The Chicago Cubs will have their third hitting coach in as many years. So what should fans know about their latest?
When the Chicago Cubs fired Chili Davis at the end of the season, it should not have come as a surprise to fans. The embattled hitting coach endured much criticism as the Cubs bats went into hibernation for the better part of the season.
As the offensive slump continued, the calls for Davis’ job intensified, with many pointing to the rebirth the Boston Red Sox experienced this season after they fired Davis following the end of the 2017 season.
So when Theo Epstein said in his season-ending press conference that “launch angle is not a fad” Davis had to have felt his seat get a little hotter. You see, in an era consumed by launch angle and exit velocity, Davis was a throwback. He saw a need for hitters to change their approach as he perceived pitchers to be pitching in a way to counteract launch angle.
As information leaks out, it appears there was a classic stalemate with Davis wanting players to adjust their approach, and certain players being unwilling. As a result, the Cubs needed to make a change — and so they did.
On Monday, they hired the man who will replace Davis and serve as the team’s third hitting coach in as many years. Anthony Iapoce, who served in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers, will have his work cut out for him next season. However, there are a few things fans may want to know about him.
1. Familiar Faces
When Iapoce arrives at Wrigley Field, he will see some familiar faces. Iapoce previously served with the Cubs as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-2015. In that time, he worked with Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber. He also is a “disciple” of former Cubs hitting coach John Mallee who was fired and replaced with Davis. Mallee and Iapoce, are firm believers in launch angle, and the Cubs hope he will reinvigorate that approach with the team. Iapoce also has a certain comfort level with the organization which will certainly help. However, it can’t help but raise the question, why fire Mallee in the first place to eventually replace him with his clone?
2. Power Surge
Whereas Davis focused on contact and hitting the ball to the opposite field, Iapoce comes from the “Earl Weaver,” station-to-station school of hitting. So expect the Cubs to hit more home runs next season, but you can also expect that strikeouts will increase as well. Iapoce took over in Texas just prior to the 2016 season. Below are the total home runs and strikeout splits for the year prior to his hiring through his tenure.
- 2015: 172 HRs/1233 Ks
- 2016: 215 HRs/1220 Ks
- 2017: 237 HRs/1493 Ks
- 2018: 194 HRs/1484 Ks
You can see home runs increased considerably in Iapoce’s first year although strikeouts actually decreased. However, look at the significant jump in Ks in his final two years in Texas. Those seasons saw more than a 250 strikeout increase from 2015. So while fans will enjoy watching the Cubs smash balls out of Wrigley, remember that when they strand that runner on third with less than two outs in a crucial moment. With the good, comes the bad.
3. Behind Enemy Lines
Iapoce was selected in the 33rd round of the 1994 MLB Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. He spent the majority of his career (mostly in the minor leagues) with the Brewers organization. The Cubs/Brewers rivalry seemed to intensify this season — ironically after Cole Hamels declared it wasn’t a rivalry.
In any event, Iapoce will bring an understanding of the rivalry. More importantly, though, he may bring with him an intimate knowledge of the Brewers organization, having spent so much time with the organization. Maybe he’s been away from the organization too long for it to have an impact, but it’s never a bad thing to know thy enemy.
With a new hitting coach brings a renewed enthusiasm. Fans are hoping the Cubs offense experiences the kind of offensive explosion that the Red Sox did after they fired Chili Davis. Only time will tell, but early returns suggest lots of home runs with a fair amount of whiffs. Stay tuned.