Who would you rather have as your hitting coach? A former big-league slugger who had 5,518 at-bats and hit 260 home runs, or a guy whose playing career topped out at Kentucky’s Transylvania University?
The Yankees and Mets went in exact opposite directions with their new hitting coaches for 2022.
The Yankees promoted 36-year-old Dillon Lawson, who for the last three years was their minor-league hitting coordinator. They originally surrounded him with two assistant hitting coaches, including former major leaguer Eric Chavez.
Lawson, on a Zoom call on Wednesday, said: "I've had several people — and maybe this tells you about my playing career or talent level — that even while I was playing would say, ‘Hey, you're going to make a great coach.’ "
The Mets, who got a later start in building their coaching staff under new manager Buck Showalter, hired the 44-year-old Chavez away from the Yankees and made the former A’s slugger their new hitting coach.
Both teams had offensive struggles in 2021. The Mets fired veteran hitting coach Chili Davis in May. The Yankees fired hitting coach Marcus Thames after the season.
Lawson was asked about becoming the Yankees’ hitting coach without having been in a professional batter’s box himself and if he felt the need to hire someone with a big-league playing resume as Chavez’s replacement.
"I think that experience is important, but we have that in [manager Aaron Boone]," he said. "Boonie’s done it. We have that piece. So it is a matter of finding someone whose skill sets just strengthen [us]. Whatever that individual strength is, we're interviewing candidates who have a wide range of strengths. [Big-league playing experience] is not the most important thing. We're not looking for some sort of cookie-cutter fit. It's literally just finding someone who helps us become the best."
The Mets under Showalter and new general manager Billy Eppler went in the other direction after the previous regime installed organizational hitting director Hugh Quattlebaum as Davis’ replacement last May. Quattlebaum’s playing career topped out at Triple-A. He has since returned to his old job.
Eppler, earlier this week, said of Chavez: "We interviewed a lot of really strong candidates for that position. As Buck and I talked through that process, one of the themes that we kind of kept coming back to was the mindset, the approach. I think that kind of steered us in a direction of some experience. Living and dying in the batter's box, for lack of a better term. That’s how we ultimately landed on Eric, was just that ability to put together a plan for attacking a pitcher, knowing what that individual is trying to do, and really thinking through an at-bat and approaching that more than let's say the technical aspects of the swing."
Added Showalter: "He’s receptive to things. He’s also, ‘Hey, when it’s time, let’s go hit. All that’s fine, but now we’ve got to go hit.’ He’s very protective of the game itself and what it entails being a good major-league hitter."