Scott Coolbaugh is out and Don Long is in as the Orioles’ new hitting coach for the 2019 season. Before coming to the Orioles, Long served as hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates for three years (2008-2010) and in the same role for the Cincinnati Reds for five years (2014-2018).
He must have been doing something right, especially for the Reds, because five years in the same role in baseball is nothing to sneeze at. That kind of continuity is rare.
But alas, the Pittsburgh Pirates were no offensive powerhouse during Long’s time as hitting coach. Comparatively speaking, his first year with the Pirates was his best during that three year stretch.
In 2008, the Pirates ranked middle-of-the-pack or worse in most offensive categories in the National League. They were ninth in batting average (.258), 15th in on-base percentage (.320) and 12th in slugging percentage (.403). They scored 735 runs (9th), hit 153 home runs (12th) and drove in 705 runs (ninth).
But it only went down from there. In 2009 and 2010 the Pirates did not finish above 14th in the NL in any of the aforementioned hitting categories.
In Long’s five years as the Reds hitting coach, at least the numbers improved over the course of his time there. His first year, 2014, the team ranked 13th in the NL in runs (595), eighth in home runs (131), 13th in RBI (562), 14th in AVG (.238), 14th in OBP (.296) and 11th in SLG (.365).
The following year, the Reds did not finish worse than 12th in any of the aforementioned categories, and their highlight was finishing sixth in the NL in home runs in 2015.
In 2016, the Reds finished eighth in the NL in the following categories: runs (716), RBI (678) and SLG (.408). One of their lowlights was ranking 13th in OBP (.316).
In 2017, The Reds were eighth in runs (753), RBI (715), AVG (.253) and OBP (.329). They were sixth in home runs (219) and 7th in SLG (.433).
Long’s final year with the Reds was their most successful in the hitting categories we have been poring over. In 2018, they most notably ranked fourth in the NL in OBP (.328) and fifth in batting average (.254).
The kind of marked improvement the Reds showed over Long’s five year tenure there is promising for an Orioles team looking for a new offensive identity. For too long the O’s have relied on the long ball at the cost of strikeouts. Plate discipline and situational hitting have been sorely lacking in Baltimore over the past several years.
At the same time, five years is a long time to wait for an offensive improvement. Orioles fans are hoping that transition time can be cut down considerably, which will depend on Long’s ability to get the best out of the players on the O’s roster.
Long was a switch-hitter in his playing days, so hopefully he has a something to offer young Cedric Mullins, a fellow switch-hitter who has struggled from the right side of the plate. Jonathan Villar, Steve Wilkerson and Anthony Santander are the other switch-hitters on the Orioles 40-man roster who could stand to benefit from Long’s unique perspective in this regard.
Howie Clark is returning as assistant hitting coach, so hopefully that offers enough continuity for Orioles hitters from last year to this year, making the transition to a new hitting coach a bit easier.
Personally, what I would really like to see is a concerted effort to instill patience and plate discipline upon this team. When you watch the really good offenses in baseball, like the Yankees and Red Sox, you see hitters working deep into counts, tiring out the pitchers while waiting for mistakes they can crush. When hitters are swinging often and early, it just makes it too easy on the opposing pitcher.
Don Long has his work cut out for him in Baltimore, but he has shown the ability to improve an offensive unit in the past. Not so much in Pittsburgh, but in Cincinnati he showed solid work, even if it took the course of five years to reach its peak.
Hopefully new manager Brandon Hyde and general manager Mike Elias are able to give Long all the tools and support he needs to bring the Orioles offense to another level, sooner rather than later.