Eager to temper doubts, Deer digs into new role
Assistant hitting coach says career stats not indicative of teaching ability
CHICAGO -- Rob Deer was considering a job as an assistant hitting coach with a big league team and called his former teammate Dale Sveum to get some more information.
"[Sveum] didn't know I wanted to do this," Deer said, "and that's how it started."
The result was Sveum, the Cubs manager, adding Deer to his staff as an assistant hitting coach, reuniting the two who were teammates on the Brewers from 1986-90.
They got to work this week in Mesa, Ariz., with Cubs hitting coach James Rowson, spending time in the batting cages with second baseman Darwin Barney and outfielder Brett Jackson.
"These guys are eager," Deer said about the Cubs players. "Being involved with young players who are talented and want to get better and with a front office that wants to win and a city that wants to win, it's really refreshing. That's the kind of thing I want to be involved with. We just need to put in some time and get them to understand certain situations and certain things. It's been great so far."
Rowson, promoted from Minor League hitting coordinator to take over for Rudy Jaramillo, who was dismissed in June, and Deer know each other from their days together in the Arizona Fall League. This week, they went over their game plan for Spring Training, and Deer said they are on the same page as far as hitting philosophies are concerned.
It might be tough for some to consider Deer an expert on anything but strikeouts and home runs. He led the league in strikeouts four times during 11 seasons with the Giants, Brewers, Tigers, Red Sox and Padres. Deer belted 230 home runs, including a career-high 33 in '86 with Milwaukee.
How can a career .220 hitter with a propensity to swing and miss be a hitting coach?
"I totally understand that," Deer said of the doubters. "But because of the type of hitter I was, that doesn't mean that's the type of hitting coach I am. I never talk about home runs. I believe the last thing a player should think about is hitting a home run.
"I think subconsciously, I knew how to hit .300 and I still know how to hit .300, and because I was a low average type of hitter, that doesn't mean I don't know hitting. I know a lot of phenomenal hitting coaches who never hit in the big leagues."
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer would agree.
"I think mentioning a coach's stats as a player is one of the least useful things you can imagine," Hoyer said. "No one ever mentions Jim Leyland's numbers or Tony La Russa's numbers. I think coaching and playing are two very separate things. Just because a guy happened to strike out a lot or didn't have a high batting average doesn't affect how well he teaches at all.
"I also would note [Deer] was a guy who did get on base and had a lot of power. I don't think a coach's playing background says how he coaches and how he teaches."
Deer, 52, who interviewed after a long day of batting practice and meetings at Fitch Park, recognizes his strengths and weaknesses as a hitter.
"I swung and missed a lot, I was a dead pull hitter, and I knew what I needed to do, but I was stubborn as a hitter and I didn't do things that I knew I was supposed to do," Deer said. "That doesn't mean I teach those things. I understand what it means to be a complete hitter and how to have the best plan when they go up to the plate.
"Part of being a hitting coach is being able to share things and being able to pat somebody on the back and being able to let them know, 'I'm here for you.' I might not be a high average hitter, but I'm a pretty good hitting coach."
This week, he worked on fine-tuning some of the adjustments Jackson has started. The center fielder, who batted .175 in 44 games with the Cubs, has shortened his swing, which will hopefully help cut down on his strikeouts. Last season, he led the Pacific Coast League with 158 strikeouts.
"I think the reason he swung and missed at pitches he did is because his mechanics are off and that happens," Deer said. "You're a young player and trying to find something that works, and at times, it can be frustrating. We tried to stress to him that what happened last year is last year, and it's a new season, it's a new start, let's go from there."
Deer will meet more of the Cubs players on a trip to the Dominican Republic this winter, spending time with Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro and Welington Castillo. He's been impressed so far.
"That's the cool thing about this," Deer said. "Everybody says this locker room is full of kids who are great kids who can play, who are talented. It's a great nucleus to be involved with."
He's the Cubs' first official assistant hitting coach. They've had others on the staff who have helped in the past.
"Candidly, I'm sort of upset, looking back on the years in Boston and San Diego, I feel it's a position I should've added long ago," Hoyer said. "Dale has a long relationship with Rob and speaks incredibly highly of him. Our interactions with him are real positive. We're excited to add him. He can really assist James well and add a nice element to our clubhouse."
Deer and Sveum were teammates with Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio, who pitched for Milwaukee from 1986-92. Any talk about hiring more of their Brew Crew teammates?
"We're trying to get Robin [Yount] involved," Deer said, laughing.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.