Bradford: Unlike 6 years ago, Red Sox embracing this wave of change

Rob Bradford
March 16, 2018 - 12:03 pm

USA Today Sports

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Remember 2012? That was the spring training everything the Red Sox players thought they knew got completely turned upside down. 

From home run highlights on a loop in the clubhouse to the kind of unorthodox on-field strategy that paved the way for March confrontations. By the time Patriots' Day game around in April, you had Dustin Pedroia's proclamation regarding his manager Bobby Valentine saying, "I don't really understand what Bobby is trying to do, but that's not the way we go about it here. I'm sure he'll figure that out soon."

Moral of the story: Changes can often times be really, really uncomfortable.

Flash forward to what has been going on throughout this Red Sox camp. A case could be made that there are as many alterations this time around as there was when the Sox pushed Terry Francona's way of doing things in the rear-view mirror six years ago. But there certainly seems to be an acceptance that there wasn't with the Valentine regime. (John Farrell's methods were perceived to be a return to the Francona philosophy.)

Why? A younger core, perhaps. Maybe it's simply the acceptance by all involved that baseball is evolving at a faster pace than ever before. And then there is the reality that, despite back-to-back division titles, there was a thirst for some change, which really wasn't the case from the players' perspective after the 2011 collapse.

"We're making adjustments as an organization and I don't expect them to accept every idea, but it takes time to actually implement them. Little by little, we've been able to accomplish a few things," Cora said. "It's a work in progress. I know that people might take it the wrong way, hopefully by Game 40 of the season … We're going to be up and running right away, but obviously making adjustments throughout the process, hopefully by Game 40 we're full blast. But if you say that in Boston …

"It's a work in progress. Think about it, they've been doing things here since '04 one way, except for one year. And I understand that. But it's what we feel comfortable as a staff and everybody has been adjusting."

The changes aren't necessarily the kind that would smack the average fan in the face. We're talking subtle changes in how the Red Sox' execute shifts. Many of the spring training meetings are being pushed back to later in the morning instead of right out of the gate at 8 a.m. ("We were like, 'Why at 8?' Our first meeting is at 9:30 as a team. 8 a.m. meetings. Nah. We're not doing that," Cora said.) And the hitting philosophy has been to prioritize being more aggressive earlier in the count. Bus times. Starting pitchers' schedules. It has been a lot in relatively a short amount of time.

And then there is how the Red Sox are preparing for games.

The Red Sox have turned their process of getting ready for opponents inside-out, flooding the coaching staff with a new level of analytics. (For more on that dynamic, click here.) This is a big change, and with big changes comes the challenge of making the transition as seamless as possible.

"It's fair to say it's a work in progress and that doesn't mean we're going to be bad," Cora said. "The information we're going to have is enough. But there is more stuff going on with [analytics boss Zack Scott], [advance scouting coordinator Steve Langone] and (advance scouting assistant J.T. Watkins]. When we get it right, we've got it."

"We've had a lot of changes with those type of things," added Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. "I talked to [owners] John Henry and Tom Werner about these type of things, that we were going to make some additions with our analytical staff, we're going to make an addition with the Ramon Vazquez position because we need to give Alex what he needs to be successful. So what really our focus was starting right away when he was available was start working on those things so we would be ready for the season. He's met a lot with Zack Scott and the analytical department and the advance scouting people.

"We're changing our advance report. We're changing our shifting process. We want that to be ready, so we have always been looking forward to making sure we have that ready for Opening Day. We want to make whatever possible adjustments we possibly can to be ready for the beginning of the season. This started back in November once Alex was hired so we can have it ready for Opening Day. Really when you have this many guys in camp as part of the overall program on a daily basis, it's hard to do too much early just because you have too many players. But now as we get to the end you want to implement all the things you want to do. We'll be ready for Opening Day."

Any confusion that might have been part of the turnover is seemingly subsiding. You can see that in such little things as questions about the schedule, or knowing what base to cover when in certain shifts. And, most importantly, the players are starting to understand why these changes are being made.

This evolution is clearly a long way from those days of watching a wave of Cody Ross bat flips on the clubhouse monitors for two months. (They're still trying to figure out that one.)

"It's constant communication," Cora said. "You have to make sure everything is perfect."

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