When John Mallee accepted the hitting coach position with the Chicago Cubs, I’m sure he knew he had some work to do. The Cubs have a young and powerful group of hitters, but they also strike out – a lot. Thankfully, this isn’t anything new to Mallee.
This is a classic case of same story – different place.
While with the Houston Astros, he had a similar task at hand – getting a group of young hitters and teaching them how to not swing at every pitch. He was successful for the most part with the young Houston team. As a team Houston increased the team average from .240 in 2013 to .242 last season.
While you may say it is only two points – there is more to the statistic than just two points.
The team’s strikeouts went down and the walks went up. The Astros had 93 less strikeouts and 69 more walks. Those are the kind of results the Cubs are also hoping to see. Individually, Mallee also could take some credit for the success Jose Altuve had in 2014. Altuve turned his career .282 batting average into a National League batting title – including a .341 average with 32 fewer strikeouts than the year prior.
The Cubs were awful at the plate last year with strikeouts. They were ranked first in Major League Baseball with 1477 strikeouts – while only ranking 20th in walks with 442 free passes. Those numbers have to get better if this team expects to be better in 2015 – let alone contend.
With a young team – it is expected that strikeouts will come in bunches. Unfortunately, the hitters that are counted on being the players to turn this team around are also the biggest offenders with the strikeouts.
Jorge Soler has shown signs of being both a hitter free with the bat and one who will take his walks. I think with time he’ll be one who will just wait for his pitch. Last season, the outfielder was hot out of the gates before fading fast down the stretch.
Kris Bryant – while not being a big offender in the Minors – will be a legitimate concern as he faces big league pitching for the first time in 2015. Again, that comes with being a young power hitter in Major League Baseball. As he becomes more comfortable, his plate presence will likely improve.
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Javier Baez is really the one the Cubs worry the most about. He is very quick to get himself into a hole against the pitcher – finding him in one-two counts and even worse zero-two counts. That kind of trouble is something that Mallee does focus on a lot. He is a true believer in finding “your pitch” – something the team struggled with a great deal in 2014.
"“Getting a hitter to stay within his strengths until two strikes,” Mallee explained. “You want to get a pitch you can drive and be patient enough to wait for it. Working the count is a by-product of not swinging at a pitch you can’t drive. Even if it’s within the strike zone.” – via Jesse Rogers ~ espn.chicago.com"
Even with only a few games this spring under his belt with the Cubs – Mallee hasn’t seem to have gotten through just yet to Baez – but that doesn’t mean he won’t. This is what Spring training is for.
"“Getting him to understand sacrificing speed and power for accuracy when you get to two strikes and there are runners in scoring position and putting the ball in play, you’re going to be very productive.” John Mallee on Javier Baez via Jesse Rogers of espn.chicago.com “Getting him to understand sacrificing speed and power for accuracy when you get to two strikes and there are runners in scoring position and putting the ball in play, you’re going to be very productive.” John Mallee on Javier Baez via Jesse Rogers of espn.chicago.com"
The trust will come with time – and with trust will come results. With Manny Ramirez aboard – Mallee won’t be alone in trying to get the young power hitting infielder to control his swing. The trust that was built last year with Ramirez will help get Baez to the next level.
Malle has his work cut out for him – but I don’t think he’d have it any other way.