average, and maximize the value of his power and pitch recognition skills. He did the same thing to Curtis Granderson’s swing to help him unleash his power potential in his speedy bat and make him a more effective hitter against left-handed pitching. He’s worked with Robinson Cano on pulling inside pitches with power, he did some things with Jorge towards the end of his career, and he’s helped Alex Rodriguez fix his timing and swing mechanics when A-Rod has been off multiple times during his coaching tenure. Sure, not all of his efforts have produced fruitful results (see Derek Jeter’s new swing last season or Teix’s new approach early this season), but overall Long has done a solid job, built a reputation as a coach that players in the clubhouse love working with, and inspired my “Dr. Long” Photoshop character that’s still one of my all-time favorites.
But in light of the offense’s collective disappearance in this postseason, the third straight season that the Yankees have had a playoff slump with the bats, the question is starting to be raised about Long’s future with the club and whether or not he deserves to have the spotlight shined on him for the lack of production from the lineup. It appears as though some of Long’s teachings have turned guys like Granderson and Cano into one-dimensional, dead pull hitters incapable of doing anything even remotely useful with pitches on the outside, and essentially provided opposing pitchers with an easy-to-follow blueprint for how to attack and shut down the Yankee lineup.
Whether or not the majority of the blame for that falls more at Long’s feet or those of the players is up for debate. What’s not is that there hasn’t been any kind of change in approach by any of the struggling hitters in the Yankee lineup since the first game of the ALDS. Long, like Joe, has preached the need for guys to make the proper adjustments and recognize what pitchers are trying to do against them, those preachings becoming louder after Sunday night’s shutout. But isn’t Long responsible for helping them make those adjustments? Isn’t that what a hitting coach is there to do? And if the players aren’t making those adjustments, which they clearly haven’t yet, shouldn’t the finger be pointed at Long just as much as at the players for talking a good game but not acting one?
The Yankees have had the “one-dimensional offense” cloud hanging over them all season, be it in the form of the ridiculous “too many HR” theme, in reference to their inability to consistently string hits together, or when describing their lack of speed on the basepaths and the slow, station-to-station style of baseball they generally play that only exacerbates the RISP Fail issues. Long flew under the radar for most of the year while the MSM and blogosphere beat these stories into the ground, but with this latest wrinkle of extreme pull hitting and failure to go the other way being exposed and attacked by Detroit pitching being added to the mix, it’s only fair to turn some of the focus Long’s way. He’s the one who helped the struggling players make the adjustments to become better power pull hitters and take advantage of the short porch in Yankee Stadium. Now when those adjustments have swung too far one way, he needs to be a part of helping solve the problem and adjust back to a more balanced team approach. So far, that hasn’t happened.
If the Yankees continue down this path of offensive nothingness and go out quietly in the ALCS, you can take it to the bank that heads are going to roll. There’s going to be a scapegoat for this, and I don’t think it’s going to come from the top. Joe has actually done a good job managing around all the obstacles and injuries this team had to overcome this season, and looking at the players that Cash brought in and what they’ve contributed (Michael Pineda aside), it’s hard to say that he’s done a bad job. Nick Swisher not being able to produce in the playoffs does not make that trade bad in retrospect, nor does Curtis Granderson’s devolution into Adam Dunn. The easy target to tie their struggles to would be Long, and he may very well end up being the sacrificial lamb this offseason if things don’t turn around in this series. He’s done a lot more good than bad during his time as the team’s hitting coach, but the extreme levels of bad that have defined this postseason for the Yankee offense may end up outweighing that.