Last week, we asked whether the Cubs could justify *not* making a change at hitting coach. Tonight, the Cubs answered: nope.
Per multiple reports on Twitter tonight, Chili Davis has been informed, after just one year at the helm, he will not be back as the Cubs’ hitting coach.
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.
The Cubs front office and Joe Maddon specifically targeted Davis to replace former hitting coach John Mallee, not because Mallee had not been well-liked and successful (by all accounts, he had been both), but because they saw Davis as an upgrade. He was available, so they pounced.
It didn’t work out.
We’ll keep tabs on other potential coaching changes, but this is likely to be the big one. The Cubs will seek out a new hitting coach (who will have to come knowing that his manager has only one year left on his deal), or could potentially promote assistant hitting coach Andy Haines. There is also Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce, who was a well-regarded instructor in the Cubs’ farm system until he got that gig three years ago. His manager, Jeff Bannister, was fired last month.