The specific change the Red Sox are looking for from their pitchers

Rob Bradford
October 09, 2019 - 7:05 am
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It's always a dangerous proposition to start heaping blame on the coaches for the players' failures. But this is also part of the deal when it comes to trying to fix what ails an underachieving team.

Players have big contracts that can't be moved while coaches are easily moved on from. This was a lesson we were reminded of Tuesday when the Red Sox reassigned Dana LeVangie.

The success that LeVangie had during the 2018 season might have led to some surprise when it came to the transaction, but knowing the dynamic that exists from year to year -- as was evident in Milwaukee after its successful 2018 campaign, when the Brewers moved on from three coaches -- it couldn't have been that much of a shock.

But for better or worse there is more to the coaching staff alterations than just keeping up appearances. Organizations these days are desperately trying to stay ahead of the ever-changing curve in baseball with the latest move serving as another example of that. More than ever folks in the game believe different times call for different approaches, even if we're talking about a span of 365 days.

Suddenly the skill-set of Triple-A pitching coach Kevin Walker or Pitching Development Analyst Dave Bush might be prioritized over what LeVangie brought to the table.

The macro view of the change in approach is a more cohesive implementation of analytics, as was detailed by Alex Speier in his excellent piece Tuesday. But according to sources, there is undeniably one part of the Red Sox pitchers' philosophy that the organization believes needs to be adjusted: It's time to start reintroducing more pitches into the heart of the plate.

Start attacking the strike zone and then expand to the edges instead of beginning on the edges and venturing out even more from there.

The impetus for the previous approach was clear. The Red Sox identified the new mindset of hitters, not wanting to play into this new ultra-aggressive mentality.

"There's no 2-0 fastball I'm trying to get over. Even an 0-0 fastball. Even a 3-0 fastball. You'll be asking for a new ball," said Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes when appearing on the Bradfo Sho podcast. "We're trying to make things look like a strike and not be a strike which is incredibly hard to do.

"There's no such thing as a get-me-over-breaking ball. There's no such thing as a get-ahead fastball. Everything you throw has to be almost 100 percent or it has to be a kill pitch. You can't risk throwing something not lazy in the zone but a quality pitch in the zone."

Asked if the change was dramatically different than the year before Barnes' answer was quick and succinct. "Yes," he responded.

But the thought now is that perhaps the Red Sox' pitchers went too much to the extremes.

Thanks to BaseballSavant.com, we can get an idea of what we're talking about, both the good and bad:

- The Red Sox totaled the second-most strikeouts, but also the second-most walks. (Conversely, the Astros had the most strikeouts but the second-fewest walks. That is obviously what the Sox are aspiring to.)

- The Red Sox were 25th in the majors in terms of the percentage of pitches placed in the heart of the strike zone on the first pitch.

- The Red Sox threw the most balls in baseball.

- The Red Sox finished with the most called strikes.

- The Red Sox induced the third-most swings and misses and the most foul balls.

- The Red Sox had the sixth-highest batting average against when pitching in the heart of the strike zone.

- The Red Sox totaled the second-most batters faced. (Houston and the Dodgers squared off with the least.)

The moral of the story is that the Red Sox' pitchers were trying to do what others very successful teams were attempting but it wasn't translating the same way. That led to a lot of free passes and a perceived lack of trust of stuff when it came to jumping into a pitcher's count. The Red Sox' new message: It's time to trust in your stuff.

There will be other desired changes -- with better health being at the top of the list -- but this sort of change in approach is clearly very much a priority.