RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: Why check mark has replaced wave as Sox celebration

RED SOX INSIDER

For months, Red Sox hitters waved to the dugout after reaching base, an endearingly goofy practice started by outfielder Franchy Cordero. Over the last several weeks, however, they've made a check mark in the air instead.

So what gives? Allow them to explain.

The practice began after an August conversation in New York between outfielder Kiké Hernández and assistant hitting coach Peter Fatse, who wanted to reward hitters for good at-bats, regardless of results.

Tomase: Old-school baseball will serve Sox well in ALCS

"We started playing a game about quality plate appearances and we started coming up with some ideas," Hernández said. "As a group we came together with a little game and the check mark means you just had a quality plate appearance."

Not every at-bat merits the check mark, which is why you'll still see players wave. The check is reserved for employing good habits in the box, which will generally lead to better results, as the Red Sox showed during the American League Division Series, when they batted .341 with nine homers while eliminating the Rays in four games.

"It's a game within a game," said infielder Christian Arroyo. "It kind of takes away the end results of at-bats. As a hitter, you can go 0 for 4, but you can have four quality at-bats. How can you do that? You can do that by seeing a lot of pitches, by moving a guy over, by hitting a ball hard that just gets caught. So what it did is it just kind of took away from the results-based system of baseball and just let us have fun."

 

The Red Sox were swept in New York while scoring only five runs in three games from Aug. 17-18, including a doubleheader. First baseman Kyle Schwarber had just rejoined the lineup and brought a more patient approach to the order, but the team as a whole was still swinging early and often.

The low point came when retread right-hander Andrew Heaney, in the midst of a terrible season, limited them to two hits and a run over seven innings in the finale. Something had to change to end an offensive slide that had started in early July.

They ranked 21st in walks and fourth in OPS at .765 when they returned home on Aug. 20 and beat the Rangers 6-0. From that point forward, they ranked fourth in walks and second in OPS at .814. They put together better at-bats, and the numbers reflected it.

"We were trying to play a game within a game," Arroyo said. "And what we found was the more quality plate appearances that we strung together as a team, the better games we had had offensively."

No one embodies this approach better than Arroyo. He barely played over the final month after recovering from COVID because the Red Sox were starting Jose Iglesias, who joined the organization too late to be eligible for the postseason.

Arroyo started the wild card game and went 0 for 3, but one of his groundouts left the bat at 108 mph with an expected batting average of .670. That's a quality at-bat.

He likewise hit into a 98 mph out in Game 1 vs. the Rays, but also added a 109 mph single. He finished the series with a .313 average, his belief in process over results earning himself a handful of check marks.

"When I was young, I would rather go 2 for 4 with two broken bat singles or maybe you left a pitch up and I rolled a ball over and got an infield single," he said. "OK, I got my hit, but what I noticed is when I was consistently sticking with my plan and consistently trying to put the ball hard in play, see pitches, swing at strikes, and stay within myself, I noticed that the results you want ended up tending to happen."

Sox-Astros Preview: A lot has changed with Houston since 2018

And thus a celebration was born. Consider it the equivalent of a teacher writing 100 on a paper.

"We were doing the hand wave thing for a while, but we wanted to switch it up," Arroyo said. "The season's long, and for a breath of fresh air we said, 'OK, we'll do the check mark.'"