The Cubs have fired hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, and named James Rowson interim hitting coach
Jaramillo was a bizarre hire for Jim Hendry back during the 2009-2010 offseason, when he received a three-year, multi-million dollar contract. Whoever heard of a huge deal like that for a hitting coach? But that’s how decisions often seemed to be made during the Hendry era – identify the biggest name, and throw money at him.
A few years later, what we’ve found is that the Rangers (with whom Jaramillo made his reputation) have continued to hit as well as if not better than they did when Jaramillo was their coach, and the Cubs have not really seen the kind of results that the Hendry regime hoped for when they spent big on their hitting coach.
Now, I don’t mean to criticize Jaramillo by pointing that out. It’s an open question as to how much influence a hitting coach has on team performance, and I don’t think there’s any evidence for a “magic bullet” type of effect. Epstein seemed to acknowledge as much in his comments yesterday:
“Rudy’s not to blame for the results. That’s something we’re all accountable for. We put the roster together. It’s probably more on us than it is on him. I’m sure a lot of players feel accountable, too. It’s not based on results, it’s more trying to get a new voice with a new message. We have a certain hitting philosophy we believe in and we have a lot of growth that awaits us as an organization.”
I think that, as much as anything, this highlights the difference in approach between the Hendry and Epstein front offices. Hendry seemed to be content to hire people with good reputations and then take a hands-off approach, resulting in a disorganized collection of philosophies and approaches. Epstein, on the other hand, seems far more focused on instituting a single organizational approach. As such, this decision seems to be more about putting the “Cubs way” of doing things into action than it is about punishing Jaramillo for the team’s struggles at the plate.
Rowson, meanwhile, was hired during the offseason as the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator, a job he held the previous four seasons with the Yankees. It’s not clear whether he’s a candidate for the job on a permanent basis, but his task appears to be to focus on plate discipline and pitch selection. As I said, I’m skeptical that a hitting coach can have a major effect, and most likely the Cubs will need to get better hitters if they’re going to have a better offense. The other thing to remember, though, is that instituting a new organizational approach is a long-term project for the front office, and this change needs to be viewed through that lens instead of simply a matter of the team’s current struggles.