Chili Davis, who is known for his immense knowledge on the mental aspect of hitting, talked with FanGraphs back in August about approaching pitchers who throw high fastballs. The new Cubs hitting coach revealed several golden nuggets on how batters can mentally fine-tune their approach against high heat.
“It’s funny you should ask [about hitting high fastballs]. A few years ago, when I worked with Oakland, I made a statement that hitters are going to have to learn how to hit the high strike, and for a couple of reasons. No.1, there are a huge array of pitchers coming at you now with elevated fastballs. But you’ve also got sliders, curveballs, changeups, cutters, knuckle curves — all this stuff — and a lot of those pitches are used to chase. Primarily, they’re used to get chases down in the zone.
“As far as I’m concerned, everything up in the zone becomes hittable.” – Chili Davis
“If a pitcher is locating his fastballs at the knees, and he’s also starting his chase pitch there, especially a changeup, on that same plane, he’s going to be tough to beat. The only mistake that pitchers are going to make is to miss up in the zone. As far as I’m concerned, everything up in the zone becomes hittable. The curveball hangs, the slider hangs, the changeup is not where it’s supposed to be, the forkball becomes more of a spoon ball and doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.
“The elevated four-seamer, yeah, it’s a tempting, delicious-looking pitch to guys who are high-ball chasers. But if you have discipline at the top of your zone… what you have to do is set your sights at the top of the zone and work down.” – Chili Davis
“The elevated four-seamer, yeah, it’s a tempting, delicious-looking pitch to guys who are high-ball chasers. But if you have discipline at the top of your zone… what you have to do is set your sights at the top of the zone and work down. It’s closer to your eyes, so if you’re looking for something up, you should be able to recognize if it’s a strike. I think hitters need to adjust to the higher pitch, because that’s where the mistakes are.”
Cubs batters, like most MLB hitters, struggled against high pitches in 2017. Every young Cubs hitter not named Anthony Rizzo showed susceptibility to high heat, as illustrated by the whiff zone profile below.
The Cubs are going to have to hone in on their individual and collective approaches, which is why Davis replaced John Mallee, the former Cubs coach who is highly respected around the league because of his expertise on hitting mechanics. Thanks to Mallee and his staff, Russell, Schwarber, Bryant, Baez, Contreras, and so on have made drastic changes over the last few seasons, and the results have paid dividends.
But now, the Cubs front office seems to be shifting from the mechanical to the mental with their young hitters’ approaches. Davis, the mental guru, seems like the perfect coach for the challenge.