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Friday, October 12, 2018

Chili Davis Reportedly Fired as Cubs Hitting Coach After 1 Season

The Chicago Cubs fired hitting coach Chili Davis after one season, according to Bruce Levine of WSCR-AM.

Davis, 58, was a three-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion during his playing career for the San Francisco Giants (1981-87), California Angels (1998-90, 1993-96), Minnesota Twins (1991-92), Kansas City Royals (1997) and New York Yankees (1998-99).

He hit .274 in his career with 350 home runs and 1,372 RBI.

So, who do they blame if the same thing happens next year?

QLE Posted: October 12, 2018 at 01:37 AM | 36 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: chili davis, cubs, fired, hitting coaches

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   1. McCoy Posted: October 12, 2018 at 07:22 AM (#5764977)
About time.
   2. PreservedFish Posted: October 12, 2018 at 07:54 AM (#5764980)
Yeah, it was definitely his fault.
   3. Andere Richtingen Posted: October 12, 2018 at 08:30 AM (#5764987)
Whew. Glad to hear the Cubs offense problems are fixed.
   4. Jose is an Absurd Force of Nature Posted: October 12, 2018 at 08:38 AM (#5764988)
Back to back years getting fired probably isn't great for the career growth.
   5. villageidiom Posted: October 12, 2018 at 08:54 AM (#5764994)
Letting Davis go certainly worked for Boston.
   6. Spahn Insane Posted: October 12, 2018 at 09:14 AM (#5765008)
Whew. Glad to hear the Cubs offense problems are fixed.

Too bad the offseason's over already.

Look, I'm sure Davis wasn't the only cause of the Cubs' lousy offensive performance, but in consecutive years with two different organizations that've been highly successful in recent years, he oversaw two talented offenses that underperformed. (I can't believe Boston's rebound was all about signing JD Martinez.) Putting everything at Davis's feet probably isn't fair, but what's the argument for keeping him?
   7. Zonk just has affection for alumni Posted: October 12, 2018 at 09:16 AM (#5765010)
Re-stating from gonfalon...

Apparently, the "exit interviews" from players did not go well i/r/t Davis. They could very well be looking for a scapegoat just like the fans, but the fact is -- the Cubs have long lauded finding guys who are 'coachable' and take instruction well. No reason that doesn't work as a double-edged sword.

I think he's one of those sort of philosophically rigid hitting coaches, like a Walt Hriniak - which doesn't mean he's a bad hitting coach, but does make it quite likely he won't be a match for everyone.

The replacement should be a guy who is more cheerleader and confessor than philosopher. Let the talent be the talent.
   8. PreservedFish Posted: October 12, 2018 at 09:23 AM (#5765016)
Why do the smart teams keep hiring him then?
   9. McCoy Posted: October 12, 2018 at 09:28 AM (#5765017)
Why do the smart teams keep firing him then?
   10. Zonk just has affection for alumni Posted: October 12, 2018 at 09:28 AM (#5765018)
Why do the smart teams keep hiring him then?


Because he may very well be a fine hitting coach - a great one even - for certain kinds of hitters.
   11. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: October 12, 2018 at 09:32 AM (#5765020)
Why do the smart teams keep hiring him then?

Personally, I think he was hired to fix Jason Heyward.
   12. Zonk just has affection for alumni Posted: October 12, 2018 at 09:39 AM (#5765023)
Personally, I think he was hired to fix Jayson Heyward.


Well, I guess he "fixed him" like the time I fixed a radiator discharge line with a whole roll of duct tape.
   13. PreservedFish Posted: October 12, 2018 at 09:40 AM (#5765024)
Why do the smart teams keep firing him then?

I agree, it's a puzzle.

I think the Cubs wanted to scapegoat him, and if the players didn't like him anyway, it makes it an obvious choice. I'd fire him too.

But the explanation that "he only works with certain kinds of hitters" or that he's "too rigid" is just too pat. It's not like these would have been surprises. Chili Davis was not an unknown entity.

