Kevin Long: 21st Century hitting guru

Kevin LongKevin 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?

18 comments for “Kevin Long: 21st Century hitting guru

  1. Eraff
    March 22, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Lagares, d’Arnaud, Plawecki don’t work with Long?

    • Jimmy P
      March 23, 2017 at 9:17 am

      Conforto, Duda.

      You can’t praise Long up the wazoo for his successes while completely ignoring the failures and regressions.

      Just look at the Mets overall offensive numbers last season.

      Also: Daniel Murphy deserves most of the credit for Daniel Murphy.

      • Eraff
        March 23, 2017 at 9:30 am

        “Just look at the Mets overall offensive numbers last season.”

        Wow…the next you’ll be saying is that Curve Ball Spin Rates do not = Wins???

        Heretic!!!!

      • March 23, 2017 at 9:40 am

        I agree about the need to accurately assess people, regardless if they’re players or coaches.

        But I’m not sure why you want to begrudge Long for Murphy’s success. It wasn’t until Long came along that Murphy finally did what we all wanted him to do – stop being happy with flicking the ball into left field.

        He didn’t do that with Howard Johnson, he didn’t do that with Dave Hudgens, he didn’t do that with Lamar Johnson.

        Also, why include Duda as one of the failures? In Long’s first year, Duda had the most success he’s ever had against LHP. Are you really going to weigh 172 PA in an injury-shortened season heavier than 554 PA?

        • Jimmy P
          March 23, 2017 at 11:06 am

          Not begrudging Long of credit for Murphy, but I refuse to lay it all on his lap.

          I named Duda as a player who has not improved or noticeably benefited from the great swami.

          If we want to make the argument that Kevin Long is a great hitting coach, you can’t just cherry pick a few shining examples. For the record, I think he’s good. But the canonization strikes me as over the top.

          • March 23, 2017 at 12:08 pm

            It has to be a given that it’s the player who puts the ideas in motion.

            But once we acknowledge that, it’s impossible not to put Murphy into the “win” column for Long. And at worst, Duda is a neutral, not a failure of his.

            I understand that you’re not thrilled with the cult of Kevin Long and that’s a solid position. But I just don’t understand how you can advocate for a full, accurate accounting in one breath and then take the positions you do with Murphy and Duda.

            I’m most interested to see what he does with Jay Bruce this year.

            • Eraff
              March 23, 2017 at 1:49 pm

              I hope He gives him a Good Bottle of Scotch when he leaves

            • Jimmy P
              March 23, 2017 at 5:30 pm

              What in the world are you talking about? I give him credit for Murphy — but I give Murphy more credit.

              Pure mathematics, an average hitting coach is going to see some successes and some plateaus and some regressions. Should he only get credit for the successes?

              Duda’s 2014 and 2015 seasons are nearly identical. Before Long arrived, the arrow was progressing nicely. Progress. In 2015, he flatlined. In 2016, he got hurt. So that’s not a success story. That’s a player at a crossroads. I like Lucas more than most, so I’m rooting for him. But I’m not praying for Kevin Long’s magic dust. I want to see him healthy.

              The article is titled, “21st century hitting guru.”

              Come on. In 2016, Mets were near the bottom in just about every offensive statistical category. A strange time to make the case that this coach is some kind of savant.

              • March 23, 2017 at 6:20 pm

                I wrote neither the article nor the headline.

                As for Duda, Long worked with him in his approach to LHP and he responded by having his best season against lefties in 2015. Long worked with Walker in the same way in 2016 and had great results. When both were with the Yankees, Long had similar success with Granderson.

                He worked with Murphy on hitting for more power and Murphy has been very explicit about that.

                Hopefully, Bruce and Conforto and d’Arnaud and Lagares and Plawecki will have better results this year. And if they do *maybe* it will be because of a tip or a drill or tweak that they got from the hitting coach. I have the most hope for Bruce because it seems he does better work with lefty hitters.

                Ultimately, it’s up to the hitter because he’s the one who has to do the work and he’s the one in the batter’s box when we’re keeping score. It just seems crazy that when we know that the coach did something specific and/or the player credits the coach for helping him, to pretend it didn’t happen or minimize it to the point of ultra-extreme triviality.

                Personally, I have no image of Long as a miracle worker. I’m all for doing the best job we can to accurately describe his “wins” and “losses” with the understanding that any coach can only do so much.

        • Eraff
          March 23, 2017 at 11:06 am

          I Guess this all depends on who’s short sample size is being Gored. šŸ˜‰

          There is an interesting point being made about fighting shifts with hitting the ball in the air.

          “Hitting Coach” is a lot of grunt work…and waiting for a player to make himself available for coaching. The change in Hitting Coaches seems to have represented a change in atmosphere as well as “approach”…the again, they have enough guys now who would not tolerate the Crap that was forced down on the players who were here 5 years ago with Hudgeons

          Better Baseball cards make Smarter Coaches

  2. NormE
    March 22, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    John, I like your point about hitting on AstroTurf. Another factor to consider is today’s strategy of infield shifts. Long’s emphasis of getting the ball in the air would seem better suited to combating the shifts.

    • John Fox
      March 22, 2017 at 10:45 pm

      Good point, Norm, I had not thought about the infield shifts before.

  3. Chris F
    March 23, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    I think the shortcoming is d’Arnaud, for whom Long has done zero or maybe even gone backwards. Like any teacher I’m sure his mentoring resonates and connects with some more than others. I don’t think for a minute he has magic batting potion. If a helpful message gets through to at least a few then great.

    • March 23, 2017 at 4:27 pm

      I agree with everything except your first sentence.

      TDA had his best “season” in 2015, the first with Long around. Now, he may not have done anything to help Travis or the help might have come from the minor league coaches. But he had an OPS 100 points higher that year and it’s among the possibilities that Long helped in some way.

      In my mind, the black marks right now for Long are Conforto and Lagares.

    • John Fox
      March 23, 2017 at 10:06 pm

      According to the New York Post d’Arnaud worked extensively in Arizona with Long over the winter and together they changed his swing quite a bit. It’s only Spring training but when I checked d’Arnaud was batting .333 with an OPS of .973 so far.

  4. Metsense
    March 23, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    Kevin Long is able to reach veteran players and many have gotten on board with his methods and approach. Granderson recommended him to the Mets. Murphy has credited him with his improved power. Cespedes has credited him for his improved OBP and speaks highly of him. Kelly Johnson was a disciple.Now Bruce is working with him with bat angle and lift as stated in an article by James Wagner in the NY Times. These are the players I have read about and draws me to the conclusion that Long has had some impact on the two playoff appearances.

  5. Matt Netter
    March 23, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    I like Kevin Long and agree that he’s done wonders for a few players. I hope he can get through to Conforto, d’Arnaud, Lagares, Nimmo and eventually, Dom Smith.

  6. Chris B
    March 24, 2017 at 12:35 am

    I wouldn’t be surprised If Bruce becomes a significant contributer because of Long. If he was able to help others with HRs and pull hitting then Bruce should be a prime student.

    https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/03/21/sports/baseball/jay-bruce-mets-hitting-data.html?_r=0&referer=https://www.google.com/

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