Earlier this offseason, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry made remarks about what he perceived to be negative changes in his team’s offense from 2016 to 2017, and it sure seemed like he was attributing it to the team’s former hitting coach, Chili Davis, who is now with the Cubs.
The owner later walked those comments back, but I’ve still been curious to hear what Davis would offer in response.
In so doing, I thought this quote from Davis was particularly interesting and most worthy of our attention now that he’s with the Cubs:
“Well, I don’t know if I can teach Dustin Pedroia launch angle, or Christian Vazquez, launch angle. I don’t know if that’s going to help them or hurt them. I think I worked with my hitters from what works best for them. We try to add to that. The launch angle thing is not something I’m opposed to, but if you’re not a home run hitter, why would you be hitting fly balls? You’re just going to make outs.”
On the one hand, yeah, you want to work with hitters where they are and what works for them. Trying to completely transform a guy’s game is a quick way to make things even worse. For most players, improvements can be made at the margins, and that’s the best you can hope for and control as a coach.
On the other hand, the whole point of teaching players about launch angle and modifying their game to that end is that some guys will surprise you. Does Jose Altuve look like a 24-homer hitter? Did it seem possible for a 30-year-old Yonder Alonso to suddenly hit 28 homers after previously topping out at 9? I’m just saying, you don’t want to see any doors closed too quickly.
But if Davis’s point is only that you have to have some baseline level of raw power for the launch angle considerations to matter, well, then I totally agree.
Given Davis’s track record and the change from John Mallee, I don’t think anyone was expecting him to come in and be the kind of data science evangelist you’d otherwise expect to see in the Cubs’ front office. Instead, his big thing – which has been very successful in the big leagues – is, like he said, working with guys in the ways that work best for them. Sometimes that’ll be mechanical tweaks. Sometimes it’ll be about mental comfort.
Whatever the case, I have a hard time believing he was ever to blame for the Red Sox’s decrease in power last year.