Unless, that is, if Theo & Co don't really give a #### about their hitting coach, because hitting coaches don't do anything anyway. That could explain things.
   14. Jose is an Absurd Force of Nature Posted: October 12, 2018 at 09:50 AM (#5765028)
Because he may very well be a fine hitting coach - a great one even - for certain kinds of hitters.


The game has been changing quite a bit in the last few years with a big emphasis on launch angle. From what was said around the Sox last winter regarding letting Davis go that was not an approach he seemed to endorse. The other change the Sox noted was a bit more aggression early in the count, rather than working pitch counts the Sox were attacking hittable pitches early in the at bat. Both of those things were demonstrably different in 2018 from 2017 for the Sox. Not saying Davis was the reason for that but the numbers and the narrative matchup.
   15. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: October 12, 2018 at 09:54 AM (#5765032)
It's not like these would have been surprises.


I don't know. It's not like the Cubs could really know how he goes about his job with these particular hitters over the course of a season.

I will also note that it's not like the Cubs to slam guys on their way out the door so there's every reason to believe the exit-interview stuff is legit rather than a mere PR-based leak.
   16. bunyon Posted: October 12, 2018 at 10:33 AM (#5765052)
It sounds like the leak could even have come from the players. Or player.
   17. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: October 12, 2018 at 10:40 AM (#5765056)
But the explanation that "he only works with certain kinds of hitters" or that he's "too rigid" is just too pat. It's not like these would have been surprises. Chili Davis was not an unknown entity.

It seems to be a philosophical decision. Last year, the Cubs felt their offense struck out too much/didn't make enough contact and was too pull heavy. So they went out of their way to hire Chili, who is a big proponent of "using the whole field" and teaches how to hit to contact. Maddon made a big show of saying stuff like "it's not all launch angle" and basically hyped how this new approach would improve the offense. Well, it seems like the new approach did work at reducing strikeouts and increasing hits the other way, but cost them a ton of power. At the year end press conference, Theo had a quote that was "launch angle is not a fad". So I suspect some behind the scenes disagreements, even if Chili was previously a Theo guy. Last offseason, Joe got to pick his coaches (everyone but Martinez was already in Chicago when he was hired); this year, it seems like Theo is making this decision.
   18. Zonk just has affection for alumni Posted: October 12, 2018 at 11:46 AM (#5765101)
Meh - I think Hickey is a Maddon guy, right?

Looks like Chili's playing career twilight overlapped with Maddon's Angels coaching for a couple years, but I don't know that they're compadres or anything.

   19. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: October 12, 2018 at 12:09 PM (#5765116)
Yeah, Hickey was with Maddon in TB. I didn't mean Chili was a Joe guy as much as he was a Joe pick. Theo talked him up too, but not like Joe. Remember a lot of talk last offseason was about how this was Joe finally getting to hire the staff he wanted. I don't take that to mean Theo deferred to him completely.

I just was pointin out how some of the Joe and Theo quotes are at odds, and how those seemed to overlap with the Chili hire and now fire.

   20. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: October 12, 2018 at 12:39 PM (#5765139)
Did the Cubs' offense really "struggle" this year? The only starter to markedly underperform career norms was Russell. Maybe Bryant, but he was also hurt for much of the season. Seems to me that the offense was fine.
   21. Zonk just has affection for alumni Posted: October 12, 2018 at 12:46 PM (#5765145)
Did the Cubs' offense really "struggle" this year? The only starter to markedly underperform career norms was Russell. Maybe Bryant, but he was also hurt for much of the season. Seems to me that the offense was fine.


My yes.

Almora, Contreras, and Happ also posted career worst lines - granted, none of them have long histories, but they all clearly regressed.

It got a lot worse in the 2nd half - even Rizzo returning to form didn't help with that. Almost everyone except Rizzo and Baez (maybe Heyward and Bote if you want to be generous) looked worse and worse as the season wore on.

