At the time of his hiring, many scoffed at the idea of Chili Davis taking over as the New York Mets’ new hitting coach. His contact-first, situational approach to hitting — a relic to some — has caused the former major leaguer to fall out of favor with his most recent employers in shockingly short order.
A three-year stint as hitting coach Oakland (2012 to 2014) was followed by another three seasons in Boston, then Davis spent a year in Chicago to disappointing results, leaving him unemployed for the third time in as many seasons.
When Brodie Van Wagenen & Co. came to the decision to hire the 59-year-old Jamaican native earlier this offseason, the collective groan from the fan base was audible. But just a few weeks into spring workouts in Port St. Lucie, the Mets players appear to be buying into what Davis has to offer.
“The most important thing is everybody buys into the idea we are going to get the job done in certain situations. I think we have guys who are receptive to that and have that mentality,” Michael Conforto told Mike Puma of the New York Post. “I think Brodie has done a good job of bringing guys in who […] are really good at that and can lead us in that way, but we can always get better at it.”
Of course, the “guys” Conforto is referring to are the Mets’ new roster additions Jed Lowrie, Wilson Ramos, Robinson Cano, Keon Broxton, J.D. Davis, as well as their intact core of positional players in Amed Rosario, Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, Todd Frazier, and whoever else might end up helping the major-league roster at some point this season, like, say, Yoenis Cespedes or Adeiny Hechavarria.
As for the “certain situations” Davis’ tutelage could assist in, Conforto elaborated on that.
“In certain situations it can make a big difference, just changing the mindset a little bit. I think if you look at those situations that [Davis] is talking about […] from last year, more often than not we didn’t do a good job,” Conforto said. “Situations like [a] runner on third and less than two outs, maybe you are trying to do too much […], but his approach is, ‘Let’s have a competitive at-bat. Let’s just get the job done.’ ”
Despite the Mets ranking fifth in the National League last season with their .762 OPS with runners in scoring position and two outs, as Scooter notes, with a runner on third and less than two outs, the Mets were not great.
Over 755 plate appearances in those situations, the Mets slashed .251/.332/.391 for a 23rd-ranked in all of baseball .729 OPS. Their 249 runs batted in with a runner on third and less than two outs was fourth-worst in MLB (Marlins, 235, were last). Certainly room for improvement there.
“They go home in the offseason and work their swings and try to make their adjustments […] If it’s not working [when they get to camp] then tweak something here and there,” Davis said. “It’s about what you are trying to do, your intent, and understanding the situations of what pitchers are going to try to do in those situations and what you need to look for.”
Clearly, Chili Davis’ experiences as a major-league ballplayer have given him a unique viewpoint on how to perceive what’s around you as a hitter. Mental toughness, as well as having the utmost confidence in one’s self with a bat in their hands, is an optimal ingredient for success as a hitter. It appears as if Davis is in the process of building up the esteem and awareness of this group, and that’s a great thing.
With Lowrie, Cano, and Ramos in the clubhouse sharing their experiences — practically akin to another three coaches in the room — as well, the Mets’ young core could find themselves quite well-equipped to face the rigorous peaks and valleys of a 162-game season, keeping their self-assuredness intact throughout. That’s also a great thing.
Davis, along with the rest of the front office and on-field staff Van Wagenen has assembled over the last few months — especially quality control coach Luis Rojas, who will relay information directly from the team’s analytics and scouting department to the coaching staff — appear to be a well-constructed group, all with one likeminded goal; win some ballgames and bring this team back to the forefront of Major League Baseball.