Hoerner's Hitting Approach In Maddon's Wheelhouse

Nico Hoerner has a line-drive swing that Joe Maddon appreciates.

Bruce Levine
September 10, 2019 - 9:05 pm
Categories: 

(670 The Score) Beyond a superb start to his MLB career Monday, shortstop Nico Hoerner brought something more to the Cubs' lineup than just three hits and four RBIs.

Listen to your team news NOW.

He also brought an approach that manager Joe Maddon appreciates. Hoerner's first at-bat resulted in a bloop hit to right field for a single. He followed later in the game with a line-drive triple down the left-field line and a line-drive single to center.

The bloop hit was reflective of Hoerner's ability to make contact. The lined hits were the result of a quality swing. While it was only the first impression of what should be a long MLB career for Hoerner, his at-bats were at the heart of what Maddon has been trying to sell to his entire squad since spring training.

Since firing hitting coach John Mallee after the 2017 season, the Cubs have been open about their desire for their hitters to use the entire field. That was the formula that they hoped to implement in hiring Chili Davis as their hitting coach for the 2018 season. As opposed to the launch angle fad across the game, Davis' belief was to use a more level swing to make contact on top of the ball and to use the opposite field with an alley-to-alley approach.

He also suggested a change in philosophy with two strikes, with Davis seeing first baseman Anthony Rizzo as a prime example of how others should adjust their approach later in the count. Rizzo crowds the plate and chokes up on the bat when he's down in the count. Rizzo has a knack for fouling off a pitcher's pitch and also hitting the ball where it's pitched, which can make for longer at-bats that grind the opposition down.

Related: Bernstein: Will Cubs keep Nick Castellanos?

Not enough Cubs players took to that philosophy in 2018, after which Davis was fired in large part because his direct method of communication wasn't well-received. New hitting coach Anthony Iapoce and a more hands-on Maddon have tried to sell the idea of spraying the ball to all fields, with mixed results. Early on in 2019, star shortstop Javier Baez was dominant in part because of his right/right-center field approach. Lately, outfielder Kyle Schwarber has hit to all fields and been hot. 

The approach still hasn't been featured as consistently as Maddon would like, as he has often lamented of late the Cubs' tendency to expand their strike zone and chase pitches. That has made for an inconsistent offense amid a playoff race that saw the Cubs trail the Cardinals by four games in the NL Central entering play Tuesday.

Hoerner's addition won't cure all that ails the Cubs, but his approach is a step in the right direction of what Maddon wants to see.

"He didn't try to pull everything," Maddon told reporters in San Diego after Hoerner's debut Monday. "He didn't try to do too much with it. He's got some nice skills." 

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.