A.J. Hinch

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

BOSTON -- Just as a batter can subconsciously play to avoid losing, rather than to win, a manager can operate with a fear of failure. Such an unwitting approach may have contributed to John Farrell’s downfall, and is an area where Alex Cora can set himself apart.

A lot has been written about the value of authenticity in leadership. It’s one thing to have the charisma and conviction needed to land a position of power. It’s another to take over a pressure-cooker job, like manager of the Red Sox, and carry the fortitude to stay true to yourself, continue to let those qualities shine.

Cora did not appear to pull any punches in his days with ESPN. The 42-year-old engaged in Twitter debates with media members and fans. And throughout his baseball life, he showed his colors.

Via Newsday’s Dave Lennon, here’s a scene from 2010 when Cora was with the Mets: 

Last year, Cora spoke out against the league office's rule requiring minorities always be interviewed.

Perhaps most interesting of all, when Chris Sale cut up White Sox jerseys, Cora was Dennis Eckersley-like in his assessment:

“What he did is not acceptable,” Cora said of Sale. “If I’m a veteran guy, I’m going to take exception. if I’m a young guy, I’m going to take exception. Because as a young guy on a team that is actually struggling right now, somebody has to show me the ropes of how to act as a big leaguer. And this is not the way you act as a big leaguer. Forget the trades, forget who you are.

“What you do in that clubhouse, you got to act like a professional. And that’s one thing my agent, Scott Boras, used to tell me when I got to the big leagues: act like a professional. Chris Sale didn’t do it. He’s not showing the veterans that you respect the game. He’s not showing the rookies how to be a big leaguer, and that’s what I take exception to.”

Take out Chris Sale’s name from the above quotation and insert David Price’s. Describes Price's incident with Eckersley perfectly, doesn't it? 

Now, no manager can say what they’re really thinking all the time. Cora’s not in the media anymore. His new job description is different. 

But when you consider the great success of Terry Francona -- and why he succeeded in this market beyond simply winning -- what stands out is how comfortable Francona appears in his own skin. How genuine he seems. 

There is a way to acknowledge, as a manager, when something is off. A way to do so gently but genuinely. A way to say what you feel -- and a way to say what you feel must be said -- while operating without fear of the players you manage. 

Ultimately, most every comment Francona makes is intended to shield his players. But Francona shows his personality as he goes (or if you want to be a bit cynical, he sells his personality marvelously). Those little self-deprecating jokes -- he charms the hell out of everyone. The media, the fans. The Cult of Tito has a real following, because he feels real. Because he is real. 

Farrell was not fake. But he did have a hard time letting his personality come across consistently, to his detriment. He was reserved, in part because that just appeared to be his nature. But the job must have, with time, forced him to withdraw even further. As everything Farrell said (and did) was picked apart in the market, it likely became easiest just to play it safe in every facet -- speaking to the media, speaking to players.

The Sox’ biggest undertaking in 2017 seemed to be a nothing-to-see-here campaign. It was all fine. No David Ortiz, no home runs, no problem. Manny Machado was loved. The media was the problem, not any attitude or attitudes inside the clubhouse. Base running was a net positive -- you name it, none of it was ever tabbed as a problem publicly by the manager, or anyone else.

A perpetually defensive stance was the public image. Issues were never addressed or poorly defused, so questions always lingered.

Maybe Cora cannot admonish Sale as he did a year ago now that he’s managing Sale. Not publicly, anyway. But even as a quote-unquote player's manager, the job still requires authority, which should be doled out just as it was earned: through authentic comments and actions.

"My job as the manager is to set the culture, the expectations, the standards, the baseball," Cora’s present boss, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, said the night the Astros clinched the pennant. "It's the players' job to develop the chemistry.

“And obviously good teams always say that, we want chemistry, and what comes first, the chemistry or the winning. But when you have it, you want to hold on to it as much as possible . . . We've got a good thing going because we have one common goal, we have one common standard, and that's to be your best every day."

