Monday, January 12, 2015

For Yankees, is two better than one?

After just over three months, the New York Yankees have hired a hitting coach, and someone to work alongside him, marking the first time in franchise history the team has employed a two-headed hitting coach system. The YES Network’s Jack Curry was first with the reports via Twitter Sunday.

Jeff Pentland, a longtime hitting coach for several teams, and most recently a hitting instructor for the Miami Marlins will assume the head hitting coach role, while Alan Cockrell who has been a roving hitting instructor for the Yanks, assumes the assistant hitting coach job. Cockrell was the hitting coach for the 2007 National League Champion Colorado Rockies, and had a two-year stint with the Seattle Mariners.

What is the reasoning for the approach and will it work?

The Yankees had at one time looked at former player Chili Davis, who ended up with the Boston Red Sox and also Dave Magadan who took over the role for the Texas Rangers as potential replacements for Kevin Long. Long, who held the Yankees’ position for eight seasons, is now the hitting coach for the crosstown New York Mets.

Pentland, 68, has worked with manager Joe Girardi in the past potentially making this a smooth transition and last held a major league hitting coach position with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011. Cockrell, has likely seen many of the players at various points in time, but is probably most familiar with some of the younger players in the system.

From the outside looking in, it looks as though the Yankees are purposely looking to Pentland as a bridge to either Cockrell taking over at some point, or to allow for Marcus Thames, recently named the hitting coach at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to gain some experience.

Thames’ name was popular in the rumor mill surrounding the open position with the big league club, but once it seemed that the team would be going without Rob Refsnyder and maybe even Jose Pirela on the big-league roster, it was decided that he’d be better served sticking with those players. Refsnyder has credited Thames with helping him with his swing.

As for the reasoning for two hitting coaches, it’s not a fresh trend around the league, just new to the Yankees. It certainly cannot hurt to have two sets of eyes on the offense, and it allows the players to gravitate toward the coach they feel most comfortable with. So long as the men are both on the same page as far as strategy is concerned – and why wouldn’t they be – it stands to reason that the formation can work.

Another potential reason for having two men concentrated on offense is the need for many Yankees to find their rhythm at the plate right out of the gate in spring training. The coaches will have their work cut out for them.

There are several players on the team who are coming back from down offensive years – Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira and recently signed Stephen Drew all need a bounceback season in order for the Yankees to contend in 2015. The club has a young player in Didi Gregorius, who has yet to fulfill his offensive potential. Chase Headley could stand to improve on his power stroke.

While Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner had fine 2014 seasons, both could stand to become more consistent and less streaky. Gardner completely fell off at the end of the season, but that could have been related to an injury. Alex Rodriguez is coming back from a full season off. Finally, even bench players like Chris Young and Garrett Jones could stand some assistance from the hitting coaches after lackluster performances in 2014.

The Yankees have not confirmed the hires, so it is unknown at this time what the contract terms are. If nothing else, the hires give the Yankees at least one season to test the two-pronged approach. If it works, great, and if not they can go back to one hitting coach with one of the current men in the role. Or they can move on from both and go back to a one-man show with someone else.

What are your thoughts? Is this the right approach? Are these the right people? Let me know in the comments below.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.