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Dillon Lawson isn’t reinventing hitting, he just wants to look at it differently. The Yankees’ new hitting coach said Wednesday he is focused on “hitting strikes hard,” hitting the ball over the infield and making every swing the best — not just with two strikes.
“I’m still going to cheer and be excited about the 100 mile per hour ground ball that gets through the infield. Runs are runs and that’s the name of the game right now,” Lawson said in a video conference call with reporters Wednesday morning. “We want to score runs so we can win games. But when we’re talking about maybe the best version of a hitter; we know where the most production comes from so we’re just trying to aim for that kind of range.”
The Yankees’ minor league hitting coordinator since 2018, Lawson was measuring exit velocity during batting practice and preaching “squaring the ball up,” and “hit strikes hard,” getting the maximum exit velocity.
“If you peel that back just one layer, it’s not that complicated,” Lawson explained. “When we swing, we want to swing at strikes. When we swing at strikes we’re likely to make more contact. When we make more contact, we’re likely to hit the ball harder.
“The last little thing would be that when we make hard contact, if we can we would like to hit it over the infield. Sometimes we’d like to hit it over the outfield fence … all of that works,” Lawson continued. “But that would be the next layer.”
Under Lawson’s direction, the Yankees’ minor leaguers wear Blast Motion sensors. That’s a tool that reports “launch angle, bat angle, bat speed, swing plane, hand speed, and rotational acceleration, among others.”
Lawson inherits a lineup that has Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton already lighting up Statcast with their exit velocities nightly. The Yankees are hopeful he can help DJ LeMahieu, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela get harder hits in 2022.
Lawson replaces Marcus Thames, whose contract, along with assistant hitting coach P.J. Pilittere, was not renewed after a rough season for the Yankees offense. Thames was named the Marlins’ new hitting coach and Pilittere will be an assistant in Colorado this season.
They were blamed for a Yankees offense that struggled all season, but Lawson sees plenty to build on.
“Plenty of things to be excited and optimistic about. We have an outstanding roster. As a hitting coach, we’ve got monsters all up and down the lineup. I’m extremely excited. It’s amazing to be able to work with these guys,” Lawson said “In reality, we’re trying to keep their strengths, and then any any areas where we can just improve even just about 1%, that’s gonna make a big difference when we get onto the get onto the field, considering the talent that we already have.”
Built on power hitters and to overwhelm their opponents with offense, the Yankees only finished seventh in the American League in OPS (.729), 10th in runs scored (711) and were fourth in strikeouts (1482) in 2021.
One other aspect Lawson emphasizes is launch angle. The Yankees, Urshela and LeMahieu in particular, struggled with a lower launch angle last year.
“It’s definitely something that we’ll focus on, but we wonder whether it was an issue last year or not, it would still be a focus of ours because we think that it’s just going to lead to more success,” Lawson said. “And again, when you have guys that can hit the ball the way that we do, getting it over the infield is going to allow for better results.”
Before joining the Yankees, Lawson was a college coach at Southeast Missouri State and Missouri. He also coached in the Astros minor league system, where he worked with current top free agent shortstop Carlos Correa.
Like most recent Yankees hires, Lawson has an analytics-heavy background and no major league playing experience. He said that the staff is covered in that department with manager Aaron Boone, and he has made it part of his skillset to relate to major league players.
“That’s part of my job: The person who I’m trying to coach and convince and help the most is the person standing in the box. And so I’ve got a lot of experience in being able to talk with that person, whether it’s strictly from a coaching standpoint, or it’s being in a clubhouse,” Lawson said. “Being able to have good relationships not just with players in the dugout or on the field or in the cage but also with staff members in the offices or in the locker room, in the cafeteria... that’s important and it’s something that I feel I’m good at.”