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The Cubs should replace Chili Davis as hitting coach

The results under Davis this year were poor.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to preface this by saying that “fire the hitting coach” is often the easy way out. Hitting coaches generally get too much blame when things go wrong, and not enough credit when they go right.

But the change in Cubs batting coaches from John Mallee to Chili Davis appears to have made the ballclub markedly worse offensively.

Davis was a fine hitter as a player. In 19 big-league seasons he hit .274/.360/.451 with 2,380 hits and 350 home runs. That produced 38.2 career bWAR. He was the Oakland Athletics hitting coach from 2012-14 and Boston Red Sox hitting coach from 2015-17. When the Red Sox fired manager John Farrell at the end of the 2017 season, they told the coaching staff they could look elsewhere for work, though Farrell’s staff was never officially fired. Farrell was let go October 11, 2017. Two weeks later, two of his coaches, Davis and Brian Butterfield, were hired by Theo Epstein to join the Cubs staff.

Under previous hitting coach John Mallee, Cubs hitters pounded tons of home runs. In 2015, the Cubs had a team slugging percentage of .398 and hit 171 home runs. In 2016, that SLG increased to .429 and the team bashed 199 home runs, and scored 808 runs, the first time a Cubs team had scored over 800 since 2008. Then last year, the Cubs smashed 223 home runs, missing the league lead by just one. They slugged .437 and scored 822 runs, just two short of the league lead.

The results offensively under Davis have, shall we say, not been as good. The team slugging percentage dropped to .410, even as they fell just short of the league lead in OBP at .333. And they hit almost 60 fewer homers than in 2017, just 167. The last time any Cubs team hit that few home runs was in 2006 — a 96-loss season. And the 2018 Cubs scored 761 runs, 61 fewer than the previous year.

Okay, home runs and slugging aren’t the be-all and end-all of hitting. But these numbers keeps haunting me:

The Cubs won 95 games. No one else on that list won more than 77 (Mets) and the Orioles finished somewhere in the 16th sub-basement. The only reason the Cubs were able to win 95 games with that sort of performance was outstanding pitching. The Cubs were 4-14 when scoring one this year, and yes, that’s bad, but here’s how the other teams on that list did in that situation:

Orioles 2-23
Marlins 2-21
Giants 4-24
Mets 3-19

So the Cubs were actually about as good as you can get when not scoring, and the Cubs were 91-43 when scoring two or more runs. That’s really good, but you can’t keep putting that kind of pressure on your pitching staff for a quarter of the schedule.

The Cubs also had begun to develop a reputation as a team that could draw walks and put pressure on the opposition that way. They had a franchise-record 656 walks in 2016 and 622 last year. This year, that number dropped to 576, fourth in the N.L., and the team OBP dropped from .343 in 2016 to .338 in 2017 to .333 this year.

Davis’ approach was away from “launch angle,” which has become a mantra for teams in recent years, and the decrease in home runs hit by Cubs likely has a lot to do with that. (Granted that some of it has to do with Kris Bryant missing a lot of time and Willson Contreras not hitting for the power he had previously.) And Davis’ old team, the Red Sox, were dead last in the American League in 2017 with 168 home runs. This year? Boston hit 208 home runs. Granted, much of that had to do with the addition of J.D. Martinez. But Martinez, who hit 43 home runs this year, essentially replaced Hanley Ramirez as Boston’s DH. Ramirez hit 23 home runs in 2017, so that accounts for only half the increase, and Boston improved in doubles as well (302 in 2017, 355 in 2018).

Wrigley Field, despite the wind blowing in much of the time, especially early in the year, is still an excellent hitters’ park. Its park factor this year was 107, and for the last three years it’s 105. 165 home runs were hit at Wrigley Field this year. Cubs batters hit 79 of them, visitors 86. Last year there were 209 home runs at Wrigley, 116 by Cubs, and in 2016 there were 163 homers at Wrigley, 90 by Cubs.

The Cubs are built to be a power-hitting team in a ballpark suited for that, as well as getting on base often via the walk, and yet under Chili Davis, they declined in both those areas in 2018.

And I keep coming back to this:

That just can’t happen again. The 2016 Cubs had only 19 such games and in 2017, 28. It’s a credit to the pitching staff that the 2018 Cubs won four times when scoring just one run — they won none in 2016 and two in 2017.

For all these reasons, Chili Davis should be replaced. He took a pretty good offense and made it worse.


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