How David Ross plans to help Cubs offense take the next step
Sitting around on barstools talking sports isn’t a thing during COVID and even before the pandemic, when was the last time anybody gathered around a literal water cooler to talk about last night’s game?
But it takes just a few minutes on social media or a simple text to a Cubs fan to understand how the market feels about the team’s offense as the lineup’s inconsistency was a hot topic all year.
David Ross put it more succinctly:
“We didn’t hit.”
He has uttered that exact phrase before, including after his team was knocked out of the playoffs by the Miami Marlins on Oct. 2.
When he said it again Wednesday during his offseason Zoom with reporters, Ross expanded a bit more:
“We didn’t hit and we gotta look ourselves in the face and make adjustments and be better,” he said.
The key lies in those “adjustments.”
The Cubs don’t want to put too much stock into the numbers and statistics from a shortened season and a very strange year. But they also acknowledge some of these offensive inconsistencies have been an ongoing trend over the last few years.
This winter, the Cubs are evaluating how they can change up their offensive message. They’re not putting it all on the players — from Jed Hoyer’s front office to Ross’ coaching staff, everybody is working to take a step forward.
“I feel like we’ve gone over our deficiencies offensively with this group a lot,” Hoyer said earlier this month. “Everyone knows what they are and we have to do a good job of trying to adjust those things.”
That’s where Ross comes in and his ability to lean on experience and knowledge gathered from 15 years in the big leagues as a player.
The Cubs are shaking up their run production team, promoting Nate Halm to the scouting department and adding former outfielder Jim Adduci as run production coordinator. Chris Valaika — who played for the Cubs in 2014 and served as the team’s minor league hitting coordinator for the last two seasons — has been named the assistant hitting coach alongside Anthony Iapoce on Ross’ staff.
“Val’s going to be a big piece for us,” Ross said. “He’s got some relationships already in the organization and dealt with these guys for a long time.
“We’ve pointed out the concerns and where we want to clean up some areas — whether it’s commanding the strike zone, putting the ball in play a bit more, being on the attack.
“…These guys got pretty good resumes and a lot of them had down years. I think the main focus is to clean up some of the areas where we feel we can improve and help us win and still let it all play out with the group of guys we have. We have a really talented team as it stands.”
Ross doesn’t want to give away exactly what the Cubs’ training methods will be or what specific adjustments they will make as an organization, but he sees clear room for improvement in some areas they can control.
“I definitely believe there are better ways that we can train,” Ross said. “That’s where my focus is — how to train to get better in the areas where we’re weak. These guys put in the work.
“Let’s find the tools and the drills that can help these guys be better when they step out there on the field and be ready for velocity or spin or plan of attack, approach — putting all those things together and a commitment to that. That’s the area I’m focused on.
“Our talent level is through the roof. We’ve got great talent. I think some of the game has sped up on us in areas and I think we can train a little bit better or in a unique way that could make us better.”
There is still plenty to be decided in the MLB offseason and in regards to the Cubs’ roster for next year. Ross acknowledged he has spent most of his energy thus far on the overall offensive philosophy and plan but he also conceded that as of right now, he plans to head into 2021 with Ian Happ as the team’s leadoff hitter.
Bringing stability to the leadoff spot for the first time since Dexter Fowler left would go a long way to helping the rest of this Cubs lineup settle in. Happ posted a .333 on-base percentage with an .819 OPS in 37 starts atop the order in 2020.
“I think Ian’s earned that right for now unless there’s an acquisition we make that would change anything where you get a true, proven leadoff hitter,” Ross said. “I like Happer in a lot of spots. … I’ve talked to him multiple times on where he likes to hit. It doesn’t seem to faze him either way.
“I think he’s going to be good with whatever but as it would lay out right now, he’s probably the guy I would slot in that spot.”