Hitting Coach John Mallee Talked Philosophy, Approach and Working with his new Major League hitters

October 14, 2014 1:30 pm By Neil-
While the job of a Major League hitting coach is often overstated, the front office realizes the importance of making the right hire the third time around with the first wave of talent pushing its way to the big league team.

Theo Epstein joked with the beat writers that the Cubs hitting coach position has been like the “Spinal Tap drumming situation” before admitting the Cubs are hopeful they have finally found the right hitting coach in John Mallee, and he will stick with the team for a while.Epstein said that the other hitting coaches (Rudy Jaramillo, James Rowson Rob Deer, Dale Sveum, Bill Mueller and Mike Brumley) the Cubs have had likely benefited a few of the guys by giving them “different perspectives.” Epstein admitted, “As long as you end up with some consistency entering the next phase, the competitive phase.”

The Cubs actually hired John Mallee to be the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator two years ago and for two days or so he was with the team he always wanted to be a part of. After accepting the hitting coordinator’s job with the Cubs, Mallee interviewed for Major League hitting coach jobs in Houston and Cleveland before accepting the position with the Astros. Mallee is close with Cubs’ bench coach Brandon Hyde and current minor league hitting coordinator Anthony Iapoce. Mallee was the Marlins hitting coach(2010-11) at the same time Hyde was Jack McKeon’s bench coach (2010-11) in Florida.

John Mallee spent time Saturday morning with Bruce Levine and Mike Esposito on Inside the Clubhouse (670 The Score). Mallee talked about his new job and shed light on his hitting and teaching philosophies.

Mallee is very happy to be with the Cubs and the opportunity to learn from Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the rest of the front office. The Astros wanted Mallee to stay and he actually signed a new contract to remain Houston’s hitting coach with one stipulation that if the Cubs, White Sox or Brewers asked to interview him that Houston would allow him to do so. It was extremely important for the Chicago native to be closer to his family. Mallee moved his family back to Chicago in order for his son to attend Mt. Carmel High School. Mallee attended Mt. Carmel and credited the school with shaping his life. Mallee wanted his son to be part of what he called “an amazing place.” After a year at Mt. Carmel, his son did not want to leave. And Mallee received another opportunity to speak with the Cubs when Bill Mueller stepped down.

On what his approach will be with a young roster that struck out too much and did not get on base enough

“Everything that I do is all individualized. I don’t have many group meetings but I do have numerous, numerous individual meetings. During the course of the day when guys will come in, I will say okay, ‘This is what we’ve got today. This is the guy on the mound. This is how he’s got you out in the past,’ the standard pitching match-up history that we have. ‘This is what you’ve done against him. What do you got? And what do you want to do with this today?’ When we get to two, this is his outpitch when he’s been striking you out. This is how he gets you out. Or, this is where you have had your success and we’re going to stay there and make him make an adjustment.

It’s more that than just an overall philosophy. Because everyone knows, ‘Hey, we got to walk more and strikeout less.’ So, stop swinging at bad pitches. That’s not the answer. They are not trying to swing at bad pitches. I think getting them to understand that with two strikes the OPS falls off the map. There is very little damage done with two strikes for most hitters in baseball. So sacrificing power for accuracy and getting them to understand that just by putting the ball in play. When you put the ball in play with two strikes you are going to hit over .300.

We have all of the statistics on these guys. I’m running through them now, learning about each guy, it’s a big study session I am having. But just getting them to understand those type of things, not that Bill [Mueller] didn’t tell them or nobody else told them. But just understanding by putting the ball in play, good things are going to happen. We all know that. And trying to find each guys individual strengths, helping build a plan and approach and not having them have fear that if they take a fastball for a strike on 0-0 that they are going to be out.

Because young hitters, I’ve found this out now, I’ve always had young guys, and the veterans I’ve had whether it was Hanley [Ramirez] or any of those guys I’ve had that have been through it before, they don’t have any fear. Hanley likes the ball out over the plate, so if the first pitch is a fastball inside for a strike, he takes it. He thinks that he didn’t get a pitch in my strength, so I’m not swinging. That’s what selective aggressive hitting is. It is attacking the strength until you get to two strikes and then taking everything else within the strike zone, even if it’s a strike. I think that is how you take pitches. That’s how you work counts and that’s how you end up getting walks. Is by being ready to hit your pitch but being disciplined enough to wait for it. And that is going to be the message.”

