Less than a week after firing Chili Davis, the Chicago Cubs tapped a familiar face as their next hitting coach as they search for offensive consistency in 2019.
Last offseason, the Chicago Cubs went for high-profile, big-name coaching staff shake-ups, bringing in Jim Hickey to replace Chris Bosio and Chili Davis as John Mallee’s successor. This time around, they’re taking a very different approach.
On Monday afternoon, Chicago named former Texas Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce as their next hitting coach. The key facet in this hiring? Familiarity.
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Iapoce spent the last three years in Texas in the same role he’ll hold on the North Side. But prior to that, he served as a special assistant to the GM with the Cubs, overseeing the minor league hitting program from 2013 to 2015. That means several of the guys on the big league roster go into this with a deep experience working with him – hardly a bad thing.
Last season, Texas ranked seventh in the American League in runs (737), 11th in slugging percentage (.404) and tenth in OPS (.722). By contrast, Chicago ranked fourth in the National League with 761 runs, sixth with a .410 slugging percentage and fifth with a .744 OPS.
Getting the big boppers back on-track
While last year’s numbers aren’t exactly the type that make you jump up and down, but in 2016 and 2017, Texas ranked seventh and ninth, respectively, in runs scored. Iapoce is a big launch angle guy – which bodes well given some of the names in a prospective 2019 Chicago Cubs lineup.
That familiarity will be key for getting the offense rolling again, especially when it comes to Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras. The former battled a gruesome hit by pitch early in the year and then injured his shoulder, sapping him of both bat speed and power late in the season.
Getting a healthy, productive Bryant back in the middle of the Cubs order would certainly change things for a team that looked lost and inconsistent at the dish for pretty much the entire second half of the season. The bigger concern, honestly, is figuring out Contreras.
After breaking out and looking like a guy who might garner some MVP votes last summer (2017) before suffering an injury, Contreras couldn’t get it going at the plate this year, slashing just .249/.339/.390 – highlighted by a staggering 110-point fall in his slugging percentage.
Going with what they know
Ten times out of 10, I’d rather get beat by something I know than by taking a shot on something I don’t. That mindset seems to have prevailed at Gallagher Way, with Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon and the team opting for a guy with deep knowledge and existing relationships with the current core.
That’s not to say such knowledge will guarantee an offensive resurgence. But tapping Iapoce brings some continuity to the team, while hopefully lighting a fire under a young core that underperformed and underdelivered in 2018.