The New York Yankees hired James Rowson on Monday as their hitting coach to replace Sean Casey, who decided not to return for personal reasons.
Rowson met with the media on Tuesday for his introductory news conference, where he touched on a multitude of topics, such as his own hitting philosophy, his plans for his hitting assistants, how important lineup balance is to him, and namely, how to fix Giancarlo Stanton, who’s coming off the worst season in his career.
Here are our takeaways from Rowson’s media availability.
His biggest task: Giancarlo Stanton?
Let’s be real here: Any changes Giancarlo Stanton makes will happen this offseason, and they’ll likely occur under the supervision of Stanton’s personal hitting coaches. With the Yankees, Stanton’s in-season m.o. hasn’t been anything more than tinkering. And really, Stanton might not make any noticeable changes to his swing despite hitting just .191 with 24 homers and a .695 OPS last year. He hasn’t since he joined the organization in 2018.
But Rowson’s job won’t be to change Stanton. It’ll likely be to manage the 34-year-old slugger and help him, throughout the course of games, come up with plans of attack. That’s been Rowson’s calling card — his ability to relate and to get hitters to trust him to bring the best out of them. Rowson was asked how he’d fix Stanton and, perhaps smartly, he talked around it.
“I’m excited about him,” Rowson said. “Hope he’s looking forward to it. We’ll sit down, we’ll talk and then we’ll kind of go from there. But the first part is just going to be that initial conversation and just kind of seeing what he thinks, what he feels, where he wants to go, things that have worked for him, things that haven’t.”
According to Casey, the Yankees’ most recent hitting coach, Stanton would benefit from being more athletic in the box — maybe syncing some hand-and-body movement that could improve his timing. — Brendan Kuty
Giancarlo Stanton’s agent, Joel Wolfe, responds below to Yankees GM Brian Cashman saying of Stanton, “He’s going to wind up getting hurt again more likely than not because it seems to be part of his game.” pic.twitter.com/gZHlqy4cfY
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 14, 2023
What’s Rowson’s philosophy?
The main reason the Yankees fired Dillon Lawson in the middle of the 2023 season was because of a lack of connectivity with the major league hitters, according to general manager Brian Cashman. Lawson comes from a heavy analytic background, and sometimes, the language he used wouldn’t land with some of the players. Lawson also had an over-arching philosophy of “hit strikes hard” that applied to every hitter. One of the main differences with Rowson is he doesn’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach.
“I try to stay away from the thought of a philosophy,” Rowson said. “I think when you put yourself down that track, what you end up doing is trying to get everyone to fall in line with a specific way of doing things. I don’t think you reach the masses that way.”
Rowson added that understanding the language of each individual player is important so he can get through to that player. For example, Stanton says he knows how to backspin the baseball, which is essentially launch angle. But if he doesn’t use “launch angle” in conversation, then Rowson will use backspinning the baseball when talking with Stanton. That level of understanding each individual is critical to get buy-in from everyone.
“I don’t have one style,” Rowson said. “I think the player creates your style and you have to learn their style. By doing that, if a guy thinks one way and produces a result, that’s good. You stick to that thought. If there’s another player who has the exact opposite thought of that and produces a positive result, you stick to that thought. I think your key is you don’t pigeonhole a player into your philosophy. You learn what they think, what they produce and that’s how you move.”
Lawson’s style is still prevalent in the minor leagues, where the Yankees have some of the best offensive production across all teams. Rowson said because of their success, his first thought is to not change what’s going on in the minors.
“You always want to see progress from a player on the major league side when they get to the big leagues,” Rowson said. “You want to see them continue to progress. And on the minor league side, you want to see players continue to progress. So I think good teams are always analyzing their process and always looking to make things better. So hopefully I can be a part of helping with that as opposed to looking for change. I just want to become a part of helping move the needle forward for the organization.” — Chris Kirschner
Are the other hitting coaches on the hot seat?
At the GM meetings last week, Cashman didn’t commit to returning the entire Yankees coaching staff. On Tuesday, Rowson also dodged a question about whether Yankees assistant hitting coaches Casey Dykes and Brad Wilkerson would be his lieutenants next season.
“That’s something I’ll be talking to (manager Aaron Boone) about and the group and just kind of seeing where we would go next from there,” Rowson said, “just really trying to get myself acclimated at this point. But we will definitely have those conversations, probably here in the near future.”
Hard to believe the subject of Rowson’s assistants didn’t come up when the 47-year-old was contemplating taking the job, but of course, he was going to be diplomatic about it. A holdover of the Dillon Lawson era, Dykes joined the Yankees’ organization in 2020 and became part of the MLB staff in 2022. Wilkerson played in parts of eight MLB seasons, including five with the Nationals. — Kuty
Do the Yankees need more lefty hitting?
The Yankees finished the 2023 season with the second-fewest plate appearances from a left-handed hitter (only the Houston Astros had fewer). But the Astros have two of the very best hitters in the sport who hit from the left side of the plate in Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, whereas the Yankees had Jake Bauers, Franchy Cordero, Billy McKinney and Willie Calhoun, among others, getting a large chunk of their left-handed plate appearances. That led to New York having the third-worst wRC+ from the left side of the plate.
Last week, Cashman was open to wanting more lineup balance this coming season but noted that “getting your hands on it are different things.”
Contrary to popular belief, lefties do not have an advantage in Yankee Stadium; Statcast ranks it the fourth-hardest place to hit from the left side. Where there is an advantage though is hitting home runs, as it’s the second-easiest stadium, behind Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark, when it comes to putting the ball into the seats. Rowson believes having platoon advantages throughout your lineup is a good thing and should be something every team pursues.
“Every offense I’ve been a part of and every offense that I think is going to be successful generally has the pieces that give you that balance, to where you can be productive from both sides of the plate,” Rowson said. “At the end of the day, you’re trying to do what it takes to score runs. If you do lack production from the left side of the plate and it’s affecting your ability to score runs, or it’s allowing you to be pitched a certain way, or allowing you to kind of get put in spots where it’s going to affect your run production — we see what happens right now in the game with the way bullpens are utilized and the way things are happening where you want to be able to make a move to counteract the different moves. You want to have your lineup be able to do that.” — Kirschner
(Top photo of James Rowson: Mark Brown / Getty Images)