Kevin Long has been the Mets batting coach since the 2015 season. Previously he had been the Yankee batting coach from 2007-2014. Long so far has been the kind of batting coach who can make good hitters even better. Some of his specialties include wringing more power from hitters, and helping left-handed batters improve against lefties.
As to power, the 2014 Mets team did not have much, the team SLG was .364. Long then arrived, and 2015 saw a bump up to .400, and the 2016 season saw a further rise to .417. Of course, there are plenty of other factors in the power increase besides the coach including the arrival of Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline in 2015.
There are some interesting individual cases to look at with respect to Long’s reign. Curtis Granderson had been signed by the Mets after the 2013 season. Previously he had played with the Yanks, where the batting coach had been Long, and where Granderson had been a feared power hitter. Granderson’s 2014 season with the Mets had been a disappointment, with a slash line of .227/.326/.388 with 20 homers. Then in 2015 after Long’s arrival with the Mets, the slash line looked much better with .259/.364/.457 with 26 round-trippers. In 2016 the results were .237/.335/.464 and 30 home runs. Note the SLG and home run totals increased every year, despite Granderson aging out of prime baseball production years.
Another example is Daniel Murphy. Murphy had been a good hitter prior to Long’s arrival, but mainly as a base hit machine, lots of singles and doubles, but not much in the way of homers. Long and Murphy worked together to change his swing to provide more power. It’s not always easy to get a veteran, especially a successful one, to revamp his swing, but Murphy was willing to give it a try.
Basically, Long had Murphy stand closer to the plate, lower his stance, tweak his hand positioning and use his legs more to pull and drive the ball. At first, the results were not good, Murphy had a slow start with an SLG of only .346 for April of 2015. Things began to improve as Murphy caught fire, for the last 50 games of the regular season his SLG soared to .533.
Then came the post-season where for the NLDS and NLCS Murphy had a combined slash line of .421/.436/1.026 and seven homers to lead the Mets into the World Series. Although his World Series stats were not impressive, Murphy had a tremendous batting year in 2016 with his new approach and finished second in the NL MVP voting, unfortunately wearing a Washington uniform. Murphy credits Long and assistant batting coach Pat Roessler for significant help in his make over into a slugger.
Other Mets who have have been influenced include Lucas Duda who in 2015 saw his batting against left-handers improve, Neil Walker, and even Yoenis Cespedes. Long did not change Cespedes’ swing, but rather emphasized pitch selectivity, using video to show Cespedes the futility of chasing the high hard one. Consequently, in 2016 Cespedes saw his OBP rise to .354 from .328 the previous year, and saw his strikeouts decline from 159 in 2015 to 108 in 2016.
There have been other hitting gurus in the past, notably Charlie Lau from the late ’60s into the 1980s. Times were different then, and Lau’s philosophy was different as well. Lau emphasized hitting down on the ball and going the opposite way on outside pitches. That approach worked then, one reason being that there were significantly more astroturf fields in those days, including Kansas City where Lau spent much of his time, being credited by George Brett for dramatic improvement. Hitting hard grounders on artificial turf can work very well especially when the fielders were not quite as agile as they are today. Long’s power approach is perhaps more appropriate for the current age where getting the ball in the air is the key to batting success.
There has been talk on these pages and elsewhere of extending the contracts of some of the Mets young starting pitchers. Maybe it’s time for the front office to think about extending the contract of our 21st century hitting guru?