On gaining the trust of the players and the players believing what he says

Using Javier Baez as an example, “When Javy comes in the next day, when he comes to the cage I would have already gone through all of his at bats and watched film, I’ve already had it charted and I’ve already gone through it. I’m going to say, ‘What was our approach yesterday? Was it the right one and what adjustments do we need to make?’ That is the only thing we talk about the day before. I know we were going to look here, but I didn’t see it real good off of him and he was going here. With that being said the catcher wasn’t set up there, he was set up here. So that is not how they were trying to get you out. He just missed. We try to log that for the next time we are going to face this guy and then every day we continue to have this dialogue and this talk. I get to think how he thinks and then I can give him suggestions. He’s in the box, he’s got to make adjustments himself, and no one can tell him what to do. But once I start to think along with him and we think along together. Then when I know what he likes and what information he wants. I always treat the players like I wanted to be treated when I was a player. If I walk in there the first day, and let’s say I am the player or the hitter, and the coach says that’s not going to work. And I’m going to be like, ‘And you’ve seen how many at bats of mine?’ That trust is the key. And once they know how hard I work. How prepared I am. How well I know their swing. How I know how everybody gets them out. They are going to see how prepared I am. My job is when they get out of whack is to bring them back when they are established, the Rizzos and those types of guys, but the development of these younger guys is getting them to play team winning baseball, we all know those things, but getting them to be more disciplined in the strike zone and being able to have a plan and an approach against the opposing pitcher. It is really not a ton of mechanical stuff. It’s more approach, confidence and having a plan.”

On his experience with younger hitters and would he consider his expertise being working with young players

“I enjoy teaching and I enjoy learning. I spent a ton of time with the analytics people in Houston and understood launch angles and trajectories and then try to build it into the bio kinetics of how the swing actually works. Not to get too detailed in it, but I will break it down and make it more simple for the player. Being with these young guys I teach, I love to teach, I love to develop swings. I had Miguel Cabrera when he was 16-21 and Michael [Giancarlo] Stanton when he was 17-22 and seeing them grow. Making adjustments with [Jose] Altuve this year where he put in a leg kick for me and changed his approach in the box. That’s the exciting part of all of this. It’s easy to go coach a bunch of established players and they hit or they don’t, but the challenge of this is the talent they [Cubs] have there is beyond belief. I’ve never seen a whole group like that, although Houston has some really talented hitters coming, some that are now in the big leagues, but to be part of this and to be able to teach and sit down and have these talks and have these conversations.

These guys that are coming through the minor leagues now they are with Anthony Iapoce, who is the hitting coordinator there, he’s one of my closest friends in the world and I’ve been with him since 1996. As a player, he played for me and he coached with me. When I took the Houston Astros job, the Cubs asked if he had somebody that understands the program and the plan, and I’ve got the guy. He’s down there right now. So the guys coming up through rookie ball and the way to the big leagues with the same plan and the same way to prepare and those type of things. So I am very fortunate to have that with him.”

On communicating with the front office

“Like any relationship, communication is the key to all of it. I think that the success we had in Houston in the front office there and the analytics people, our ability to communicate and to learn from each other. I would try to get them involved with what we did down on the field. Like in the advanced meetings sometimes I would have them sit in and see how we talked to the players and try to explain to them so they are not just looking at numbers. They can relate numbers to talent and swings and those types of things. That was huge for me because with Jeff Luhnow, who was amazing, and David Stearns, the constant communication.

When I was going to make a mechanical adjustment with Altuve, I talked with them and said these are the areas I think he needs to improve. This is what I am going to do. What do you think? So we were all on the same page and that’s great. He needs to improve on these three areas here. We agree, no problems. I think if you do that then everybody knows what is going on so it’s not like they are sitting up there going, ‘What is going on with this guy? Why does he keep swinging at balls in the dirt?’ or ‘Why does he take every first pitch?’ They are already going to have an idea of what we are all trying to do because at the end of the day it’s not about me getting them right, or anybody. It’s about the product on the field performing and winning a World Series. So whatever that takes, whether it’s Eric Hinske, my assistant hitting coach’s idea or whatever. We are all going to work together. At the end of the day I am going to be the one that gives the presentation to the player, but I am not just going to use my own experiences. I am going to use experiences of everybody else. Take all of the information, sort it out and give the simple instruction to the player.”

Listening to John Mallee talk about hitting was similar to the way Chris Bosio has discussed pitching over the last three years. Bosio does not sugarcoat anything and is extremely cut and dry when it comes to being a Major League pitching coach. Bosio has an excellent reputation while telling his pitchers the way it is without pulling any punches. Maybe the third time around the front office has hired the right hitting coach that will be able to help develop the extremely talented young players coming through the system.