Nats go Long with new coaching staff for Davey Martinez

Kevin Long Nats Craig Wallenbrock

Long before Kevin Long was reinventing swing paths and visual optics with Daniel Murphy, the batting guru was the hitting coach with the New York Yankees from 2007 to 2014 and was tweaking Derek Jeter‘s swing and reconstructing Yankees struggling slugger Curtis Granderson who went from seventeen home runs in 2010 to twenty-six dingers in 2011. Grandy became an All-Star in 2011 while raising his OPS from .792 to .916. The Yankees’ improvements were dramatic in Kevin Long’s tenure, and they won the World Series in 2009. Robinson Cano went from fourteen home runs to thirty-three home runs under Long’s tutelage.  Yes, it does help to have promising players that want to learn, and that is why Murphy and Long clicked in the student and teacher relationship.

If you ask Long, he will espouse the virtues of launching balls versus rolling over groundballs. Long is always quick to spit out the “.220 stat” which is the batting average of ground balls. In Bryce Harper‘s world, 220 means “2nd to none” but in Long’s lexicon it’s a dirty word, and he wants his hitters to keep balls off the infield dirt and get them in the air where the success rate is much higher.

Yesterday, the Washington Nationals announced that Kevin Long was hired by the Nats as their new hitting coach on Dave Martinez‘s revamped staff. It was the first of many coaching hires on the horizon, and a significant move by the newly minted manager Dave Martinez and G.M. Mike Rizzo.

Launch Angle and the stats

Even before they called it “launch angle”, Kevin Long was bestowing the virtues of Craig Wallenbrock’s California style of the “samurai soldier” swing. Maybe the roots go further back than Wallenbrock who was born in the 1940’s. Kevin Long was certainly influenced by Wade Boggs and other great sluggers in baseball history including Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, but he knew that 4 infielders plus the pitcher and catcher had a better likelihood of fielding a weak groundball in the infield versus a line drive. BABIP works better for the batter’s success when it is put in the air as statistics proved back in 2013 when  Long was with the Yankees and saw that season the large disparity and success rates with OPS of .483 for grounders, .834 for flyballs, and 1.568 for line drives.

If you go by the stats — and you should — the Mets led the Major Leagues with the best non-groundball rate during Long’s tenure as the hitting coach with the Mets at a 40.3% groundball rate. Keep in mind, those stats are from a National League team where the pitcher’s bat. The Nats were at 45.2% in the same period for comparative purposes.

Upon hearing the news of Kevin Long’s hiring by the Washington Nationals, Daniel Murphy said he was happy to hear that he would be reunited with his former mentor.

Kevin Long with Daniel Murphy. Photo by Lee Heiman for TalkNats

The Post-Season hitting drought

The Nationals were dreadful in this post-season on offense, and it must be said they were still better in batting average and OPS then the Cubs were in the NLDS, and the Nationals finished ahead of the Cleveland Indians also in post-season OPS. The Cubs by the way fired their hitting coach and replaced him with Chili Davis. The Cubs you might ask had a final line of .168 /.240/ .289/ .530 in their 2017 post-season run. The post-season seemed to be great pitching shuts down great hitting.

During the regular season the Nationals were 5th in all of baseball in the offensive index scoring 819 runs and only trailing Houston, the Yankees, Colorado and the Cubs. The Nationals were actually 4th in OPS and finished ahead of the Colorado Rockies. Kevin Long replaces Rick Schu who had been the hitting coach since 2014 and survived the changes on the coaching staff when Dusty Baker took over.

The New Coaching Staff

Dave Martinez will be adding to his coaching staff over the coming weeks and like Dusty Baker two years ago should have his staff complete by the time Thanksgiving rolls around on the calendar. Baker finished up his hirings on his staff by the completion of the GM Meetings, but for him it was more formality as he knew Chris Speier was going to be added to his staff in some capacity which turned out to be as his bench coach and Davey Lopes joined on as his 1st base coach. Bob Henley and Rick Schu were part of Matt Williams‘ staff and pitching coach Mike Maddux appeared to have been hired before the ink was dry on Dusty Baker’s contract.

While Kevin Long joins Dave Martinez’s staff, it was rumored that Long was granted permission last from the New York Mets to interview for the managerial vacancy. Keep in mind that Long was still under contract with the Mets last week before his contract expired. Our sources indicated earlier this week as we reported that Long was most likely going to join the Nats in some capacity while we did not know if that was going to be as the bench coach or hitting coach. By the reaction of many Mets fans, they were not pleased with Long’s departure to the rival Washington Nationals.

Long’s hire brings him to the same organization where his son Jaron Long has been pitching in the Minor League system for the Nationals. The younger Long should be part of the Syracuse Chiefs staff in the spring, and he could certainly be in the mix at some point on the Nationals staff if he continues to improve. For now, 202 is still the DC area code, 220 is “2nd to none” for Bryce Harper and .220 is a dirty word for Kevin Long.

Photo by Paul Kim of Kevin Long

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