If you were asked to rattle off the names of some great pitching coaches, you would probably name people like Dave Duncan and Leo Mazzone. If you were asked to name a great hitting coach, you’re doing would most likely draw a blank.
Part of the reason is there’s an assumption that hitting coaches don’t do a whole lot. In essence, they show video or making suggestions, but their impact is generally regarded to be minimal. For some reason, there’s a belief that hitting and a batting stance is an innate ability. As the Mets have seen with Kevin Long, it’s time for that narrative to change.
Since coming to the Mets in 2015, he has helped players hit for more power.
As has been noted, Kevin Long was hired by the Mets, in part, to help resurrect Curtis Granderson. In 2014, Granderson hit a disappointing .227/.326/.388 with 27 doubles, two triples, and 20 homeruns. Long worked with Granderson on getting his hands in the right position and having a more compact swing. In 2015, Granderson hit a much better .259/.364/.457 with 33 doubles, two triples, and 26 homeruns.
Long hasn’t only had success with Granderson.
When Yoenis Cespedes came to the Mets, he was hitting .293/.323/.506 with 18 homers in 102 games. He was in the midst of what was a career year for him. Aside from working with Cespedes in the cage, he encouraged Cespedes to play golf. This helped Cespedes both clear his mind and focus on keeping his hands in. In 57 games with the Mets, Cespedes hit .287/.337/.604 with 17 homeruns.
This year Kevin Long has been working with and getting more power out of Neil Walker. Coming into this season, Walker was a .272/.338/.431 hitter who averaged 16 homers a year. Against lefties, he was a career .265/.321/.335 hitter with just 3 homeruns in six full seasons (seven total). Walker and Long worked on his leg kick and how he uses the lower half of his body. So far, Walker is hitting .500/.500/1.643 against lefties with three homers, and overall, he’s hitting .300/.325/.638 with a major league leading nine homeruns.
Now, it’s unrealistic to expect Cespedes to maintain his 2015 pace, and it’s unrealistic to expect Walker to keep up his current pace. With that said, it’s clear Long has an ability to work with hitters to get them to hit for more power than they have in the past. It’s become his trademark.
It’s time he starts to receive some of the accolades he’s deserved.
Last year, Lucas Duda hit 27 homeruns. He had a stretch where he hit eight homeruns in seven games. He hit seven homeruns in May, eight homeruns in July, and six homeruns in September/October. The other three months of the year, he hit 10 total. Many people have attributed this streakiness to Duda’s high leg kick.
Since 2012, various Mets hitting coaches have worked with Duda to work on reducing his leg kick. It appears this Spring, Kevin Long was finally able to get him to reduce his leg kick. Long also got Duda to take less batting practice. All of this is designed to make Duda a healthier and more consistent hitter. So far this year, Duda’s leg kick is much less pronounced.
For example, this was a homerun he hit in the NL East clincher:
Here’s a homerun he hit last night in Philadelphia:
— New York Mets (@Mets) April 19, 2016
Now, after not homering in his first 10 games, he has homered in three straight games. It’s a long season, and you shouldn’t make judgments after 14 games, but Duda is once again hitting homeruns in bunches. It could be this is a small sample size, but it could also be that this is who Duda is. He’s a streaky homerun hitter.
If it’s as simple as Duda is a streaky homerun hitter that’s fine. Since Duda has become the Mets everyday first baseman, he has a .350 OBP. That means even when he’s not hitting homeruns, he’s getting on base. Additionally, looking at this lineup, the Mets don’t need Duda to carry them for stretches at a time. However, when Duda gets in a homerun groove he can carry a team.
The aforementioned stretch of eight homeruns in seven games coincided with the Mets sweeping the Nationals en route to the Mets taking control of the NL East for good. In that three game sweep of the Nationals, Duda hit three homeruns in nine at bats with five RBI. In that three game series, he hit .626/.667/1.875. When Duda gets hot, he’s scorching red hot. He can carry the Mets, and he can make a difference in the NL East.
Whether Duda’s streakiness will continue this year even with a reduced leg kick is besides the point. The only thing that matters is that Duda continues to be the good OBP first baseman that can carry the Mets for stretches. So long as he continues this, he will have had another terrific year.
The Mets hired Kevin Long as their hitting coach to help a team that wasn’t hitting. Subsequently, they hired Pat Roessler as the assistant hitting coach. Roessler was hired because of his previous relationship with Long. So far, they’ve worked extremely well together.
Long and Roessler work hand-in-hand to help the Mets batters. For example, they worked in tandem to help Lucas Duda hit lefties last year. It’s helpful to have another voice to bounce ideas of of when trying to help a hitter. When your message isn’t getting through, it’s helpful to have another voice to help deliver the same message. Having both coaches this allows Long to watch video between innings to see both his pitcher’s mechanics and how the Mets’ batters are getting pitched. It also allows Long to delegate Roessler to work with the pitchers on their hitting.
