Just as the permeating question this morning in the immediate aftermath of the Cubs’ Wild Card loss had to do with Joe Maddon’s job security, there is a secondary – and not entirely unrelated – question that I’d planned to address before the Maddon stuff blew up and consumed the early discourse.
That question, given the offense’s dramatic turn in the second half, has to do with hitting coach Chili Davis.
Up front, I want to emphasize that hitting coaches (much more so than pitching coaches, in my experience) have less to do with the individual successes and failures of professional hitters who’ve been hitting their whole life, who work on their craft obsessively (many with their own coaches), than those hitters themselves. You can’t put it all on the hitting coach when an offense has a down year, particularly where there are health considerations baked into the performances of some of the key players.
But the impact of a hitting coach is certainly non-zero, as evidenced by the Cubs front office’s eagerness to let John Mallee go in favor of Davis when the Red Sox decided not to retain Davis, who is very well-regarded around baseball. Certainly, the Cubs believed Davis would have an impact.
Did he? Well, we saw a modest rebound for Jason Heyward, a big rebound from Ben Zobrist, and a break out for Javy Baez, but I’m not sure how much either of those things can be attributed to Davis’s espoused approach, and the organization’s desire to trade some power for contact.
I’m also admittedly concerned that the thing – broadly speaking – that the Red Sox complained about in the wake of letting Davis go (too great a loss of power) is the very issue the Cubs faced. As much as we decry things like poor situational hitting and strikeouts, the biggest issue for the Cubs by far was a drastic loss in power. The Cubs’ .152 ISO this year tied for the 9th worst in baseball (their strikeout rate, by contrast, was slightly better than average) after being a whopping .182 last year.
Even if you can get past all that stuff, what really concerns me is that I don’t know that there was enough progress by the young hitters. Outside of Baez, most took significant steps back this year under Davis’s watch. Does he deserve all the blame for that? Of course not. But is helping develop young hitters one of the most important aspects of a hitting coach’s job? Of course. This area would have to weigh as a big, big strike against Davis this season.
I fall into something of an inverse position on Davis as I did this morning with Maddon. If the Cubs were going to part with Maddon right now, I’d really want to hear more about what’s going on behind the scenes that is driving such a decision. Because, from the outside, it’s very hard to see. With Davis, if the Cubs were going to retain him right now, I’d really want to hear more about what’s going on behind the scenes that is driving such a decision. Because, similarly, it’s very hard to see an obvious reason to retain Davis when viewing things from the outside.
The Cubs will have organizational meetings in the coming weeks, and will also review the coaching staff, perhaps sooner than that in order to be in an optimal position to target available coaches if they go outside the organization to fill whatever holes emerge.