The Chicago Cubs hired their third hitting coach in 12 months on Monday, .
Naturally, former Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis was asked for his thoughts on Iapoce and what went wrong during his year in Chicago. Along with wishing Iapoce the best, Davis opted to make it clear that he was not the reason the Cubs underperformed at the plate.
Here's part of what Davis said to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times:
"Hopefully, he has better success at this than I did," said Davis, who stressed no hard feelings with the Cubs. "But regardless of who's there, certain players there are going to have to make some adjustments, because the game's changed, and pitchers are pitching them differently. They're not pitching to launch angles and fly balls and all that anymore. They're pitching away from that.
Davis declined to accept fault or name names, but he did go on to say: "I guess I need to make some adjustments in the way I deliver my message to the millennial players now."
To some extent, Davis' assertion that the players are responsible for his dismissal is correct. No one knows for certain how much influence any coach has on their changes. As such, coaches are often evaluated based on player performance. In Davis' case, that meant six notable Cubs hitters posting lower OPS+ in 2018 than in 2017. Of course, debiting Davis for Kris Bryant's stepback seems unfair -- it's no one's fault that Bryant hurt himself -- but, then, how much credit does he deserve for Javier Baez's breakout? Or Ben Zobrist's resurgence?
At the same time, there's a lot to pick at in the rest of Davis's comments, including the assertion that pitchers are no longer "pitching to launch angles."
It's true the game has changed. Pitchers used to be instructed to pitch at the knees, not the belts or letters. They also were told they had to establish the fastball and that pitching backward was a no-no. These days, you see a countless array of hurlers working up in the zone consistently, while also spamming hitters with their breaking balls to keep them off balance.
But sheesh, can we please gain some perspective on the whole launch angle thing? The term "launch angle" has morphed into a buzzword that separates the nerds from the jocks. If only it were that simple. The quantification of launch angle is new, yes -- the concept is not.
The modern player has always wanted to possess an optimal launch angle -- or, in baseball jargon, to hit line drives. Line drives are understood to be good. It's why Dustin Pedroia called himself the laser show. It's why Joe Maddon -- the Cubs' current manager -- bragged about how his Tampa Bay defenses caught line drives. Line drives are good -- line drives are the best. Consider that big-league hitters posted a 1.532 OPS on line drives in 2018; that's higher than the sum of their OPS on grounders (.509) and flyballs (.853). You want your hitters hitting line drives just as surely as you want your pitchers not giving up line drives. How is this a revelation?
Now, to be certain: There's room for debate on how teams should use launch angle and exit velocity in instructional and evaluative settings. Maybe that's what Davis meant -- that players need to think critically about how to achieve launch angle; or that there's more to hitting than your average launch angle; or whatever. Fine, fair enough.
But the body of Davis's comments -- and the criticism lobbed his way in the past -- do not provide the impression that he's as faultless as he'd like everyone to believe when it comes to the Cubs' struggles.