Perhaps it’s time the Mets add an assistant pitching coach to the staff.
This is no slight against Dan Warthen. He is in charge of what is the best pitching staff in baseball. He has not shown anything to lead you to believe his message isn’t getting through or that he should be replaced. With that said, wouldn’t it be beneficial for Warthen to have an assistant coach he trusts and feels comfortable working with help with the pitching staff?
Let’s take Matt Harvey‘s start on Saturday. For the first 4.1 innings, he dominated. Then the wheels came off. For his part, Harvey believes he’s struggled with his command since the season began. As reported by Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, Warthen believes it was as simple as Harvey falling into bad habits in a pressure filled inning:
“You get into a pressure situation, you do fall back into bad habits,” Warthen said. “Essentially, that’s what happened today. This has been Matt’s biggest bugaboo since I’ve had him.”
There are two important things to note here. First, Warthen knows the problem and the solution. Second, Warthen doesn’t know quite how to get Harvey to stop falling into the trap. Quite possibly, this is where a second voice could come into play.
One thing that can’t be discounted is perhaps Harvey was just lucky for the first 4.1 innings. For a player who averages 96+ MPH with his fastball, he was sitting at 94 MPH against the Indians. This is a player who averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine coming into the season. This year he’s at 4.7, and his season high was the four he had against the Indians. It’s possible the mechanical quirk might’ve been perceptible to an assistant coach watching video in the clubhouse as opposed to a pitching coach watching from the dugout.
Now, the Mets do have a bullpen coach in Ricky Bones. However, he can only help so much. The bullpen coach primarily works with relievers and spends the game in the bullpen. Before and after games, he can be a sounding board for Warthen and/or another voice to help a struggling pitcher if needed. With that said, Bones job as the bullpen coach prevents him from running into the clubhouse to watch video of a pitcher’s last half inning to see the pitcher’s mechanics and his batters are approaching their at bats.
That job would best be done by an assistant pitching coach.
There’s another factor to keep in mind. Warthen is a 63 year old pitching coach with bad hips. He missed some time last year after being brought to the hospital with an accelerated heartbeat. No one knows how much longer he will want to or be able to stay on as the Mets pitching coach. As the organization clearly thinks very highly of Warthen, wouldn’t it make sense for him to groom his successor?
It’s time for the Mets to add an assistant pitching coach.
The Mets seemingly have one last opportunity to spend this offseason. They’ve made promises to increase payroll of attendance went up, but they haven’t done so thus far. They’re running out of opportunities to do so as well.
Fans will immediately jump and scream Yoenis Cespedes. I’ll admit that despite my reservations, the Mets should bring him back if it’s a two or three year deal. However, I think Cespedes is still holding out for more. He may go into Spring Training holding out for more. Honestly, if he only gets a three year deal, I would get suspicious there was collision on the free agent market. This is all a round about way to say I don’t think Cespedes is returning.
As far as I see it, there’s one player where you can look at add payroll. Right now, the Mets need someone who can play first base and the corner outfield slots. That is unless Eric Campbell is your guy. Seemingly, I’m the only fan who has any respect for him, so that’s out. The other rumored guys for that spot are Ryan Raburn and Steve Pearce. They could be solid if not spectacular options. There’s one name who’s available that does excite me. Nick Swisher.
The Braves are desperate to move him and will eat a significant part of his contract to move him. They better be for a guy with two surgically replaced knees owed $10 million (Indians are paying $5 million of his $15 million due this year) coming off of a .196/.312/.320 season. With all that said, I still like Swisher. I think he can still help a team as a bench player. I believe he has more upside than Raburn and Pearce.
Yes, he is coming off two consecutive bad years, but it was following surgery on both of his knees. He’s had a full season in his rear view mirror, and hopefully, he knows his limitations and/or what he needs to do to get through a season. Additionally, I like the idea of reuniting him with Kevin Long.
If we remember, Curtis Granderson hit .227/.326/.388 in his first year as a Met. His contract looked like a disaster. In 2015, Granderson was reunited with Long, and he hit .259/.364/.457. At the age of 34, Granderson went from albatross to the Mets MVP.
Swisher hit .268/.367/.483 in four years as a Yankee. It was the best four year stretch of his career. They were all under Kevin Long. Seeing how Lonh helped rejuvenate Granderson, I’m intrigued by what Long could do with Swisher. Sure, Swisher is older than Granderson was, and he has injury problems that Granderson didn’t. However, Long has shown a knack in helping both players. I’d like to see him get another opportunity.
