Jed Hoyer said Tuesday that the coaching staff wasn’t fully settled, though he did not offer any specifics beyond “a number of people are exploring different things.” The Cubs have already changed hitting coaches for the second time in as many years, so it seemed really unlikely another major change was coming. But according to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, that’s exactly what is happening.
“As of last night, I’m pretty sure Jim Hickey is not back,” Rogers told ESPN 1000’s David Kaplan. “And so this is an amazing turn of events. They will be firing the pitching and hitting coach in back-to-back years. Just crazy. So I don’t believe Jim Hickey is back, I’m pretty much reporting that at this moment. It’ll be interesting who replaces him.
“There’s a chance that there’s a guy out in San Francisco, Curt Young. He was the pitching coach for the Red Sox in 2011, Theo’s last year. They blew it up, he went back to the West Coast, he was a pitching coach for the A’s and the Giants.
“This is totally my guess…if they want Curt Young, is the Giants have had nobody in charge. You gotta ask permission to talk to him.”
Wow, that is certainly something. The Cubs’ pitching staff was widely viewed as the strength of the team last season, even in light of the major disappointments with both big free agent signings. And unlike with Chili Davis, there weren’t any major rifts between Hickey and his charges. At least not publicly. And Hickey was a Joe Maddon guy from their many years together in Tampa.
But the Cubs’ overall walk rate went up from 9.1 percent and 3.44 BB/9 in 2017 to 9.9 percent and 3.79 BB/9 under Hickey. The bullpen actually improved ever so slightly, which means the real culprit in all this is probably Tyler Chatwood. Still, it’s a poor reflection on Hickey, a coach who had been known for his pound-the-zone mentality.
As Rogers notes, this is a pretty shocking turn of events all things considered. Those close to the situation could likely point to things behind the scenes over the course of the season, but Theo Epstein has been pretty clear about creating a winning mentality and providing the proper atmosphere in which players can make the most of their talent. It sounds as though Hickey may not have been the best man to get that done.
I suppose we could also speculate as to what this means about the relationship between Maddon and a front office that may be looking to exert a little more control over things. If Hickey is indeed replaced by a “Theo guy,” which is sort of what happened with bringing in Anthony Iapoce as hitting coach, there’s a sense that the staff is being remade more in Epstein’s image than Maddon’s.
Total speculation there, though, so feel free to call me a fool for even mentioning it. Expect official word on this one way or the other before long, as the Cubs surely won’t want it just hanging out there.