Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

Red Sox Report: Alex Cora provides further proof that he's not John Farrell

John Tomase
February 22, 2018 - 11:51 am

Spring training games start on Thursday afternoon against Northeastern. That means we've had a couple of weeks to get know new Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

Before the NU game, he addressed a number of topics that helped shed further light on his managerial style. Here are some observations.

-- He doesn't believe left-right balance is a requirement when constructing a batting order, which is a noted shift from predecessor John Farrell, who believed alternating right and left made it difficult for opposing managers to play the matchup game out of the bullpen.

"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 and it didn't matter. If you can hit, you can hit."

Cora was referring to his powerhouse Astros, who eliminated the Red Sox in a four-game ALDS last October. At times in that series, they started five straight righties in their batting order (George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Evan Gattis).

-- Speaking of lineups, batter-pitcher matchups are no longer simply a matter of batting average against. The analytics have grown so advanced, they include swing paths and launch angles and underlying values that make the result almost irrelevant. Cora calls these "NASA numbers" and cites an example from his own career when he played under Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

"It doesn't have to be about history," he said. "Tito used to play me against Padilla – you remember Vicente Padilla? – he would play me, and I was never comfortable in the batter's box. I thought he was an awful at-bat. But because I was 5-for-7, he'd play me. But it was a bleeder here, a bleeder there, but that doesn't mean it was a productive advantage for the hitter. So, there's more to lineup configuration."

Cora's memory is pretty spot-on, by the way. He went 5-for-8 vs. Padilla to start his career, and then 1-for-12 to end it. That 6-for-20 works out to a .300 average, but clearly the discomfort he felt in the box eventually caught up to him.

-- The days of working pitch counts are over. The emergence of power arms at every level of the bullpen has made the approach counter-productive. Cora reflected on the change with former teammate Mike Lowell, who is in camp this week.

"We used to wait them out," Cora said. "But that was 10 years ago, 13 years ago. It's been a while. It's a different game. I had a conversation with Mikey about that. I was like, 'Mikey, the starters, they go four or five innings. It's not that you bring in the 87-88, 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."

No team took the first pitch more than the Red Sox last year, and they went on to hit .257 with a .746 OPS in those 5,012 plate appearances. The Astros, by comparison, hit .304 with an .867 OPS when swinging at the first pitch. The Red Sox hit .259 with a .698 OPS during plate appearances when they swung at the first pitch.

The Astros put the first pitch in play more than any team last year, and they made opponents pay, hitting .382 with 55 homers in 794 plate appearances. The Red Sox ranked dead last in this category, putting 505 first pitches in play and hitting just .316 (28th in baseball) and dead last in homers (17).

-- It's unclear where Cora stands on bunting, because he doesn't want to tip his hand, but it's worth noting the Astros tied for third to last in the AL with 11 sacrifices last year. The Red Sox finished last with nine.

"It depends," Cora said. "I saw firsthand how it works. And I've seen firsthand how people stay away from it and it works, too. It all depends, where you're at, who's pitching, where your bullpen is. We'll play it. But we can't tell (Rays manager Kevin Cash) Cashy and all those guys what we're going to do."

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