Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as if the fact that the Red Sox have essentially an entirely new coaching staff has been an underrated storyline this winter. It will surely be a bigger story as spring training begins, and it’s true that we don’t really know how to quantify the impact of baseball coaches on a team, but the new faces in the dugout are going to have an impact on the Red Sox. There’s been a lot of talk — much of it from me — about expected improvement from a lot of Red Sox players in 2018. That’s been construed to come in the form of regression to the mean, and that will certainly be a factor. However, the new coaches — and presumably new and fresh approaches that are brought in with them — will have at least as big of an impact on said improvement. Obviously, we have no idea exactly what kind of strategies and ideas these coaches will bring, but we can assume there will be some impact, good or bad. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the players who stand to gain the most from a new set of coaches in the dugout. I’m sure there are plenty of players who won’t be mentioned that should, so you can yell at me in the comments about those guys.
I think there are a lot of hitters who stand to benefit from a new approach at the plate, and just generally new voices around the batting cage, but Bogaerts is perhaps the most obvious. The reasons have been covered here and many other places over the last couple months, but it’s worth going over them again. First and foremost is the new aggressive approach Alex Cora hopes to implement with the team. Too often last year, Bogaerts (and others in the lineup) were far too passive early in counts. That, in turn, led to pitchers pounding the strike zone to start at bats and putting Bogaerts (and others) behind on a consistent basis. Of course, that led to bad strikeouts and worse contact. By being ready to swing — and swing hard — at any point in an at bat we should see something closer to the version of Bogaerts we’ve always expected, even if that full version never comes. A full bill of health will surely be part of any rebound from the Red Sox shortstop if a rebound comes, but a new strategy when he’s digging in at the plate will also play a role.
This is another thing I’ve mentioned before, so I won’t go too deeply into it. Devers will certainly benefit from some coaching for his hitting — I believe he’s a great natural hitter, of course, but everyone can use some coaching — but his defense could see the most impact. Brian Butterfield was one of the most respected defensive coaches in baseball, but that doesn’t mean Boston’s infield defense is doomed. Alex Cora was an accomplished defensive infielder himself, and should play a role in helping all of the infielder. Additionally, Carlos Febles is taking over as the infield coordinator. That should specifically help Devers, as the two already have a rapport from their time together in Portland last year. There’s also the fact that players are said to love Febles, and that’s always a positive for someone who is seen by some as something of a personal coach for the youngest impact player on the roster.
The hitters dominate the discussion of players who stand to improve in 2018, and it makes sense given how poor they were compared to Boston’s pitchers. That being said, I think some new coaching can impact the pitchers, too. Eduardo Rodriguez seems to be the most obvious candidate to improve here as he’s one of the most frustrating pitchers in recent memory. He’s still young, but we’re reaching the point where a player largely becomes who he is. When Rodriguez is on, we know he can be a really good mid-rotation arm who you have no problem starting in a playoff game. The issue is that he hasn’t been that guy consistently. I’ve harped on this throughout his career, but Rodriguez is at his best when he’s not leaning too heavily on his fastball but instead is feeling confident in both his slider and his changeup in the same outing. Obviously, that is easier said than done but a priority Dana LeVangie and Brian Bannister — a couple of old faces in higher positions — should be to make Rodriguez a more complete pitcher on a consistent basis.
Drew Pomeranz/Chris Sale
Pomeranz and Sale were Boston’s two best pitchers last year, and they don’t really need much help in terms of succeeding on the mound. As long as they stay the course they should be as successful. The team does, however, need to make a plan to keep both players fresh late into the season after both were noticeably fatigued in September and October. Whether it mean leaning more on rotation depth to work in extra rest days, different workout routines, different off-day schedules or shorter outings, one of the biggest tasks facing the coaches in 2018 is figuring out a way to keep the team’s best pitchers from fading down the stretch.
Here, we have a fairly similar case to Rodriguez above. We’ve seen what a successful version of Porcello looks like, but we also saw the league adjust fairly swiftly and take advantage of a new flyball-oriented pitcher. I firmly believe that the 2016 Cy Young winner can succeed without leaning on groundballs, but clearly something needs to change from last season. Whether that mean he needs to switch up his repertoire to get the two-seamer back in the mix more often or work outside of the strike zone more than he has in recent years, Porcello getting closer to 2016 than 2017 would have a massive impact on whether the Red Sox have a good rotation or a great one.