I pointed out in a gonfalon thread some time back that the Cubs were actually in the top quarter or somesuch of NL scoring - and as someone (Walt, Moses, whomever) noted, you've got to look a little deeper at the data. Especially during the last couple months, they had some feast days that just covered up a whole hella lot of famine. I think they managed some ridiculous feat like matching the Orioles for games where they scored 1 or 0 runs.
   22. PreservedFish Posted: October 12, 2018 at 12:48 PM (#5765146)
Especially during the last couple months, they had some feast days that just covered up a whole hella lot of famine. I think they managed some ridiculous feat like matching the Orioles for games where they scored 1 or 0 runs.


Chili should've told them to spread out their hits.
   23. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: October 12, 2018 at 12:55 PM (#5765154)
Christopher Kamka @ckamka 15h15 hours ago

#Cubs 2018 offense
(MLB Ranks)
Pre All-Star Post All-Star
Runs/game 5.12 (4th) 4.07 (23rd)
OBP .345 (1st) .316 (17th)
SLG .426 (7th) .389 (27th)
Ground Ball% 44.8% (14th) 49.2% (1st)


Team power dropped off in a huge way from 2017. Only the Orioles scored 0 or 1 run more times in a game than the Cubs.
   24. Khrushin it bro Posted: October 12, 2018 at 01:31 PM (#5765172)
The A's hit very well with Chili Davis as their hitting coach. A's fans thought the Red Sox got a steal when he left.
   25. Kiko Sakata Posted: October 12, 2018 at 01:56 PM (#5765192)
Why do the smart teams keep hiring him then?


In retrospect, it looks like the Cubs may have over-reacted to problems that didn't exist. The publicly expressed concern following the 2017 season was that the Cubs were too reliant on home runs - they trailed the NL leader(s) in home runs by one - but that they struck out too often (they were 6th in the NL in strikeouts) and struggled with situational hitting. Which didn't prevent them from finishing second in the NL in runs per game, trailing the Colorado Rockies by 0.02 runs per game - which can almost certainly be explained by the difference in altitude between Denver and Chicago.

So in hiring Davis they talked about wanting to focus more on putting the ball in play and becoming less reliant on the home run. Which worked, insofar as the Cubs led the NL in batting average and hits in 2018 while finishing 11th in home runs with a below-average number of batter strikeouts. Except it turns out that batting .255 with 223 home runs produces more runs than batting .258 and only hitting 167 home runs. Of course, .258 isn't that different from .255 and the former mostly led the NL because the league batting average dropped from .254 to .247 (.258 would have been 5th in the 2017 NL; the Cubs' actual .255 was 6th).

Honestly, I wouldn't have really expected a hitting coach to make that much difference - and maybe Davis actually didn't make much difference. But the Cubs offense definitely took a step backward in 2018 relative to 2017 (and 2016), especially in the second half of the season. And, perhaps not coincidentally, did so in a way consistent with what the Cubs were said to be trying to accomplish by hiring Davis in the first place.
   26. Zonk just has affection for alumni Posted: October 12, 2018 at 02:50 PM (#5765228)
Honestly, I wouldn't have really expected a hitting coach to make that much difference - and maybe Davis actually didn't make much difference. But the Cubs offense definitely took a step backward in 2018 relative to 2017 (and 2016), especially in the second half of the season. And, perhaps not coincidentally, did so in a way consistent with what the Cubs were said to be trying to accomplish by hiring Davis in the first place.


Right.

The evidence available isn't proof, but there's just more than an enough to suggest that Davis getting his walking papers wasn't merely "Let's find a scapegoat."

Haven't looked at the Cubs minor league staff enough to be sure -- but based on playing every edition of OOTP since (the roster sets seem pretty good about keeping the minor league staffs current from year to year) forever, I think there's a ton of minor league guys who have been in the org forever and know a lot of the hitters now in the big leagues.

