Red Sox

Cora wants to see quick changes in Red Sox hitting approach

cp-spark-red-sox-cora-022218x.jpg
AP Photo

Cora wants to see quick changes in Red Sox hitting approach

FORT MYERS, Fla.  -- At Fenway Park at least, there may be no need to implement silly mechanisms to increase pace of play. Alex Cora’s vision for the Sox offense could speed us along.

The Sox of yore strove to work counts for the sake of booting a starter out of the game early. A higher pitch count made it easier to get into a presumably weaker bullpen.

The difference now is manifold. For one, relievers are simply better. 

MORE RED SOX

“We used to wait them out. But that was 10 years ago, 13 years ago,” Cora said Thursday morning, before the Red Sox first exhibition game of the spring. “It's been a while. It's a different game. I had a conversation with Mikey [Lowell] about that. I was like, ‘Mikey, the starters, they go four or five innings.’

“[They don’t] bring in the 87-88 [mph] cutter/sinker/breaking ball guy. Now the guy in the sixth inning is 97 with a great off-speed pitch, secondary pitch. I'm a big believer when you get to that starter, if you can get him right away, get him. Either he'll get you or you'll get him.”

And everyone is very directly trying to "get” one another. Attack plans are both more deliberate and more easily accessible these days. The proliferation of analytics has led to better scouting reports. Waste pitches may still be thrown with some sense of purpose, but there is a trend toward maximizing efficiency. See Chris Sale, who has talked a lot about the need to reduce wasted pitches -- not necessarily the same as a purposeful pitch outside of the zone , but still in the same vein. You don't necessarily need a fastball to set up your amazing curveball, or may not need it as frequently.

The best offense in the majors in 2017 belonged to the world champion Astros, and they saw the second fewest pitches per plate appearance of anyone in the majors, 3.78. Cora was their bench coach.

MORE BASEBALL

Now, you can still have a great offense and work counts. The team the Astros beat in the American League Championship Series, the Yankees, had 3.98 pitches per plate appearance in the regular season, the second-most. The Red Sox were seventh, at 3.94.

Another effect rooted in the same causes: Lineup construction doesn’t mean quite as much. A left-right balance may be helpful throughout the regular season, at least, but it doesn’t have to drive the boat.

“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter,” Cora said. “You put the best lineup out there. I hate to bring up last year, because I want turn the page, but you saw what happened at the end. We had five righties [in the Astros lineup consecutively], it didn’t matter. If you can hit, you can hit. 

“They’re good hitters. Throughout the minor leagues, you face lefties and righties and all of a sudden, your first month in the big leagues and you can’t hit lefties. I never got that. Probably have to make that decision later on, but it doesn’t matter.”

ALSO ON NBCSPORTSBOSTON.COM

Lineup protection isn’t a priority, either, from the sound of it.

“I believe in lineup construction, that’s most important,” Cora said recently. “You’ve got David [Ortiz] and Manny [Ramirez], you pick your poison. You’ve got Miguel [Cabrera] and Victor [Martinez], you pick your poison. You decide when to challenge who at certain times. But I think it’s making that lineup long enough to keep putting pressure on the opposition. 

“The way the league is pitching sometimes, it doesn’t matter who is hitting behind you. It’s a matter of how they attack you. There are certain teams [where] this is how you’re going to attack this guy, regardless of the situation, and they’re going to go there. If they walk him, they walk him. And if they strike him out, they strike him out. If they put together a good at-bat and they get on base, so be it. It’s a lot different because of the way stats are attacking guys. So for me, it’s all about construction."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Latest reports on MLB negotiations don't bode well for 2020 season

Latest reports on MLB negotiations don't bode well for 2020 season

While the NBA gears up for a reported return in late July, Major League Baseball is still stuck in neutral.

MLB has rejected the MLB Players Association's proposal for a 114-game season in 2020 and doesn't plan to make a counter-offer, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich reported Wednesday.

The sticking point appears to be around player pay: The players agreed to prorated 2020 salaries in March but called for no additional salary cuts in their latest proposal, per The Athletic. MLB's proposal to the union last month, meanwhile, called for a "50-50 revenue split" between owners and players in an 82-game season.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

According to The Athletic, MLB is considering a season with as few as 50 games in front of no fans as a potential option but has not proposed that scenario to the union.

Yet multiple players recently told ESPN's Jeff Passan they're opposed to a shorter season, with one telling Passan, "We want to play more games, and they want to play less. We want more baseball."

The New York Post's Joel Sherman summed up the current state of negotiations Wednesday in a rather depressing tweet.

All hope isn't completely lost for the 2020 MLB season to happen amid the coronavirus pandemic, however. SNY's Andy Martino suggested MLB declining to counter the players' proposal could just be a negotiating tactic as the sides attempt to find common ground.

Still, it doesn't appear the league and the players are close to finding that common ground. And considering the Boston Red Sox had already played 59 regular-season games by this point last year, time is running out.

UPDATE (4:23 p.m. ET): MLB Network's Jon Heyman is a bit more optimistic about the league and the players working things out:

MLB's Top 100 players for 2020 season: Part 3, Numbers 50-26

MLB's Top 100 players for 2020 season: Part 3, Numbers 50-26

With MLB players and owners struggling to come to terms on a return-to-play strategy for 2020, we're focusing on the actual players who will take the field when games eventually get back underway.

Over the next several weeks, NBC Sports Boston is counting down the Top 100 players for 2020. While our list won't include several aces who will definitely not play this season — Noah Syndergaard of the Mets, Luis Severino of the Yankees, and Chris Sale of the Red Sox — our countdown includes many other All-Stars.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

Red Sox closer Brandon Workman kicked off our list at No. 100, and our next group of 25 players included Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez.

As we continue our countdown and move into the Top 50, we find J.D. Martinez, who has broken out into a feared hitter after a slow start to his career. Released by the Astros before the 2014 season, he remade his approach, flourished with the Tigers and now has made back-to-back All-Star teams with the Sox. 

Now 32, he's an established veteran, but it's also possible the late bloomer is only early in his prime years. So where does he land on our Top 100?

Click here for Part 3 of our countdown of MLB's Top 100 players.