Chili Davis was fired as Mets hitting coach in May, but his contract with the club didn’t officially expire until Oct. 31.
Now free of that contract, the 61-year-old Davis, during a 45-minute interview with The Post this week, offered a candid assessment of his firing, the organization and what he views as a misguided application of analytics.
Davis’ strongest words were reserved for former acting general manager Zack Scott, who was recently fired from the job following his Aug. 31 arrest for DWI (he has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting a Dec. 8 trial). It was Scott who fired Davis and assistant hitting coach Tom Slater on May 3, replacing them with Hugh Quattlebaum and Kevin Howard, both of whom were working in player development roles.
The Mets never got rolling, averaging only 3.93 runs per game for the season, which ranked 27th in MLB. The team finished 77-85, third in the NL East after leading the division for 103 days. After the season, Luis Rojas was ousted as manager, and within the staff only pitching coach Jeremy Hefner is guaranteed a return. Davis said the Mets’ problems run much deeper.
“That organization needs a big turnaround, they need to clean house,” Davis said. “Some of the people that have been there so long during those dismal years, they need to bring some fresh faces and baseball people in there. To be honest I don’t think Zack Scott was a baseball person. He was the head of analytics in Boston. He was an analytical guy. That’s where he belonged, in analytics.”
The Mets were only 24 games into the season, struggling offensively, when Davis and Slater were fired. The previous two seasons the team had been strong offensively, including the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when the Mets led MLB with a 121 OPS-plus. The statistic takes into account league and ballpark factors – in this case the Mets were 21 percent better offensively than the average MLB team, which carried a 100 OPS-plus.
Davis spent that season working remotely because of COVID-19 concerns but was involved in pregame planning and held Zoom calls with players to discuss what he was seeing in their individual approaches.
Quattlebaum, who arrived last offseason from the Mariners as Mets director of hitting development (overseeing the minor league hitters), preached process over results, echoing comments from Scott in announcing the firings of Davis and Slater. The Mets finished this season with an OPS-plus of 94.
“I was told it’s not about the results, it’s about the process,” Davis said. “Well, if the process doesn’t produce positive or good results, then the process is worthless, because it’s not a good process. The process is making your players better. It’s a bullcrap statement to tell me it’s not about the results, it’s about the process.
“How did the process work out [with Quattlebaum]? That’s my question. How well did the process work? It’s not about the results, so how did the process work, because everybody could see the results. There is a wine in Napa called ‘Brilliant Mistake.’ I almost bought a case of it to distribute it. Brilliant.”
Even so, Davis acknowledged that Quattlebaum and Howard were placed in a difficult spot, taking over during the season. But he’s certain the Mets fortunes would have been different if he and Slater were allowed to continue.
“I don’t think Michael Conforto would have struggled, I don’t think Dom Smith would have struggled like that, I don’t think [Jeff] McNeil would have struggled the way he did, because we had built a relationship based on trust with these guys,” Davis said. “They trusted us and we communicated with them well, and I think throughout the year we would have managed to get them on track, doing what they do. And I think it was somewhat unfair to the Quattlebaum-Howard duo, to bring them in when they did, because they didn’t know anything about the players. It was just a bad decision.”
Scott declined comment when reached by The Post.
Davis was more cryptic when discussing the Mets clubhouse but indicated the vibe changed in 2021.
“There’s some players that are going to be there that, are they good for the team? Are they team players?” Davis said. “I know the guys we had in 2019 and ’20 – that was a good team. It was on its way, it needed some pieces and they started to put the pieces together, but they had a good core of players. McNeil was an All-Star, Conforto was getting better, Dom Smith was getting better, J.D. Davis was getting better, Petey [Alonso] was becoming Petey and [Amed] Rosario had a big year in ’19 for us and the kid [Andres] Gimenez was coming around last year.”
Davis, who has also served as a hitting coach with the Athletics, Red Sox and Cubs following a 19-year major league career in which he hit 350 homers, said he wants to set the record straight: He is not anti-analytics. But he also believes the Mets’ methodology was amiss.
He cited a game the Mets played on April 20 with Jake Arrieta as the starting pitcher for the Cubs. Davis said he was presented information from the analytics staff suggesting the veteran right-hander would use his changeup only seven percent of the time. Davis recalled the Mets facing Arrieta twice the previous season and receiving far more changeups. That included a Sept. 15, 2020 start in which Arrieta used the pitch 32 percent of the time, according to Statcast. On this night in Chicago, he threw the pitch 14.7 percent of the time, per Statcast, double what Davis had been told to expect.
“I challenged [the analytics staff] and asked where their information was coming from,” Davis said. “They said, ‘Well, we were looking at his last three starts.’ It was the beginning of the year and he had pitched twice against Pittsburgh and once against [Milwaukee]. It had nothing to do with the Mets. Maybe he didn’t use his changeup that much against those other guys. I challenged that and I was right. I don’t think that was taken very lightly.
“I look at analytics as information. It could be good information, but am I going to coach solely with analytics? No. Because numbers and computers and machines have a place, but when you are dealing with human beings and you are a hitting coach or pitching coach or any kind of coach, you have to deal with personalities, you have to deal with emotions sometimes. You have to deal with some guys’ psyche. I am saying that as a former player.”
Davis said he had a good relationship with Rojas but felt badly for the manager because the front office pre-scripted so much of the game for him.
“I was in some meetings and the lineups were already built for the day,” Davis said. “I don’t know how much input [Rojas] had in building the lineup each day, but I think that’s something even if the analytical people are involved, the manager and his staff should have some input. When you think about it, we are the ones in the batting cages with the hitters every day. We know their thoughts, we know what they feel, I hear what they grumble about, I know what they say and the same thing goes for the pitching coach and the other coaches. We’re around them every day, so the input we have would be valuable in building a lineup.”
Davis still hopes to return as a major league hitting coach – he said he’s been in touch with at least one team with an opening – but is disappointed it ended so badly with the Mets. He said he respects owner Steve Cohen but isn’t sure the organization is following the right path.
“I believe in my heart Steve Cohen wants to win and I know in his business analytics are big,” Davis said. “He’s a hedge-fund guy and analytics are big in that business and they should be because you are dealing with numbers every day. Just like baseball, you are dealing with numbers, but you are also dealing with a lot of human element in baseball. You don’t ever feel the same as a player every day, even when you are hot. Even when you are swinging good. You don’t walk to the ballpark every day and feel the same.”
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