I'd be fine with just elevating someone from within the org.
   27. bunyon Posted: October 12, 2018 at 03:14 PM (#5765243)
Well, if they hired him to raise BA and lower Ks, then firing him doesn't make sense. Or, if they're going to fire him, they should say they screwed up the analysis. Because 25 kind of makes it sound like he got the results he was hired for.
   28. Moses Taylor, aka Hambone Fakenameington Posted: October 12, 2018 at 03:16 PM (#5765246)
Well, if they hired him to raise BA and lower Ks, then firing him doesn't make sense. Or, if they're going to fire him, they should say they screwed up the analysis. Because 25 kind of makes it sound like he got the results he was hired for.

They didn't hire him to take away the power, they hired him to supplement the power. It turned out that his approach wasn't a compliment to what they already had, which was their intention.
   29. Zonk just has affection for alumni Posted: October 12, 2018 at 03:29 PM (#5765254)
Well, if they hired him to raise BA and lower Ks, then firing him doesn't make sense. Or, if they're going to fire him, they should say they screwed up the analysis. Because 25 kind of makes it sound like he got the results he was hired for.


Sure it does.

I mean, this happens in corporate America all the time - the board/C-levels decide on strategies/multi-component VSPs all the time that are designed to improve overall performance. Reassessments occur regularly and sometimes elements of those strategies get replaced or modified not because the leaders brought in specifically to fulfill an element of that vision actually failed to do or implement the thing they were specifically brought in to accomplish, but because it turns out that specific part of the plan was a faulty one.

In such instances, it's not unusual for a specialist at upper management levels in the thing that was originally thought beneficial to be let go NOT because that person brought in failed to do what s/he specialized in, but simply because it turned out NOT to be a good fit for the org's overall, bottom line goal.

That doesn't mean the people who made the call are idiots and should be shown the door, either - other elements of the overall plan may be yielding plenty of fruit such that the bottom line DOES look good... but one element of the plan just isn't meshing or working out as hoped, such is life. You remove or modify that specific element. You don't double-down on it or stick with it.

It doesn't even need to necessarily be the "fault" of the individual let go... but you always reassess, measure, and evaluate - and correct your mistakes, even if it means that the person who most "pays" is actually the person who was hired to do that which you mistakenly thought would be valuable or needed.
   30. PreservedFish Posted: October 12, 2018 at 03:58 PM (#5765275)
Maybe they should have told Chili that their goal was to score more runs.
   31. Zonk just has affection for alumni Posted: October 12, 2018 at 04:03 PM (#5765279)
Maybe they should have told Chili that their goal was to score more runs.


He was the hitting coach.

That's obviously the biggest part of scoring runs, but again - he was essentially a specialist in a niche element of hitting that the higher ups thought would help them score more runs.

They were wrong. Maybe because the hitters in-house weren't a good match for that, maybe because it's not actually a better way for this team to score runs, probably some of both... and even some of neither.

Regardless, it's not like they put him on an ice flow and cast him adrift into the Arctic.
   32. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 12, 2018 at 04:09 PM (#5765283)
Regardless, it's not like they put him on an ice flow and cast him adrift into the Arctic.
No, then he'd really be chili! Hey-o!
   33. Spahn Insane Posted: October 12, 2018 at 04:19 PM (#5765287)
Only the Orioles scored 0 or 1 run more times in a game than the Cubs.

