From the minute Alex Cora was hired as manager of the Boston Red Sox, his team appeared to buy in.
Taking over a team that had won 93 games in back-to-back seasons but had been eliminated in the American League Division Series both times, Cora knew he had to make some changes, especially to the offense.
In MLB Network’s documentary “Alex Cora: The Making of a Champion” that debuted Tuesday, Cora explains to Tom Verducci how he used analytics to immediately inject life into Boston’s offense, starting with Mookie Betts.
“The first thing was, I think the offense,” Cora said. “I let them know, ‘We have to be more aggressive.’ I still remember in the (2017) ALDS to beat the Red Sox, (Brent Strom) the pitching coach for the Astros going over the hitters. ‘Mookie Betts, a lot of bad takes he’s going to take the first pitch strike.’ Fastball right down the middle, pre-determined take.
“I met with Mookie, here in Boston, January 4,” Cora continued, “and I told him, ‘Mookie, I want you to be aggressive. You’re going to lead off from spring training all the way to November. You’re going to stay there.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, are you sure?’ ‘Yeah, you’re going to leadoff. I want teams to grind from pitch one against us because of you. And, by the way, we’re going to face Tampa on Opening Day. Chris Archer is going to throw you a four-seamer right down the middle. I want you to swing at it. Swing hard and hit it out of the ballpark.'”
Three months later, Betts attacked the first-pitch fastball and laced it toward the left-center field wall. Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier tracked it down, though, making a leaping catch at the warning track to retire the eventual AL MVP.
Betts and the Red Sox heeded Cora’s advice and analytical approach en route to a franchise-record 108-win regular season and a World Series title.
As the Red Sox arrive at spring training in Fort Myers with eyes on another title, Cora will look to make even more adjustments to see if Boston can make another leap.
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