By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) Who is John Mallee and why is he the Cubs’ new hitting coach? A shorter answer is he actually was a Cubs hitting instructor for two days in late 2012 before becoming the Astros’ hitting coach for the past two years.
“The team interviewed me for the minor league coordinator position, and I took the job,” Mallee said. “I also had a chance to be the Yankees coordinator and turned it down. I wanted to be a Cub. I told my dad 20 years ago I would coach for the Cubs one day. The paperwork was getting done when the Astros and Indians both asked for permission to interview me for the big league hitting job. I went with Houston. The Cubs’ Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod were all great about it. That is where this all started.”
Epstein and Co. called to the Astros on Tuesday for permission to talk to Mallee about their open job after Bill Mueller resigned as hitting coach earlier this week.
“I loved working with the Astros, and they were great about granting permission to the Cubs,” said Malle, a Chicago native. “They knew I wanted to be close to home. I did not want to leave. They wanted me to stay, but for an opportunity like this, they were great.”
The 45-year-old former Mallee, a former minor league player, is from the southeast side of Chicago and attended Mt. Carmel High School. He will be entering his fifth season as a big league hitting coach. Mallee was also the batting coach for the Marlins in 2010 and 2011 before his two-year stint with the Astros, where he worked with a plethora of young players.
What is Mallee’s mantra for working with hitters?
“We are all concerned with allowing a player to follow a path, but if you look at the improvement of (Astros) Chris Carter and Jose Altuve, for example, my job as a hitting coach is to take what they do and make them more efficient at it,” Mallee said. “We work with their strengths to make them better. We will not try to make them clones and have them all hit the same way. At the end of the day, we take what they do and make them more efficient.”
Mallee worked with power hitters such as Miguel Cabrera Giancarlo Stanton in Florida (where he was a hitting instructor in the minor leagues prior to his time on the big league staff) and young power guys like Carter and George Springer in Houston. The best example of his success came this season, with Altuve winning the batting title.
How does a player go from being good to great? On Mallee’s watch, Altuve raised his batting by more than 50 points and his OPS by nearly 100 points.
“I met with Jose in spring training and told him two things had to improve — your ability to hit offspeed pitches and your strike zone discipline,” Mallee said. “I told him those are the two down areas you have. He said, ‘Why are they that way and how am I going to fix it?’ I told him he did not stay in motion, and he strides too early to his toe. Mechanically, he was not ready. He was drifting and sliding. His plan had to change in the box. We asked him where he hit the ball the best. He said down the middle when in reality it was middle in. I told him we would need to put a leg kick in to keep him in motion.He had no fear of changing, and he did it.”
The Cubs hitters struck out a franchise record 1,477 this past season (9.1 times per game) to lead all of baseball in the swing-and-miss department, an area that reportedly concerned the front office.
How will Mallee approach it?
“Talking with my new superiors, I can tell by the talent that is here it is going in the right direction,” Mallee said. “I can’t believe this is happening with all the talent they have. With the experience I have, I think this is a great fit. I can’t wait to get going.”
“Players don’t care how much you know. They first want to know how much you care. My job is to get them ready at seven o’clock to attack the opposing starter and their bullpen. Whatever it takes to get that done, I have to make sure I do that. My work the night before, looking at all the at-bats determines my readiness to help each guy have a fresh plan of attack that next day.”
Mallee will be he Cubs’ fourth hitting coach since Epstein was hired on Oct. 21, 2011.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.