Cubs

Examining Cubs new coaching additions and how Chili Davis got his unique name

Examining Cubs new coaching additions and how Chili Davis got his unique name

Charles Theodore Davis is not a household name in Wrigleyville.

But "Chili" Davis, on the other hand, is a name that resonates with baseball fans everywhere.

The former slugger is now tasked with coaching up the most important assets the Cubs have — a stable of young hitters.

Davis was hired Thursday afternoon as the Cubs' new hitting coach, taking over for hometown hero John Mallee, who helped guide the team to its first World Series championship in 108 years last fall.

Davis has instant clout that comes with racking up nearly 10,000 plate appearances (9,997 - 87th all time) over the course of a 19-year MLB career, playing for the San Francisco Giants, California Angels, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees.

The Jamaican native also carries one of the most unique names in baseball history. Davis' dad gave him that moniker at age 12:


“My dad gave me a haircut...and it wasn’t a very good one. When I went out of the house, my friends got on my case and said it looked like someone put a chili bowl over my head and cut around it.” One friend in particular coined it, Shawn Shephard – a cousin of Shane Mack, Chili’s future teammate with the Minnesota Twins. Although the “Bowl” part dropped away over time, “Chili” stuck for good. Davis himself wound up becoming a barber on the side. In 1985 he said, “I like playing with hair...it’s a hobby, I guess.”

Davis' hobby now blends with the Cubs' main focus, ensuring their young hitters take that next step forward.

Joe Maddon and Davis crossed paths for three years in California: 1994-96, when Davis was smashing 74 homers while Maddon was working on the Angels coaching staff.

Davis played until age 39 in 1999 and began his coaching career in 2010 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He spent three seasons (2012-14) as the hitting coach of the Oakland A's before taking the same position with the Boston Red Sox for the 2015-17 seasons.

During his three years in Boston, the Red Sox scored the most runs in baseball, saw the most pitches and had the highest on-base percentage. 

They finished 10th in baseball in runs and 22nd in OPS in 2017, but in 2016 — before David Ortiz retired — they scored 33 more runs than any other team in the league.

Of course, that helps when you have Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts leading a young core at Fenway to blend with Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez and 2017 newcomers Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers.

Davis' experience in Boston working with all those young hitters will help in Chicago as he tries to develop an offense that just turned in the lowest batting average in postseason history this fall.

"Here's another guy that is really good with regards to helping our hitters get to the next level possibly situationally," Maddon said on a conference call Thursday.

Situational hitting is the main area of improvement needed for a Cubs offense that scored the second-most runs in the National League in 2017 and led baseball with 5.7 runs per game in the second half while awakening from a World Series hangover.

Maddon talked about the offense ad nauseam throughout the year and Theo Epstein addressed the desire for their team to have consistent, tough, team at-bats in his 2017 postmortem last week.

"Grinding at-bats where we perform well with situational hitting, where we perform well with runners in scoring position," Epstein said. "Where we have a dependable, consistent, two-strike approach. Where we're no fun to pitch against. And really, really good pitchers — elite pitchers — feel the same way.

"We did a lot of things really well offensively this year, but at times and in the postseason when we came up against elite pitching, it became tough. And that's usually what happens against elite pitching.

"But to be a consistent championship organization and to win multiple World Series, you have to get to a point where your at-bats are so mature and so consistent that you even give the good pitchers fits. If we're honest about it, we didn't get to that point this year."

The Cubs and Maddon clearly think Davis will help the offense progress more than Mallee was going to, in part because it's a different person delivering the message.

Brian Butterfield joined Davis in the pilgrimage from Boston to Chicago, where he will serve as the new third-base coach, pushing out Gary Jones.

Butterfield has spent 22 seasons as a big-league coach, including 17 as a third-base coach. He has worked with the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays.

"I've known Butter for a long time and part of his background is that he's an excellent third-base coach," Maddon said. "But beyond that, he's a really outstanding baserunning coach, too, and we wanted to add that skillset to our group."

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

1117_kris_bryant.jpg
USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

jakearrieta.png
AP

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.