Chicago Cubs: Why it might not be ChIli Davis’ fault

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs at the moment couldn’t hit a bull in the rear with a snow-shovel. But the ire directed at their hitting coach Chili Davis might be misplaced.

This very well could be the strangest stretch of baseball for the Chicago Cubs in the Joe Maddon era. Five straight games, five solo homers, spread out evenly over those five games. Perhaps it’s actually a minor miracle they’ve held on for a 2-3 record during this time.

Clearly, everything that can go wrong with the offense has. Be it injuries (Kris Bryant and Addison Russell), slumps (Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber, and this list could keep going), or those who carried the offense all season cracking a bit under the weight (Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist).

And as objects get bigger in the rearview mirror–namely, a red and yellow one from down I-55p–Cubs fans are starting to get a little unhinged, and there’s been a lot of criticism thrown at hitting coach Chili Davis.

The circumstantial evidence is easy enough to pick out for the even the biggest stats-averse, sweet-pepper drenched yahoo on the barstool. As Sahadev Sharma noted in this piece for The Athletic, the Cubs rank 21st in MLB in homers, and since the All-Star break, they’re 25th. Their ISO since the break, which is the difference between slugging and batting averages, is 27th since the break.

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And that connects directly to last year’s Boston Red Sox, where Davis was employed as hitting coach as well. They were 26th in slugging as a team, 27th in homers, 28th in ISO, while being 13th in batting average as a team (the Cubs are actually 2nd this year).

Both teams got on base enough, they just didn’t have enough things go boom to cash in more runs at once. That’s more than enough for a lot of people to connect the dots they see and declare there must be something wrong with Davis’s approach.

But there may be another connection between last year’s BoSox and this year’s Northside 9. To wit: In the everyday lineup at Fenway last year, Mookie Betts was 24 and only in his third full season, Andrew Benintendi was 23 and in his first full season, Xander Bogaerts was 24 and though in his fourth full season had spent much of the previous three being jerked around the field by the team.

Jackie Bradley was 27 but thanks to injuries was really in his fourth full season, and Rafael Devers was 20 when he had to take over for Pablo Sandoval at 3rd. That’s four or five spots in a lineup every night that were being occupied by players you could still consider neophytes in their profession. There was also no J.D. Martinez, just as there’s been very little of Bryant for the Cubs.

Now pivot to the Cubs this year. A lot of plate appearances are being taken by Ian Happ who is 24 with barely a full year in the majors, Baez who is 25 and only in his third full-season and really only second as a full-time starter, Schwarber who is 25 and in his second full season with only a half in 2015 before.

Willson Contreras is only in his second full season with a half in 2016 before, Russell in his fourth season and is 24, and we can throw in Almora and Bote right now who are 25 and 24 and in their second and first season in the majors, respectively.

That’s a lineup that at times can feature five to six players that are 25 and younger, and/or with less than four seasons in the majors. No one has reached their fifth year, not even Bryant.

Next. Can Daniel Murphy ignite the Cubs' offense?. dark

Power is generally the hardest thing to learn at the top level unless you showed prodigious power in the minors like Bryant or Schwarber did (and power isn’t really Schwarber’s problem right now). Growth is not linear. And that might not make you feel better about what the rest of the season holds, but it also could easily just blossom in September for really no reason at all.

So what’s more likely? That Davis, who had top-10 offenses in MLB twice in Oakland and twice in Boston has no idea what he’s doing? Or that both the Sox last year and the Cubs this year just happen to be on the nasty whip of their young players’ learning curve?