Cora has to remain true to his best, too -- not what he thinks, and hears, and reads, people want his best to be.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Cy Young winners Porcello, Keuchel face similar challenges

Cy Young winners Porcello, Keuchel face similar challenges

An American League sinker baller won the Cy Young in a surprise season and had trouble the following year.

In a way, Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young winner, was Rick Porcello before Porcello. Keuchel, the Astros’ ace, went 20-8 that year with a 2.48 ERA and a league-best 232 innings.

Keuchel's follow-up season — during Porcello’s amazing 2016 — was a different story. The lefty Keuchel had a 4.55 ERA and threw 168 innings because of a shoulder injury. 

Astros manager A.J. Hinch sees at least a somewhat shared thread between the last two Cy Young winners in the AL.

“My own theory is that it depends on the style of pitcher, and I think you’re on to something when you talk about sinker ball pitchers or different style pitchers,” Hinch said on the CSNNE Baseball Show Podcast. “When you have a plus-stuff guy, someone who has power with all the strikeouts, or the nasty breaking ball and the Cy Young, you think Clayton Kershaw. You think Max Scherzer. You have this guy that can really out-stuff the opponent. I think that guy has a better chance of repeating. Because he can just outstuff you. He doesn’t have to be perfect in his execution.

“When you have sinker ball guys that rely on execution, command, control — maybe the hitter chasing outside the strike zone — I think it’s interesting to look at Dallas’ year last year and maybe Porcello’s year this year as someone who’s trying to repeat behavior. And they’re trying to be perfect. And they might change their approach a little bit. Maybe even subconsciously to be a little more fine with their command, or be a little bit more careful trying to avoid contact. 

“That can alter, you know, your competitive state in a lot of different ways. And I think Dallas went through that last season, where he tried to repeat being Dallas Keuchel as opposed to relying on his stuff inside the strike zone with movement to get the outs. For Dallas, it turned into walks. For Porcello, it’s been a little bit more balance getting right-handed hitters or left-handed hitters out. I think that’s changed a little bit.”

Lefties had a .600 OPS vs. Porcello in 2016, while righties had a .672 OPS. This year, both have an .841 OPS vs. Porcello.

The Red Sox have been working with Porcello to regain the depth on his sinker, which has taken on more side-to-side movement at times. That can be effective in itself, if employed in such a way that it starts on the plate and moves off the plate to righty hitters. But righty hitters can’t be too comfortable in the box for that to be the case.

Sinker ballers in general have a hard time these days, because batters focus more on lifting the ball and launch angle and upper cuts.

“We were glad that the the strike zone didn’t get altered, I can tell you that,” Hinch said. “We didn’t want it to be raised. That would be very difficult for sinker baller pitchers. It’s hard to go north and south as a sinker baller. A lot of times, you’re talking about east and west in the strike zone. You’re talking about balls running down and in. But the part about being a sinker baller I don’t think gets talked enough about: you have to locate east and west as well as getting the ball below the zone. 

“The style of swings nowadays, with everybody upper cutting and the launch angle of getting the ball in the air, has created a small disadvantage. … You’re going to start with the premise that you’re going to get underneath the ball, and if those balls are elevated at all, we know hard a low fastball can get hit when it’s a little bit up in the bottom part of the strike zone. 

"I think the east-west part is going to be how sinker ball pitchers end up combatting the hit-, launch-angle era.”

SUBSCRIBE TuneIn | Apple Podcasts | Stitcher | Spotify

PODCAST: Astros manager AJ Hinch talks about upcoming "measuring stick" series with the Red Sox

baseball-show-pod.png

PODCAST: Astros manager AJ Hinch talks about upcoming "measuring stick" series with the Red Sox

CSNNE.com Insider Evan Drellich talks with Houston Astros Manager A.J. Hinch about the upcoming weekend series with the Red Sox, how he handles his bullpen and lineup, and comparing sinker ball pitcher Dallas Keuchel and Rick Porcello.

SUBSCRIBE TuneIn | Apple Podcasts | Stitcher | Spotify