Over the past near-month of play, Yankees rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe has become something much closer to what was envisioned when he won the Opening Day job in March.
While his power production was moderately impressive in April and May, and he would occasionally tantalize during his darkest moments with a blast before the swing-and-miss problems returned to his one-track mind, Volpe only really began to do more than scratch the surface of his talents during June's Subway Series.
He arrived at Citi Field with a closed stance and a plan of attack. After the baseball world had spent the previous few weeks lamenting the holes in his swing and his propensity to get beaten on either side of the plate, he adjusted, steering into the curve and spraying line drives across the diamond (with the occasional homer mixed in, still able to pounce on fastballs).
After his first game with a noticeably new stance, he was asked about the change and told an "aw, shucks" hilarious story about watching film with his former minor-league teammate Austin Wells and digging into a homemade chicken parm dinner while also devouring tape from when he'd been more successful.
It was adorable. It was homespun. It was also enraging to think that, during months of an extremely important player's development, Yankees hitting coach Dillon Lawson was unable to come up with a similar strategy. Either Lawson was blind to a solution, or couldn't figure out that watching old tape might be a successful place to start. Conspiracy theories aren't very helpful, but having your star shortstop tell a folksy story that reveals a deficiency in the coaching ranks and an easy alibi for Brian Cashman's first midseason firing could be a pretty helpful tactic.
Yankees SS Anthony Volpe's turnaround ended Dillon Lawson's tenure?
The chicken parm film session didn't end Volpe's struggles once and for all. There will be another moment where he's left questioning his previous teachings. Hell, there's already been a few mini-slumps; he was moved back in the lineup this weekend after scuffling out of the leadoff spot.
But it's telling that, when the next moment of doubt comes for Volpe, the Yankees had no interest in leaving Lawson in charge of getting him back on track.
Lawson received credit for several Yankees breakouts in the minor leagues, based on the boilerplate "Hit Strikes Hard" mantra that introduced analytic-based swing decisions. At the big-league level, though, Lawson's teachings seemed to result mainly in the Yankees taking hittable pitches, swinging early in counts, and allowing an absurd number of starting pitchers to cruise through seven innings (21 of them at the break).
Even more damning was the philosophy's dam starting to break at the minor-league level, too. Why can't Oswald Peraza seem to get on track when he's yo-yo'd to the bigs? Why is Jasson Dominguez, with all the tools in the world and coming off a spring training for the ages, barely hitting over .200 at Double-A? And why did Volpe look like a shell of himself under Lawson's tutelage, losing what worked for him in the low minors in the process?
When Lawson sputtered between games of a doubleheader at Fenway to diagnose his team's troubles, we wondered if he'd been the wrong figurehead, taking credit for minor-league success he hadn't really created. Now that Volpe's return to form seems somewhat sustainable, it's fairer than ever to wonder what he'd ever really done in the first place, considering the strong work that's going on in place he hasn't touched (Aaron Judge, too, has his own personal hitting guru).
Volpe's chicken parm dinner was a welcome distraction during one of the darkest weeks of this Yankees season, but it also seems to have been the nail in the coffin for someone Cashman can't have been enamored with. The roster construction remains his issue and his alone, but at the very least, some portions of the lineup seem fixable -- by minor-league players and a relaxing dinner. Not by Lawson.
More Yankees Stories: