New Chicago hitting coach John Mallee offers his take
by Jacob R Misener
Following the 2014 season, in which Chicago Cubs franchise cornerstones Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro both attained All-Star status, rebounding at the plate, the organization decided not to bring back assistant hitting coach Mike Brumlee. Hitting coach Bill Mueller subsequently resigned, prompting the team to search for a replacement.
That search concluded with the hiring of Chicagoland native John Mallee, who spent last season as the hitting coach of the Houston Astros, another young team that experienced many of the same issues the Cubs did – including an overreliance on the long-ball and a great deal of strikeouts. On Tuesday, he spoke to reporters about his philosophy and what he hopes to bring to Chicago next season.
“Getting a hitter to stay within his strengths until two strikes,” Mallee told reporters, including Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. “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.”
Mallee, who played professionally in the Philadelphia Phillies system before becoming a hitting instructor with the Miami Marlins, has stressed a different mindset and approach with players he’s worked with in the past – including Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, who emerged last year as one of the premier hitters in all of baseball.
The same approach he took with Altuve is one he hopes to employ with young infielder Javier Baez, who struck out an astonishingly-high 95 times in just 229 plate appearances after he joined the big league club last summer.
“If you have the right approach and right mindset, your swing will follow that,” Mallee said of Baez. “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.”
Turning Baez around in 2015 will be a major focal point for the big league coaching staff, because adding a productive Baez to the likes of Rizzo, Castro and Jorge Soler – who put together an impressive rookie campaign last season – gives the Chicago lineup a great deal of depth, especially when complimented by pieces like Welington Castillo, Luis Valbuena and Arismendy Alcantara.
He pointed out that the sheer ferocity of Baez’s swing – something that is well-known to Cubs fans already – will make him a unique case. However, for those of us who watched him work his way up through the Chicago farm system while dominating opposing pitchers know all-too-well that the comparisons to Gary Sheffield may not be far off.
“His approach will teach him how to shorten things when it’s needed,” Mallee said. “He’s an exceptional talent, so maybe just convincing him to sacrifice a little power for accuracy with two strikes, that’s when you need to shorten up.
While Mallee will no doubt continue to look for improvements that players like Castro and Rizzo can make, (despite their outstanding 2014 seasons) helping develop this team’s young crop of talent will be one of the larger tasks given to the new Cubs hitting coach. One thing is for sure – he’s already invested in the team and is hoping to lead the Chicago hitters to success for years to come.
“I’ve had a chance to coach professional baseball for 20 years now,” Mallee said. “I had a chance to go through the low levels of the minor leagues. The goal was always to help the players not necessarily to get to the big leagues or anything. It’s about caring about the players. You need to educate yourself so you can help them. When they cry, I cry.”