I also like having a switch hitter on the bench. For his career, Swisher hits lefties better, but he’s a viable bench player against lefties and righties. He has hit .243/.334/.453 against righties and .264/.389/.435 against lefties. Considering most of the talent on the current roster fares better against righties, it’s a positive to have a hitter that hits lefties better. It’s also good to have a pinch hitter who will not be neutralized by a pitching change.
The last reason I like Swisher is who he is. Seemingly, every team he was on commented on his enthusiasm. A 162 game schedule is a grind. A player like Swisher can help you through it (although it apparently works better on winning teams). This offseason the Mets have seemingly lost a lot of character and glue guys from the team. If you’re filling out a bench, it’s probably a good thing to add a guy who keeps the clubhouse upbeat.
We know the issues with Swisher. He’s going to be more expensive than the alternatives. He’s had two knee surgeries. He’s going to cost a player. However, it has seemingly affected him more at the plate than in the field. Also, he has more upside at the plate and in the clubhouse. I’d buy low on Nick Swisher and let him work with Kevin Long.
The Mets should acquire Nick Swisher.
Baseball is a funny game. Noah Syndergaard has been in the big leagues for 20 starts, but he showed the guile of a 20 year veteran. Michael Cuddyer is a 15 year veteran, who played like it was his fifteenth game.
For starters, Thor needed to get some innings to help a stressed bullpen. He did that. Terry Collins let him go 111 pitches over 6.2 innings. Collins could’ve pinch hit for him in the sixth, but he didn’t. In fact, Collins pulled the oldest trick in the book by having a PH in the on deck circle to force the Red Sox to pitch to Anthony Recker. Most Mets fans questioned if that was a good move. Regardless, Recker hit an RBI single to extend the lead to 4-2.
Taking a 4-2 lead into the seventh, Thor had one on and two out with a chance to come out of the inning unscathed and hand the ball off to the bullpen. Jackie Bradley, Jr. Hit a pinch hit double (which looked like it might go out) to narrow the gap to 4-3. Thor was done. Collins brought in Hansel Robles.
Much like today’s lineup, this wouldn’t have been my choice, especially with Robles pitching a lot lately. Then again, who in the bullpen hasn’t? Now, the box score will say Mookie Betts hit a game tying triple. Your eyes tell you Cuddyer botched the play. Your eyes tell you the play should’ve been made easily had Cuddyer made a break of any kind on the ball within 2-3 seconds.
It was a rookie mistake from a player who should know better. With the game on the line, Collins made the move he had to make, but clearly didn’t want to yet, and brought in Tyler Clippard. He would get the last out of the seventh and pitch a clean eighth.
Cuddyer would get his redemption in the bottom of the inning. With two outs in the inning, Daniel Murphy stole second (remember when that used to be a thing) he was brought home on Cuddyer’s RBI single. It was redemption for him. its funny because other than the OF gaffe, he had a good game. He went 3-3 with a walk, two runs scored, and a huge RBI. He also broke up a double play:
— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) August 30, 2015
In the ninth, there was a Red Sox rally started by some typical poor play from Ruben Tejada. He loafed it with a fast runner thereby sparking a rally. Seriously, I’m sick of him . . . again. It would be first and second with two outs. Jeurys Familia found a way with two big strikeouts. He’s showing himself to be an elite closer. It wasn’t easy for him, but he got the save securing the 5-4 win. Clippard got the win.
Now, there are two moves Collins subjected himself to criticism, but I won’t do so myself. The first is the Robles move. I understood it. You’ve been pitching Clippard constantly. You don’t want to burn him out. While I question Robles there, I can’t kill him for it.
The other move was the defensive substitution of Yoenis Cespedes in the eighth moving Cuddyer to 1B and Murphy to 2B. Second guessers may say Cespedes makes the play that Cuddyer didn’t. That’s not on Collins. First, you have to expect Cuddyer to make that play. Second, it’s not like we haven’t seen some Cespedes loafing. Finally, I respect wanting to give a veteran a full day off.
If you want to question Collins, question him leading off Juan Lagares with Curtis Granderson batting second against a LHP. This poor OBP duo went 1-9 with five strikeouts. Also, question him starting Juan Uribe at 2B because he just had to get his .195/.278/.425 in the lineup. At least Uribe got the big two run double in the sixth to give the Mets a 3-2 lead.
In other notes, David Ortiz juiced another HR. Also, Joe West had a strike zone that would make the late Eric Gregg shake his head. As a result, both teams were irritated. Kevin Long was really irritated. He got tossed defending an upset Granderson, who got rung up on a ball.
The Mets avoided the sweep. It was a good win especially since the Nationals won. The Mets continue this 13 game stretch of last place teams in facing the Phillies next. Let’s hope this six game lead grows.