MLB Network peers explain why Sean Casey will thrive as Yankees hitting coach: ‘He’s got a passion for hitting’

14 July 2023

Mark DeRosa has three musts for hitting coaches.

The first is availability. “He has to be a cage rat,” DeRosa, who spent 16 seasons in the majors, told the Daily News. The second is a “ridiculously positive” demeanor that can guide a player through inevitable failure. The final requirement is the ability to solve a hitter’s problems in a timely manner. “You got to get me out of a slump quicker than I can get myself out of it,” said DeRosa, who is now an analyst for MLB Network.

“You got to be able to do those three things,” the former utility man continued, “and I know he can do those three things.”

The “he” in question is Sean Casey, who became the Yankees’ lead hitting coach this past week after the fourth-place team fired Dillon Lawson following prolonged offensive struggles.

Casey, who introduced himself to reporters on Wednesday, comes to the Yankees with 12 major league seasons, a lifetime .302 average, and a World Series appearance to his name. He’s had success and hard times in the majors, and he knows Aaron Boone from their time together in Cincinnati.

However, Casey has not coached in the majors before. Instead, he began working for MLB Network after the 2008 season. Casey, an Emmy winner, doesn’t believe that’s an issue, as that job asked him to do hitting demonstrations, analyze players and watch film.

“I feel like that job at MLB Network has set me up in a way to be an incredible coach,” Casey said. “I’ve basically been coaching for 15 years every time I’m on air.”

For what it is worth, Casey’s former television teammates agree. While some are admittedly biased, they insisted that Casey’s playing career, time at the network and upbeat nature will help him thrive in his new role.

“Sean’s an infectious personality that lights up every room, and everyone gravitates to him,” DeRosa said. “But even more than that, he’s got a passion for hitting. He was great at it. It’s what the Yankees need. He’s the perfect guy to come in. I really think these guys are gonna fall in love with him.”

Bill Ripken, who shared an MLB Network office with Casey for 15 years, used similar language while talking to The News. The former Oriole also said that hitting is almost always on Casey’s mind, and that he’s “very excitable” when the subject comes up.

“You can get him wound up about some other topics as well,” Ripken said, “but hitting is what it seems to always circle back to.”

Al Leiter, a former Yankees and Mets pitcher who also works for the network, used phrases such as “enthusiastic energy,” “salt of the earth” and “good person” when describing Casey to The News. A well-liked and respected player, Casey’s nickname is “The Mayor.”

But the Yankees aren’t just getting a nice guy.

“Don’t mistake kindness for weakness,” DeRosa said. “When this guy got between the lines, he was a killer. So I expect him to kind of bring that mindset to these guys.”

While Casey hasn’t coached before, those at MLB Network said his playing experience adds value that Lawson lacked. While there have been plenty of great coaches who haven’t played in the majors — including Rudy Jaramillo, one of DeRosa’s favorites — Ripken said that that line on a resumé is “imperative.”

“You have to be able to have that understanding and that conversation,” Ripken said. “If you’re the hitting coach in the big leagues, there’s got to be give and take, back and forth, between the player and the coach.”

Leiter argued that MLB playing experience wasn’t the be all, end all for a quality coach. But he also feels that it doesn’t hurt to have that feather in your cap when times are tough, like they are for several veteran Yankees right now.

“When you’re struggling, usually you don’t really want to hear the truth because it’s a very fragile sport,” Leiter said. “There’s some level of insecurity to it all, no matter who you are, no matter how much you’re making.

“When you struggle, and now I have a hitting coach who is kind of grinding down on me and maybe getting a little harsh — as expected because you’re not performing — there is a piece [of you] to say, ‘Hey, what the f—k, man? What do you know? You’ve never played.’ And not to say that it immediately goes there, but if a [coach] gets to an unreasonable place, either in his comments or his information, that’s where there lies the problem a little bit with a guy who’s never played. Casey’s not going to challenge that because he’s going to be positive.”

Leiter added that Casey comes with “street cred” after appearing in 1,405 MLB games.

He also comes with an understanding of analytics, something his MLB Network job helped with. While there were plenty of advanced stats when Casey played, being on TV with people like studio host Brian Kenny required him to keep up with new metrics and terminology.

As the Yankees’ hitting coach, Casey plans on blending some of those numbers with a more classic mindset.

“You can’t just, in this game, come in as an old school guy,” he said. “I will come into it with my old school approach, but also the new school approach of analytics. You’d be crazy not to take the information.”

However, Casey also believes in getting to know each hitter and catering to their approach and preferences. Some may not want all the information the Yankees can provide, which Casey compared to “drinking out of a fire hose” for some.

“He’s intelligent and understanding enough to know that the statistics and data and biomechanics and all of those aspects of where we are with technology is definitely a great complement to helping players,” Leiter said, but the former pitcher also thinks MLB has gotten “in the weeds” when it comes to analytics. He said Casey will strike a balance that some hitters need.

“Sometimes simplicity is a really good thing,” Leiter said.

Whatever methods Casey deploys, the Yankees surely won’t complain if they work.

The lineup has underachieved all season, and it has cratered with Aaron Judge on the injured list. With no set timetable for the reigning MVP’s return, it’s Casey job to fix or improve the group and individuals likes Josh Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton.

“I know I’m going to be able to tap into these guys and get their talent out,” Casey said. “We’re too talented.”

Fair or not, Casey signed up for the task with limited time to pull it off before the trade deadline. His work begins Friday in Denver, where he and the Yankees have the benefit of playing at a hitter-friendly altitude.

Regardless of elevation, Casey’s former teammates expect him to thrive in his new role.

“I’m sitting here as a fan of Sean Casey,” Ripken said, “and I’m thinking there’s going to be some visible results coming soon for the New York Yankees.”


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