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How Tim Hyers and Alex Cora have helped improve the offense

The new aggressive approach continues to pay off.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Minnesota Twins Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Much was made in the offseason about the departure of hitting coach Chili Davis and how new hitting coach Tim Hyers and manager Alex Cora were going to overhaul the team’s approach. The offense seemingly needed some sort of change after finishing 27th in baseball with just 168 home runs and 10th in baseball with 785 runs scored. By wRC+ the team rated 22nd in the majors with a mark of 92 solidifying what we all saw—this was a below-average offense.

Fast forward to 2018 and with the addition of J.D. Martinez and a new approach, courtesy of the new coaches, this team is crushing the ball. With 82 games played the team is currently second in baseball with 118 home runs, trailing only the Yankees. The club is also ranked second in baseball in runs scored with 422, this time trailing only the World Series champion Astros—a historically great offense last season. Lastly, the Red Sox offense is third in wRC+ at 112 behind only the Astros and Yankees confirming that this is indeed an elite unit.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The goal was clear from the time Cora and Hyers were brought to the organization—more aggression was needed. In a March interview with the Boston Globe, Hyers said “We just need to take advantage early in counts and be more aggressive and not give away free strikes. Put some fear in some pitchers.” The team has taken this advice to heart and every member of the Red Sox lineup is being more aggressive. It’s not the only factor for the newfound success — it was always fair to expect improvements from many hitters in the lineup and Martinez is obviously a huge addition — but for most, the new approach is certainly aiding in career years. Here is what I found.

Note 1: Numbers are through Wednesday’s action.

Note 2: Numbers are from Fangraphs

Note 3: O-Swing% is the rate at which a batter swings at pitches out of the zone. Z-Swing% is the rate at which a batter swings at pitches in the zone.

Red Sox Plate Discipline

Player 2017 O-Swing% 2018 O-Swing% 2017 Z-Swing% 2018 Z-Swing% 2017 Swing % 2018 Swing % O-Swing% difference Z-Swing% difference Swing% difference
Player 2017 O-Swing% 2018 O-Swing% 2017 Z-Swing% 2018 Z-Swing% 2017 Swing % 2018 Swing % O-Swing% difference Z-Swing% difference Swing% difference
Andrew Benintendti 29% 28.50% 64.50% 70.30% 44% 45.60% -0.5 5.8 1.6
J.D. Martinez 32.10% 33.20% 76.40% 80% 51.40% 51.70% 1.1 3.6 0.3
Mookie Betts 22.10% 19.30% 53.80% 59.60% 36% 36.40% -2.8 5.8 0.4
Xander Bogaerts 32.80% 31.20% 53% 62.70% 41.90% 44.40% -1.6 9.7 2.5
Mitch Moreland 30.20% 29% 69.30% 72.70% 46.40% 47.20% -1.2 3.4 0.8
Brock Holt 22.30% 19.80% 55.20% 58.10% 37.40% 38.40% -2.5 2.9 1
Rafael Devers 36.10% 37.20% 68.60% 77.30% 50.70% 53.80% 1.1 8.7 3.1
Jackie Bradley Jr. 30% 27.40% 67.90% 71.60% 47.10% 46.50% -2.6 3.5 -0.6
Christian Vazquez 32.20% 34.90% 57.50% 66.90% 44.30% 49.10% 2.7 9.4 4.8
Eduardo Núñez 39.60% 41.90% 70% 71.60% 53% 53.90% 2.3 1.6 0.9
Sandy León 32.40% 33.50% 62.50% 65.40% 45.40% 46.10% 1.1 2.9 0.7

Here are the big takeaways. Everyone on the team increased their rate of swings at pitches in the zone. This means the Red Sox are, as a whole, being more aggressive vs good pitches to hit. Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Mitch Moreland, Brock Holt, and Jackie Bradley Jr. have all also reduced the amount they are swinging at pitches outside of the zone. All of those players aside from Jackie Bradley Jr. are enjoying career-best seasons at the plate. Bradley Jr. is the only one of those players not having a career season, and he is also the only one who hasn’t increased his overall swing rate.

The biggest beneficiary of this new, more aggressive approach has been Bogaerts, who was the poster child for passivity at the plate last season. The shortstop has increased his swings at pitches in the zone by a whopping 9.7 percentage points from last season. As a result Bogaerts is enjoying the best year of his career offensively. It is worth noting that Betts and Benintendi each increased this mark by 5.8 percentage points and are also enjoying career-best seasons.

No one aside from J.D. Martinez has shown an ability to succeed offensively with a while swinging at pitches outside the zone at rate of greater than 31.2%. Martinez has a freakishly strong understanding of where and when to attack pitches both in and out of the zone and has the rare ability to do damage on both. It is clear from looking at these numbers that this new approach benefits players who have a more discerning eye at the plate. Leon, Nunuez, Vazquez, and Devers seem to be swinging more regardless of pitch location.

The most curious case here is certainly Bradley Jr. who has decreased his swings at pitches outside the zone while increasing his swings at those inside the zone. JBJ has also made more contact at pitches inside the zone and is hitting the ball harder than ever according to Statcast average exit velocity. What we do know is JBJ is pulling the ball more than ever this season which is making him easier to shift on. That being said, it is fair to expect his numbers to positively regress with a career low .256 BABIP.

Overall, Hyers and Cora took a group over very talented and selective hitters and asked them to be more aggressive against good pitches eliminating what Cora calls “bad takes.” For those on the team with a good eye at the plate this is working out wonderfully, but for players like Devers and Vazquez who are still learning the strike zone it hasn’t been great. I expect that overtime Devers will be able to adjust his approach to find more balance in his aggression. I remain a bit unsure that Vazquez, Leon, and Nunez have the eye to make this work. Still, it’s hard not to call the new more aggressive approach a resounding success.