Late on Monday night after another tough loss, New York Mets management announced the firing of hitting coach Chili Davis and assistant hitting coach Tom Slater. At first, the move may seem surprising given the team’s better offensive performance, but at a closer glance, the move makes sense.
One thing that has been ringing since ESPN’s Sunday night coverage of the team is “approach.” Even Alex Rodriguez, who unfortunately comes with the telecast said something to the eye-rolling effect of, “Let’s talk about their approach is. It’s a bad approach.”
Mets New “Approach Coach”
Then after a miraculous win that shouldn’t have been one, Pete Alonso credited their hitting success to the new “approach coach” Donnie Stevenson aka Donnie Diesel. The same was said albeit with smiles from Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and J.D. Davis.
Whoever or whatever this made-up character of Donnie is, he’s all about the approach – mental and physical. He “fires the guys up” and gets them prepared. None of this offensive output was credited to Chili Davis or Tom Slater.
When Davis and Slater were let go, acting GM Zack Scott in so many words said there were concerns about the team’s approach, preparedness, and things going on “under the hood” that put the future of this team’s offense in danger.
Despite Davis being beloved by players like Alonso (who was emotional during a presser about it), J.D., Dominic Smith, and Jeff McNeil, the results for this team offensively have been less than stellar. Including last year, the team’s batting average with the bases empty is stellar. However, once the runners get on, the team ranks dead last. Whatever Davis’ philosophy on situational hitting is, it simply did not work.
Chili Davis, the Hitting Coach
Davis is described as an “old school” guy. His main focus for players is to aim for the gaps with line drives and hit the ball down and hard. That’s counterintuitive to the way the game is played now – mash home runs, launch angle, walks, and strikeouts.
In a discussion with the Rising Apple team, a few of us went back and forth on the old school vs modern discussion.
“I know this may strike a chord with some…but I sort of agree with that philosophy. I don’t agree with the all-or-nothing approach…that a strikeout is better than a single to the opposite field,” said Alan Karmin agreeing with Davis’ approach. “Everyone is trying to jerk the ball out of the park on every swing. It used to be sinful to hit the ball in the air. Level swing. Level swing. Line drives to the gaps. It’s all about the home run now. We are witnessing Home Run Derby.”
My rebuttal and a key component to a modern-day hitting coach:
“It’s home run or bust now because pitchers are throwing 100 mph. It’s hard to place a pitch you can’t see. Just swing as hard as the pitch coming and watch it fly. Teams aren’t able to lace together four or five hits an inning. You need a walk and a big fly. The launch angle and homerun derby feel were to combat the pitching. The pitching got better because in the 90s steroid abusers unleveled the playing field. The pitchers then got better and the roids went away. So now we have utter domination.”
Drew Van Buskirk added: “The way I see it, we can continue to lament the natural evolution of a game we love that is more than a hundred years old and let it impact our viewing experience forever, or we can grow with it. I choose the latter!”
He also brought up the approach of Roger Maris and Hank Aaron who may have classically went for the old school approach but still hit homers at a record-setting pace.
Chili Davis was a fantastic hitter in the 80s and 90s but that’s where his approach stays. For a guy like McNeil who is a high average hitter, it’s perfect. But for the average hitter who bats .250 to .280, this approach will never work. They don’t possess the skill to just go gap to gap or slap the ball. Also, that approach doesn’t work well to combat the shift. Davis might bat 30 points lower if he played now because the defense will just stand where he hits it.
So as much as power has been used to offset power pitching, it’s also been used to offset the shift. What’s the best way to not hit it into the shift? Well, hit the ball over and out of the park.
All of this goes against the old-school philosophy of hitting. We have seen the Mets continuously struggle to string together hits. Most of their runs are set up by walks, wild pitches, and hit by pitches. It’s never a solid string of hits. In addition, the Mets aren’t really leaving the yard either. This is why the offensive has been anemic.
Chili Davis Being Fired is Not New
Lastly, this is not the first time Davis has worn out his welcome as a team-hitting coach. The Chicago Cubs let him go before he came to the Mets. There were many rumors that indicated the players were sick of his approach and that it was stifling offensively. Of course, the rumors were shut down that it was a management decision and not a player rallied move but we know the drill.
I received some perspective from a die-hard Cubs fan who told me this: “Legitimately all the players felt like he was changing their swing. They all naturally had natural huge launch angles – Schwarber, Bryant, Javy, Rizzo, Willy… they all would throw shade at him in the media without saying his name.”
He continued, “He wanted them to work on line drives and ground balls as opposed to doubles and dingers.”
In looking through the stats of the Cubs, there never really seemed to be a sharp decline of their numbers that could put the blame on the hitting coach with the exception of Bryant. But, working with the talent that the Cubs have, it’s possible that they took matters into their hands much like this mysterious Donnie Stevenson who rallied the Mets.
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Regardless of what side of the fence you find yourself at with the hitting approach, it was time to move on from Davis. Usually, during a shakeup, a team gets amped up trying to improve. Let’s hope the Mets do that with runners in scoring position. Otherwise, it won’t matter if Cookie Carassco, Noah Syndergaard, and Seth Lugo get back. At this point, it wouldn’t matter if it were five Jacob deGrom’s (unless he’s batting), the team has to hit.