Yankees have to make one big coaching decision

MLB: Kansas City Royals at New York Yankees
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees made an unprecedented move following a series loss to the Cubs to conclude the first half by firing hitting coach Dillion Lawson, who had spent just a year and a half as the hitting coach before his firing. Brian Cashman has historically never fired coaches mid-season, however, it seemed like this had been brewing since the winter. A report by Jon Heyman earlier this year detailed the Yankees’ pursuit of Sean Casey last winter, although medical complications with his girlfriend at the time prevented Casey from even considering the role.

With the Yankees’ season officially over, Sean Casey’s contract (which ran through the end of the 2023 season) has expired, and while there are conflicting reports as to whether the Yankees want him back or not, his hiring provides some insight as to what the Yankees want to have at the position.

Should the Yankees Retain Sean Casey in 2024?

MLB: New York Yankees at Atlanta Braves
Aug 16, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New York Yankees hitting coach Sean Casey in the dugout before a game against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees didn’t see much improvement upon the hiring of Sean Casey, as after posting a 96 wRC+ and scoring 4.4 Runs per Game in the first half, they posted a 92 wRC+ and averaged 3.9 Runs per Game with Casey at the helm. It’s unfair to use that as a criticism of the 12-year veteran, as the team promoted plenty of young prospects looking to get their feet wet, and the decline of older guys as the season drudged on would likely have occurred with or without the hiring of Casey.

Under Casey, the team was a lot more patient, which resulted in the second-highest called strike rate in baseball (17.9) but also the third-best O-Swing% (29.3%), but the Yankees need to blend patience and aggression a lot better. Their high called strike rate resulted in a spike in strikeouts, as only four teams struck out more than the Yankees did to end the year. Improved pitch recognition and swing decisions are something that takes more than one All-Star Break to fix, and for that reason, it’s hard to reach any conclusions on how effective Casey truly was.

What we do know is that their captain, Aaron Judge, spoke glowingly to the media about Sean Casey as a hitting coach, something that could ultimately result in him returning in 2024.

““Sean Casey — he’s just one of the best baseball guys around…He has been great. Good baseball mind. Good at thinking about the pitcher. Has great baseball stories and has a great way to slow guys down — relax and go out there and play. He understands how hard this game is on a daily basis. He just keeps us loose and keeps us ready to go.”

Aaron Judge to SNY’s Andy Marino

Andy Martino would also detail that Sean Casey wants to discuss with his family about the decision, but having the vocal support of the captain should keep Casey in the Bronx. Judge has become more and more vocal about his conversations with Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman and revealed that he plans on going over offseason plans with the owner himself soon. Part of the issue the Yankees had this year and last postseason came about with buy-in from their players, with the differences coming to a boiling point this season.

mlb: boston red sox at new york yankees, giancarlo stanton
Aug 18, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) stays on the field after an inning-ending double play in the sixth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Giancarlo Stanton talked about wanting the team to shorten up their swings following their Game 2 loss in the ALCS against Houston, but Lawson shot down the idea when asked by the media about it. He quickly deemed that Stanton’s proposition wasn’t the answer, stating, “We’re not gonna go in there and develop some new skill,” and adding that it was a matter of execution at that point. Was Lawson wrong? Not necessarily, but could that rift in belief cause some doubt from the players in Lawson’s message? Possibly.

The Yankees didn’t fire any of Lawson’s understudies in their Minor League development staff, and I believe that the team still buys into the ‘Hit strikes hard’ mantra, especially considering the success teams have had hammering the baseball. Home Runs are simply the most efficient form of offense, and teams are trying to hit as many as possible, but just as important as it is to have a strong message, it’s equally important to have a strong messenger.

Sean Casey doesn’t look like he’ll change the philosophy the organization has regarding offense much, and that’s largely because the industry still buys into generating damage contact (and for good reason). The goal for a hitting coach on this staff should be to relate to the players and simplify the data for them, and at just 49 years old, Casey is young enough to connect to players on that roster and could prove valuable for the younger guys as they look to break into the Bronx.

Time will tell, but if players like Sean Casey and the team believe he can relay data and information effectively to the players, he’ll be offered a chance to return next season. He’s close with Aaron Boone and has the captain’s seal of approval, and if we’re reading the tea leaves, that likely indicates a return next year, although Casey told reporters that a formal offer has not been made as of this time. He’s a former player and seems open to modern data, and in a sport that’s becoming even more data-driven, he could be the right blend of personality and knowledge for the hitting coach role.

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