Times sure have changed. Rob Deer was long a punchline in baseball circles. The walking embodiment of the steroid era, had it only happened fifteen years earlier. Deer compiled voluminous strikeouts when striking out was oh so gauche.
So prolific was Deer’s whiffing the he failed to double the league average strikeout rate just once his career, when he cut his K rate to a career low 27.6% in 1988 (league average in those days sat around 15%.) Even now, when selling out for power is all but standard practice, the high water mark for contact in Deer’s career would have ranked him among the ten highest K rates in 2012.
He lumbered and didn’t field but he smacked taters and it kept him employed for eleven seasons, earning him a full pension as one of the earliest Three True Outcome prototypes. His prolific power swing netted him 230 career home runs and now netted him a job as the Cubs assistant hitting instructor.
To baseball fans of a certain vintage, Rob Deer is unfairly maligned. Those of us weaned on the value of bunts and smallball didn’t recognize the value Deer produced until The Great Awakening of the Internet. His career line is very similar to what Mark Reynolds posted in 2012, which makes sense as they are two sluggers cut from a very similar TTO cloth.
While some point to the publication and wide adoption of “Moneyball thinking” as the advent of on base percentage as a relevant statistic, the 4500 plate appearances given to Rob Deer in the mid-eighties suggests the pre-Internet stat nerd era of baseball wasn’t quite the Dark Age we imagine. Front offices recognized then what just about everyone recognizes now: players like Rob Deer and Mark Reynolds, when used correctly and paid fairly, are useful pieces for any baseball team.
Deer spent the last eight seasons as a roving instructor in the Padres system. His new, non-uniformed job with the Cubs helps batters prepare for games – which sounds about perfect for a player with a career 12% walk rate. His role is not a new one within the Cubs organization, as they have long been one of the growing group of teams using more than one hitting instructor. Like any good teacher or coach, Deer must step outside his own comfort zone to better serve the players on his new team. As he said in an interview years ago (via Harry Pavlidis) “I don’t want them to hit like I did.”
The Cubs, free swingers one and all in 2012, will benefit from Deer’s “patient aggressiveness” edicts, though we shouldn’t expect Starlin Castro to suddenly lead the league in walks. No hitting coach would ever attempt to make over an entire roster in his own image. But another voice speaking to this rebuilding team, helping them formulate game plans and keeping an eye on tendencies, is never a bad thing.