And the Cubs matched them if you count the WC game (40 times); mind you, the Orioles were not merely bad, they won less than half as many games as the Cubs. The Cubs scored 2 runs or less in 55 games--over a third of the season. I don't care what their aggregate hitting numbers were--hitting badly enough in a third of your games that you'd be lucky to win more than about eight of 'em isn't acceptable for a team with World Series aspirations.
   34. Andere Richtingen Posted: October 12, 2018 at 04:53 PM (#5765318)
If teams keeping hiring Chili Davis, that also means teams keep unhiring him.
   35. Andere Richtingen Posted: October 12, 2018 at 05:00 PM (#5765321)
I don't blame Chili Davis -- I think there has been a general trend of decay in offensive discipline on the team for some time. Remember "0-2 to 4-2?" That said, the complete deflation of power in the second half was pretty remarkable, but equally hard to blame on the hitting coach. I expect that to rebound, but it's an issue worthy of some attention in the off-season.
   36. Walt Davis Posted: October 12, 2018 at 07:01 PM (#5765373)
First, Boston is scapegoating Davis at least as much as the Cubs. He was the hitting coach for the Red Sox for three seasons, not just 2017.

2014: 11th in R/G; 15th in OPS+ (the year before Davis)
2015: 4th in R/G; 9th in OPS+
2016: 1st; 1st
2017: 6th; 12th (Chili's last)
2018: 1st, 1st (same R/G; same OPS+ as 2016)

Some chunk of 2016 vs 2017 is due to replacing Ortiz's bat with Mitch Moreland's. Given the park, clearly 2017 wasn't good but 2015 was a vast improvement over 2014 (not necessarily Chili's doing) and 2016 was as good as it gets (presumably at least partly Chili's doing). In 2018 they repeated exactly what they had done in 2016 under Davis. (Note, AL scoring in 2018 was the same as 2016)

As for the Cubs, the question is what went wrong. The Cubs FO knows about launch angle and the perils of a high G/F ratio -- did Chili state this was his philosophy in the interview but the Cubs hired him anyway? Why the big difference between 1st and 2nd half -- did Chili change his philosophy mid-season (this seems unlikely); did the players not listen in the first half then started listening in the 2nd; was the 1st half all a BABIP spike; did pitchers approach Cub hitters differently in the 2nd half?

Some of the changes seemed evident in the 1st half -- drop in power, better contact, more going the other way -- and it seemed to be working fine. In the 2nd half, the power seemed to drop even more which might well be on Chili ... but it also seemed batters (Russell especially) stopped going the other way as much.

It's also important to note that the NL had a big drop from 4.58 R/G in 2017 to 4.37 in 2018 so we would expect all of the Cubs raw numbers and unadjusted rate stats to decline. The improvement in BA and K-rates are, in that sense, quite impressive even if obviously not worth the drop in ISO.

The other change the Sox noted was a bit more aggression early in the count, rather than working pitch counts the Sox were attacking hittable pitches early in the at bat. Both of those things were demonstrably different in 2018 from 2017 for the Sox. Not saying Davis was the reason for that but the numbers and the narrative matchup.

This theory was floated a month ago or so. This might explain some of the improvement for the 2017 to 2018 Red Sox. However the problem with this idea is that the 2018 Cubs comped with the 2018 Red Sox swung at the first pitch more often, hit the first pitch more often and hit the first pitch better than the 2018 Red Sox (and some of our hitters are pitchers). If Chili preached too much patience in Boston in 2017, he had either learned his lesson or the Cub hitters ignored him.

1st pitch, Cubs vs Bos

swing: 32.4% 26.9%
rate on contact: 359/580; 350/569 (includes HBP and stuff)

Those rates finished much closer than when I first checked them so we can call them equal now.

Anyway, if anything, the Cubs swung at the first pitch much too often -- they made contact on just 37.4% of those swings (but still more contact as a % of all first pitches than the Red Sox). Between swinging and taken first pitch strikes, the Cubs ended up in 0-1 slightly more often than the Red Sox. Granted, some of that is that Baez swung at 120% of his first pitches (you can look it up).

Maybe that aggressiveness got used against the Cubs in the 2nd half, getting crappier first pitches but still swinging.

On going the opposite way -- in 2018, Cub RHB went up the middle slightly more than half the time and went the other way nearly as often as they pulled the ball (per b-r splits); the LHB went up the middle about half the time but pulled the ball more than twice as often as going the other way. In 2017, the RHB were slightly more pull-heavy but not a lot (not quite 60/40) while the LHB were about the same.

