Following the mid-season firing of Dillion Lawson, the Yankees were at an impasse for the hitting coach position. While they brought in Sean Casey as the interim, his familial obligations caused him to withdraw his name from consideration following the 2023 season, and the Yankees would look externally for their next hitting coach. After some speculation and a report about an official offer from the Yankees, James Rowson is now set to become their next hitting coach according to Greg Joyce of the New York Post.
Rowson spent time as the Yankees’ MiLB hitting coordinator from 2008-2011 and 2014-2016, spending time with the Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins, Miami Marlins, and Detroit Tigers in a myriad of coaching roles. He’ll look to improve the Yankees’ communication across the board, as his experience as a former player and familiarity with Aaron Judge could make data more digestible for the team.
The Yankees Add a Blend of Communication and Data
Following a disastrous 2023 season for the Yankees’ offense, they needed a shake-up on the hitting side of things on and off the field. James Rowson isn’t a household name, but his background in player development, coaching, and professional baseball should allow him to bring a diverse skillset to the organization. The Yankees kept in place not just the people, but the systems that Dillion Lawson left behind at the Minor League level, and as a result they finished with Baseball America’s second-best age-adjusted hitter score.
The success of their MiLB affiliates hasn’t translated over to the Major League side of things, and a large part of that has to do with their lack of communication. Aaron Judge has been on record discussing the need for more digestible information, and a report from Brendan Kuty of The Athletic detailed that younger hitters on the team were confused due to the difference between Sean Casey and their MiLB coaching. Rowson should be the happy blend of both sides, as he’ll be able to connect to the players the way Sean Casey did while utilizing data the way that Dillion Lawson did.
Data is a tool; and the Yankees have used that tool to create one of the best pitching development systems in all of baseball, finishing with the fourth-best ERA (3.68) and the best Stuff+ (108) in baseball since the start of the 2021 season. This hasn’t been the case on the hitting side of things, but Rowson has had a strong track record of being hired by executives with backgrounds in data and a forward-thinking approach.
Derek Falvey of the Twins hired him after the 2016 season, Kim Ng hired him after the 2019 season, and Scott Harris hired him after the 2022 season; when he became available, smart people in baseball hired him. He hasn’t exclusively served on the hitting front either, as Rowson was the Marlins’ bench coach from 2020-2022, and that role is typically reserved for those who can build a strong rapport with players.
The Yankees are looking to get younger according to owner Hal Steinbrenner, and when Rowson took over the hitting coach role for the Twins in 2017 their average position player was just 27 years old, the fourth-youngest group in baseball. Five players on that roster were everyday starters that were 25 or younger, and that young core flourished with Rowson.
“He told me each and every day, ‘You’re the best player’…I had to mentally prepare myself each and every day like ‘You know what? I am the best player.’ Once my mindset shifted to [that], the other stuff didn’t matter.”– Byron Buxton on James Rowson
Player empowerment is something that James Rowson strongly believes in, and he’s a believer that every player should play to their strengths. Morale and Human Resources are both growing points of emphasis in the business world, and these apply to sports as well, Rowson does an excellent job of keeping players confident in themselves and their approach, which yields better on-field performance.
“Whenever you do something good around James he blows it out of proportion, in a good way. You feel almost invincible.”– Max Kepler
Rowson believes that each player has “their own barrel”, and by identifying their strengths and imploring players to lean into them, it’s not too dissimilar from the Yankees’ approach to pitching. When they find a pitch that’s really good in a pitcher’s arsenal, the Yankees have the pitcher utilize it as much as possible, an example of this would be with Clay Holmes’ sinker. While hitting and pitching are different concepts, those same principles of identifying and emphasizing strengths could yield great results.
As for his understanding of data and information, it’s hard to argue that the hitting coach of a team deemed the “Bomba Squad” would not be antiquated with hard-hit data and quality of contact, especially considering they hold the record for the most Home Runs ever hit in a season at 307. It’s a hire that could prove to be perfect for the Yankees, as they now can focus on their bench coach vacancy and player acquisition.