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Mets hitting coach Davis talks mentality in Q&A

January 15, 2019

In a recent phone interview, new Mets hitting coach Chili Davis answered a wide range of questions, from his relationship with Yoenis Cespedes to his hitting How did the job as hitting coach with the Mets come about?Davis: I received a text from someone with the Cubs, and he

In a recent phone interview, new Mets hitting coach Chili Davis answered a wide range of questions, from his relationship with Yoenis Cespedes to his hitting philosophy. How did the job as hitting coach with the Mets come about?
Davis: I received a text from someone with the Cubs, and he told me that the Mets inquired about me. Then I talked to [Mets advisor] Ruben Amaro Jr., who coached in Boston with me. Then I got a call from [general manager] Brodie Van Wagenen. We did the interviews before the Winter Meetings. Then they told me they wanted me to come on board. It worked out that way. What intrigued you about the job?
Davis: To be honest about it, I think the Mets have the makings of a really good team, and the additions that Brodie made has made the team even better. Any time you get an opportunity to work with solid young hitters -- Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Amed Rosario -- [and then] you add Robinson Cano and Wilson Ramos [to the mix], that's intriguing. I think I can work well with young hitters, especially from what I heard from everyone in the organization. The young hitters are eager to learn. They want to get better. That was intriguing in itself.
But I think to cap it off, the pitching staff that they have, it's a strong pitching staff with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler and Jason Vargas. ... When I took the job, I was told the Mets were going to try to make the team a much better team this year. From what I've seen, they have done exactly that. I'm not even counting in my man, Yoenis Cespedes [who will not be back until the middle of the season at the earliest]. If you can give that pitching staff any kind of run support, they will win some ballgames for you. You were with Cespedes during the beginning of his Major League career. What was he like then and what do you know about him now?
Davis: I haven't been around Cespy for some years now. But I got to know about him in Oakland. He is a player with a lot of ability. He can take over a ballgame -- offensively and defensively. He has a really good arm, great speed. He is a five-tool player. When Cespy is on a mission, there is no stopping him regardless of the situation. The bigger the game, the bigger the player he becomes.
He is a good person, too. I got to know him as a person. We built a relationship in Oakland. There was some really good trust between us. He did well with you in Oakland. What was that trust like?
Davis: He came from Cuba. He didn't know me. He didn't know anything about me. During his first time in the States, we had Manny Ramirez during Spring Training. He kind of took to Manny. He knew how great Manny was. Having Manny there helped a lot. But when Manny didn't make the team, Cespy had myself and interpreter Ariel Prieto, who I thought helped a lot as far as getting to know him as well. I think one of the turning points for Cespy and I was he didn't realize that I played as long as I had in the big leagues. One day he asked me how long I played in the big leagues. ... Ariel kind of laughed and said, "Look him up on Google." Cespy did. He came back and was surprised that I played as long as I did. In knowing that I had that experience, the trust level went up. He is a worker. He works real hard. I never had to say, "Cespy, come in the cage. Let's get your work done." I know you were not with the Mets last year, but what would you like to see improve from a statistical standpoint?
Davis: Stats come with consistent performance day in and day out. More so than numbers, I want to help them improve their approaches against the tougher pitchers and the not-so-tough pitchers. In the big leagues, everybody is tough. I'm looking for a day-in and day-out consistency. It's a long season -- 162 ballgames and 30-plus games in Spring Training. It's a long season. The guys are going to have their ups and downs. I think the key is to minimize the down periods that they have, try to play more team baseball offensively ... play with one goal in mind and that's to try to beat the other team. What is your hitting philosophy?
Davis: If you talk to all 30 hitting coaches in the big leagues, their philosophy will be similar. I know there are some changes in the game -- launch angles, keep the ball in the air and stuff like that. I'm trying to help young hitters become more precision-type hitters, not collision-type hitters with power. ... If you have a plan when you are at the plate and you trust the plan in each at-bat, you are going to give yourself a chance to beat a pitcher. ... I think it's more of a mentality than it is a philosophy. I have to ask you this: You were the hitting coach for the Cubs last year. What lessons did you learn from that experience?
Davis: Even though I got fired, I would not say it was a bad experience. I learned a lot there last year. One of the things you learn is that you are not automatically going to get everyone on board with the approach that you like to see. ... I need to be honest with players. Players need to be honest with me and they need to be honest with themselves. The Cubs won 95 games last year and went to the playoffs. They had some guys who were injured, especially Kristopher Bryant. He was out for a long time. That hurt us. I don't think he bounced back from his injury when he came back. It was a learning experience. I can't really describe it. What I learned there, I will use in my approach in the future with young hitters -- just understanding them.
I think the biggest thing was, at the end of the day, as the head hitting coach on any team, you are the guy that is going to be accountable for the hitters. You are the one that is going to be asked questions. Without saying it's my way or the highway, I would like to have everybody on the same page -- players, our staff, everyone. Communication is going to be huge. You have been a hitting coach with the A's, Red Sox and Cubs. Who is the best hitter you ever coached?
Davis: I coached some pretty good hitters -- Jed Lowrie, Josh Donaldson, Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes -- in Oakland. I also had the pleasure of being around Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts [of the Red Sox]. Last year, I had the opportunity to see [Cubs infielder] Javier Baez have a big year. ... I think of the lot, I think pound for pound, I would probably put Mookie Betts at the top of that list. He is a quality player. David Ortiz [was] consistent for a very long time. So you are not surprised that Betts had an MVP season in 2018.
Davis: No, I'm not. I thought he should have won the [American League] MVP [Award] the year that he finished runner-up [in 2016]. I'm not taking anything away from Michael Trout, who is a great player, but I thought Mookie had an MVP year that year. Twenty years ago, you were a member of the 1998 Yankees. How amazing was that team?
Davis: It was just a great team. I emphasize the word team. They were a team. ... Everybody played together. No one was bigger than the team. We had Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius, Tim Raines, who is a Hall of Famer, Jorge Posada, Chuck Knoblauch. We could go on and on. It was a really good well-rounded team. We had great pitching. We had Andy Pettitte, David Cone, David Wells and El Duque [Orlando Hernandez]. It was a well put together team, but it was a team. It played like a team. Is it the best team ever?
Davis: It's the best all-round team I played with. What about the best of all time? The Yankees won 114 games that year.
Davis: All time? That's saying a lot. There are some good teams. The Yogi Berra era won 10 World Series. Joe DiMaggio almost did the same. Those guys were just world champions almost every year. The Yankees put together dynasties in a few eras. The Yankees from the mid '90s to the early 2000s were a dynasty club. That's a pretty tough feat to accomplish. I don't know the next time you will see that happen. How good is it to be back in the Big Apple?
Davis: I'm looking forward to it. I haven't been able to spend a year in New York since 1999. There are a lot of people that I have gotten to know in the New York area. It will give me a chance to be around them. I never coached in New York. I played in New York. I'm looking forward to an exciting season with the Mets. You win in New York and [there's] nothing like winning in New York. There is nowhere else like that.

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.