In 2018, RHB hit much, much worse when they pulled the ball relative to 2017 RHB pull; they hit a bit better up the middle and opp but nowhere near enough. For RHB pull it was 369/651 in 2018 vs 427/836 in 2017. That would seem to be the crux of the problem. LHB pull and up the middle did a little worse but opp did a little better -- all seem likely to be within randomness, reduced scoring, PA distribution.

So it seems the Cubs achieved what they wanted except that, for whatever reason, RHB stopped pulling with power (while LHB pull was about the same). It's a little odd that the effect is limited to RHB but a drop in pull performance is what I would worry about with an emphasis on contact and going the other way. But the shift to going the other way wasn't dramatic in the end.

Strangely enough, this wasn't particularly about Bryant. In 2018 he hit 439/835 when he pulled vs 451/934 with a roughly proportional number of pulled balls given his missed time. Of all people, Javy hit much worse on pulled balls this year (387/763 vs 522/1044; again roughly proportional PAs). Willson saw a big drop from an OPS of 1264 to 990 but it's not like 990 is particularly bad -- and again he seems to have pulled the ball about as often. Almora also had a Willson-like drop of 300 points but still over 900 and Russell saw a drop of 170 points.

Up the middle -- Bryant dropped a little power, Javy was awesome, Contreras had a big drop, Russell and Almora were down a teeny bit. Going the other way, Javy skyrocketed over an already good OPS (from 900+ to 1300+), Bryant dropped a good bit, Willson stayed the same (surprise to me!), Almora improved a little and Russell got much worse while also going the other way a lot more.

So this doesn't tell us a lot. If Chili changed Javy's approach then the drop on pull was well worth the improvement up the middle and away. It seems to have had less effect on Bryant than I'd have thought. We probably shouldn't expect Almora to be as good a pull hitter as Bryant so his drop there is probably expected while he remained the same hitter mid/opp. So, not too surprising, it's Willson and Russell who are worrying. Like Almora, we probably should never have expected Willson to be as good on pulled balls as he was in 2017 but he also had a big drop up the middle suggesting a generally slower bat.

Willson is an odd case. Believe it or not, his G/F ratio was the same this year as the previous two. No change in K-rate, no change in BB-rate. Even his BABIP and pop-up rates are the same as last year. It is simply a matter of his HR/FB rate dropping by 2/3 -- massive! His average exit velocity was the same, his average launch angle went up a bit (not down), his hard-hit % was the same as 2016, only 2.5% lower than 2017. The barrel % was down a lot vs. 2017 (10 "lost" barrels) but not so much vs 2016 (4 "lost" barrels). Even assuming those lost barrels From 2017 all resulted in outs, that explains only about half of his decline.

Those averages though are obviously hiding a lot. His xBA dropped from 255 to 215 -- that's the bottom 3% of baseball. Maybe the slight increase in launch angle meant the hard-hit flyballs were going too high (but not producing pop-ups?) I'll guess it's more that he had a bad mix of hard-hit grounders and weakly hit flyballs. Anyway, something very strange happened, hopefully it's just a fluke. But it's hard to see how Chili (presumably) preaching more contact, less concern with launch angle, maybe hit more GBs would result in no change in K, BB, G/F, EV and a small increase in LA while magically killing his HR/FB. It's not impossible I suppose -- he took good hard swings but down on the ball early in the count and hit weak flyballs when behind in the count.

And we're still left with the oddity that it went really well in the first half and terrible in the second half. That could have been good luck in the first half of course but if it was, the Cub statnerds should have been able to detect that and warn that the new approach wasn't really working. Or it was terrible luck in the second half and, well, so it goes. Or the Cubs don't really know what went wrong suggesting that, even if it was Davis's fault, they don't know how to fix it.

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