Van Burkleo out as Cleveland's hitting coach
Club will 'likely look' inside, outside the organization to fill out Francona's staff
Cleveland announced on Wednesday afternoon that hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo will not return to the organization next season. The rest of the Major League coaching staff is expected to remain the same, including manager Terry Francona.
“We spoke to Ty the other day and first of all, thanked him for, I mean nine years with somebody, you get pretty close to people,” Francona said on Wednesday. “But we decided we're going to look for a new voice to lead our hitting team, but that [hitting analyst Justin Toole] and [assistant hitting coach] Victor [Rodríguez], we'd like them to be a part of it.”
Van Burkleo just wrapped up his ninth season as the hitting coach for the Indians, serving the role since Francona took over as manager for the club in 2013, which made him the longest-tenured hitting coach in the league. But after the offense has ranked among the lowest in the Majors in a handful of difficult categories over the past few seasons, the team is ready to see if a change will lead to more success.
The team attempted to float around MLB average (or at least in the top half of the 30 clubs) in most of the offensive categories during the early and middle stages of Van Burkleo’s time in Cleveland. However, the last two seasons -- even though 2020 was an extremely limited sample size in a shortened season with Van Burkleo working from home -- took more of a dip.
In 2020, Cleveland ranked 23rd in the Majors in batting average (.228) and was tied for 22nd in wRC+ (90). This year, the team fell to the 26th-worst walk percentage, while tying for 20th in batting average (.238). It also ranked 18th in wRC+ (93) and owned sole possession of 18th in runs scored with 717 (52 fewer than the team scored in the last 162-game season in 2019). And let’s not forget that Cleveland also became the first team to be no-hit three times in a season.
But the difficult part with analyzing the hitting coach is knowing whether the offensive struggles are a direct result of the coaching staff, player development staff or just the hitter. The Indians gave Van Burkleo ample time to settle in and make an impact, but after nearly a decade of trying to right the ship, the club decided to try something new. Now, Cleveland just has to determine where it’ll look to find the best person for the job.
“At this point, we expect that we'll likely look at other candidates, both internally and outside of the organization,” president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “But we're at the very preliminary stages of that. The first thing we need to do is decide what we would do with our returning staff or current staff and then think about the process moving forward after that.”
The soon-to-be Guardians are in a spot they haven’t experienced for a while. Aside from Brad Mills stepping away from his role as bench coach last offseason to be with his family in Texas, there hasn’t been too much turnover in the coaching staff over the last few years. And with a hitting coach, there are a lot of things to weigh when determining who will take over that role. How exactly does Cleveland plan to attack the challenge?
“What we're seeking to do,” Antonetti said, “is build a hitting team that has a diverse set of skills and experiences that can find ways to help connect players and help them continue to improve and prepare for games, and ultimately succeed at the Major League level. There's no magic formula for that, but hopefully, that's why we look at it much like we do on the pitching side as a team approach to that. That's the vision we have moving forward.”