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Like the rest of the coaches in MLB, new Yankees hitting coach Dillon Lawson can't have his players at the team's facility down in Tampa as he'd like them to be. MLB's lockout, while negotiations have been heating up recently, is still ongoing.
But Lawson was able to work with them at the early parts of this offseason before the lockout began.
"We have players that live in Tampa so it was very easy for them to actually be here," he told the media on Wednesday. "I live in Tampa, actually here right now in our player development complex. For those players that were here, we were able to just get in the cage. Essentially they were part of the interview process for a little bit, which is good because going into this, some of these guys had already signed off on it. So in the cage getting to know each other, just talking about all kinds of things.”
In those plans, the Yankees' hitters might have learned what Lawson's general philosophy on hitting was. They needed a fresh change of it after Marcus Thames' methods clearly didn't work last season, as the team struggled despite its potency.
But while many may be looking for the Yankees' strikeout totals to diminish, Lawson's philosophy might not make that happen. You see, the Yanks struck out the sixth-most times per game in MLB last season -- that's not a stat you want to have as a squad.
However, that doesn't mean changing your hitting approach to be defensive to make sure that doesn't occur. Let Lawson explain.
"I think that hitters should use their best swing at all times. Some hitters, and we can actually see this, some hitters actually have a better swing or a better approach with two strikes and they don’t use it before two strikes. For those guys, we would just encourage them to use their two-strike approach at all times. Other players have their best swings or best approaches when it’s 2-1 count. So we would just encourage them to use that across the board in all counts.
"With two strikes, the ‘hit strikes’ philosophy, at least growing up, I was taught you got to protect the plate and do these things and I know I’ve been a part of other systems whether it’s in college or professional baseball, where you’re almost encouraged to expand the strike zone. With two strikes, it’s OK to go off the plate. We don’t believe that.
"It’s almost as if we’re daring the pitcher to throw us a third pitch over home plate. I feel really confident in our ability to be successful if a pitcher has to throw pitchers over the white of home plate in order to get strikes.”
Is Lawson basically saying he's OK with strikeouts if they happen here? You can make that argument, but I think this philosophy works well for the Yanks because of the power they possess in the lineup. What Lawson wants to see is good pitch recognition that leads to players taking balls and swinging at strikes.
Easier said than done, I know, but that's the principle here: He wants his extremely talented hitters to be using their best swings at balls over the plate. He's not going to force anyone to choke up, stand a little closer to the plate and fish at breaking balls low in the dirt or fastballs high in the zone just to get another pitch and force a long at-bat.
Some hitters like that style of play. Others don't.
Overall, it comes down to adjustments throughout the season, and Lawson knows a lot of them are coming.
"It all exists on a spectrum. The people who have these adjustments, they’re not becoming somebody completely different. Their strengths are still their strengths. Their weakness are still their weaknesses," he explained. "All we’re trying to do is leverage the count in our favor as opposed as viewing the count as a distraction that gets us into bad behaviors so we can be as successful as possible.”