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Cubs fire hitting coach Chili Davis year after seeking new voice, style

It appears launch angle is making a comeback on the North Side.

A year after making a shift in their organizational hitting philosophy, the Cubs fired hitting coach Chili Davis this week and now seek a better fit for still-developing young hitters who had trouble at times adapting to a more all-fields, less-launch-emphasis approach.

“Our offense broke,” team president Theo Epstein said, addressing the Cubs’ Achilles heel last week after a quick exit from the playoffs. “Somewhere along the lines. So, of course, there’s going to be a thorough examination, and, of course, we’re going to spend all of our energy trying to fix it. And fixing it.”

Epstein was quick to accept blame, adding, “This is not on the coaches.”

The Cubs fired hitting coach Chili Davis. John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

Davis seemed well-liked and fit in quickly on Joe Maddon’s coaching staff with a manager he has known for decades.

But it’s questionable how well the former All-Star and 19-year big-league hitter and his style fit with a young power-hitting core after three years drawing walks and hitting homers under the influence of hitting coach John Mallee.

“He worked his tail off to make guys better, and so in that respect, he did everything that we asked of him,” Epstein said when talking about Davis and the goal “to sort of finish the development of our hitters,” including using all fields. “The goal was never to sacrifice power or, in my opinion, launch angle. It’s not a fad. The bottom line is line drives and balls in the air are way more productive than ground balls.”

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It’s probably no accident that two of the most veteran hitters on the roster, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward, had the smoothest transition and strongest working relationships with Davis, both improving on their 2017 production.

The Cubs’ offensive numbers were similar to last year’s, despite their best hitter, Kris Bryant, spending four months hampered by a shoulder injury.

But it was a feast-or-famine lineup all year, and it slumped in the second half.

“Something happened to our offense in the second half,” Epstein said. “We stopped walking, stopped hitting home runs, stopped hitting the ball in the air.”

As Anthony Rizzo said when asked during the final homestand about the challenge of hitting into a right-side infield shift: “I’m not worried about that. I’m trying to hit the ball over the shift.”

The Cubs scored one or no runs in 39 of their 164 games this season, counting their 13-inning wild-card loss to the Rockies — including 20 of the final 66.

In the end, the front office’s decision seems less about scapegoating Davis than about continuing to search for how to get the best out of a young group of hitters — and quickly, while a competitive window remains open.

NOTE: Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde was among the first candidates the Texas Rangers interviewed in their search to replace fired manager Jeff Banister.