Getting to know: Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly
|Friday, November 4, 2022, 9:00 AM- -|
Continuity in baseball is one of the biggest keys to having long-term success. Having a roster filled with players who have played together in the past goes a long way, as there is always that sense of continuity and confidence that comes with it.
Having a coaching staff that stays together is also one of the keys to maintaining a winning franchise, as they know everything about each other, and the team follows suit. One of the biggest issues the Cubs have had dating back to 2017 has been keeping a hitting coach where it seems like they have a new hitting coach each season.
Say what you want about the importance of a hitting coach, but when this team was at its best, they had the same hitting coach for multiple years, which hasn't happened since. Despite the offense showing tons of promise under Greg Brown during the second half of the season, the Cubs are again hiring a new hitting coach. That makes it five different hitting coaches in the last seven seasons, and that is not always easy on hitters.
Unlike when the team went outside the organization to appoint a new hitting coach, the Cubs are at least keeping it in-house and promoting within. That should keep some continuity going as they know what the organization is about and how to relate with the players.
Stepping in for Brown for the 2023 season, hopefully, more will be Dustin Kelly, as he will be the new hitting coach. One of the goals the organization has put in place the last few seasons is to have the hitting side make the same developmental strides as the pitching showed. Because of that, the Cubs have made a change at the top in hopes that the trend can continue.
Kelly is the next man up and is no stranger to the organization and what they expect from a hitting infrastructure. After all, he spent the last two seasons as the Minor League Hitting Coordinator, so he has dealt with many players the Cubs will be counting on. Brown was offered a different position within the Cubs organization, but ultimately chose to pursue a different path with another team.
David Ross has been the Cubs manager for three seasons and will enter his fourth season in 2023. During that time, Ross has had his share of hitting coaches, as Kelly will be the third hitting coach under Ross and eighth in the last 12 seasons for the Cubs. Although the team showed many improvements throughout the season under Brown, Jed Hoyer made it clear that they fell short of their offensive expectations late in the season.
That could be why they moved on from Brown when they did, but no one will ever know the true answer to that. "Our pitching and run prevention stepped forward," Hoyer said. "That was gratifying to see. You never have enough [pitching]. I think we've talked about it year after year. We never have enough. Offensively, even though we played well, we also didn't score enough."
"At times, we were banged up, but that exposed a lack of depth. So, that will be a clear area of focus, ensuring that our run scoring takes a step forward. Because this year, towards the end, even as we were playing well, we were lagging behind a bit."
During the second half, it was the pitching that saved the Cubs. They ranked fifth in the National League with 39 wins and posted the NL's third-lowest team ERA (3.30), trailing only the Dodgers and Braves.
However, the offense made it often difficult to win games as Chicago hit .231/.301/.382, ranking 10th in the NL in wRC+ (93) and OPS (.683) while posting inflated strikeout and whiff rates during that span. Teams can get away with that for a short time, but if that type of offense continues, wins will not be easy, no matter how strong your pitching is.
It is always intriguing when you promote someone from within the organization to overtake a Hitting coach position, especially when they come from the minors. However, when you look at the significant improvements made across the minors this season, there is a lot to like about this promotion.
Guys like Matt Mervis, Alexander Canario, Kevin Alcantara, and Yonathan Perlaza, to name a few, had excellent seasons this year. Kelly deserves a lot of the credit. Before joining Chicago's coaching ranks, Kelly spent three seasons as a hitting coach in the Dodgers' Minor League system. When you look at how the Dodgers offense has been, you can see that Kelly knows what he is doing.
Considering that the Cubs will be counting on many minor league players in the coming years, this may be an excellent move for the Cubs. Not only are they promoting someone who knows the organizational expectations, but they are bringing in someone who was worked with these players and knows how to get the most out of them.