When Chinatrust Brothers manager Cory Snyder accepted the invitation to come and coach Taiwan’s most iconic baseball team, he knew there would be challenges. Not only did he have to adapt to new players and a new coaching staff, but also the challenges of living in Asia for the first time. Snyder is taking it all in, however, and is really enjoying it so far.
“The culture, I love the culture,” the native of Inglewood, California, said before a game on April 9. “I’m not here to change a culture, I’m just here to embrace the culture, find out the goods and the bads, what they like to do and don’t like to do, and try to input my suggestions to help create a better atmosphere.”
Snyder has also been very impressed with the Brothers organization and has nothing but praise for the fans.
“This is a great organization with great people running it. Outstanding owner who really cares about the players, cares about the community and cares about Taiwan. The fans are unbelievable. Win or lose, they still root you on, so it’s nice that there’s no pressure here. I mean, just in general for all the teams, but the Brothers fans have been unbelievable. It’s just fun to come out every day and see them cheering for us. So it’s been a great experience so far.”
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There have, of course, been difficulties. Besides the usual challenges that a new coach faces when trying to instill his system and ideas onto a new team, for Snyder, there’s also the issue of not speaking the same language as the majority of his players.
“Always when you go to a new country it’s the communication. Just making sure that what you’re saying is being translated the right way. With the right tone, with the right emphasis, all those kinds of things. I think that’s always the challenge when you go to different places. I had the same challenge last year in Mexico,” the 54-year-old said, referring to managing Pericos de Puebla to the Mexican Baseball League championship in 2016.
Through roughly the first month of the season, Snyder has his team at 7-10 and in third place, 4.5 games out of first. Expectations are high for the Brothers and their fans, especially considering this is a team that has reached the Taiwan Series in each of the past three seasons. But Snyder brings with him a new philosophy and a new coaching style, perhaps one that the players weren’t used to.
“I’m kind of a player’s manager, meaning I want these players to take ownership of their game. I give them enough freedom to go out there and get themselves ready for games and play hard,” he said when asked about his coaching style. “That’s what I expect them to do every day so that’s kind of what I do. I mean, it’s really fun as a manager sometimes to just sit back and watch them play. And when they do that, things go well.”
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Though he's enjoying himself in Taiwan, Snyder’s first taste of the CPBL hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing. Chinatrust stumbled out of the gate to begin the regular season, losing seven of its first nine games, and it was obvious to even the most casual of fans that poor defense and a struggling bullpen were to blame on most nights.
Through the first nine games of the season, the Brothers committed 12 errors as a team, or 1.33 errors per game, even though defense was a key point for Snyder and his coaching staff during spring training.
“You know, spring training was really good. I implemented a lot of drills. My emphasis was on defense and pitching, and that’s why I brought on Rick Waits as a pitching coach. He’s a great friend of mine, great pitching coach. But defensively we did a lot of drills during spring training and we showed that we can play really good defense. The last four games [of spring training] I think we only had one or two errors. So I know what we can do, I believe in these guys. But again, when the season starts, it’s hard because the lights come on and sometimes they revert back to their old habits because they’ve been used to doing them for so long. The last couple of games we’ve played some pretty solid defense, so it’s just staying positive with them and working on the drills that we worked on in spring training.”
The Brothers are showing signs of improving defensively, so perhaps all that spring training work is starting to pay off. In the last seven games, the Brothers have made just five errors, for an average of 0.71 errors per game.
As for the bullpen, it was just about the rockiest start to a season you could possibly imagine, allowing a staggering 32 earned runs over its first 27.1 innings pitched. Another way to look at it would be that the bullpen had an ERA of 10.54 over its first nine games.
“I’ve been talking to them and watching them. Last year, you know, they got hit pretty hard. So it’s kind of a fear factor when they get out there. They know they’re going to get hit hard. So it’s trying to get them to focus on just not strikes, but trying to get them to focus on quality strikes. I mean, this league can hit. I don’t know if I’ve been in a league before where our pitcher makes a mistake and they barrel up and hit the ball every single time. It’s unbelievable how hard they hit the ball. And the percentage is so high. Even the big leagues, they at least foul it back or pop it up every once in awhile and that’s not happening right now. It’s kind of the baseball thing: When things are going good, our balls fall in and they pop ‘em up. When things are going rough, they barrel everything up and we swing and hit a line drive right at somebody. So, it’s baseball, it’s part of the game. We’re just trying to stay positive with them and get them to focus on making more quality strikes, making good pitches, and hopefully, slowly, it will come around.”
The Brothers bullpen certainly seems to be responding to Snyder and Waits’ focus on positivity. Over the past seven games, the relievers have given up just 13 earned runs in 30.1 innings pitched, good for a respectable ERA of 3.86.
Perhaps the most important part of the bullpen is closer Chen Hung-Wen. Once feared as one of the most dominant relievers in the league, No. 17 struggled last season with eight blown saves in the regular season and another in the deciding game of the Taiwan Series. He was also on the mound for two late-game losses for Chinese Taipei at the World Baseball Classic in March.
“He lost some confidence. And I think when you lose confidence as a closer, as soon as you come in the game the other team is like ‘oh, we’ve got him now’. It’s that shift. So we just have to let him know that he’s our closer, he’s our guy. Just go out there and do the best you can and not be fearful of what’s going to happen. Sometimes the pitchers get out there and they’re afraid of the results and what happens instead of focusing on quality pitches. His last two or three outings, he’s gaining confidence. Rick and I talk to him every day about what he needs to do. He needs to lead this team, he needs to be the leader of the bullpen, and he’s willing to take that on himself. So, he’s having good outings. I trust him, he’s the guy. We just have to keep pushing him and keep putting him in situations where he can succeed and do good things.”
Chen seems to be regaining some of that swagger that made him one of the league’s best in recent years. After giving up four earned runs in his first appearance of the season, and then two more earned runs over his next two games, Chen has settled down and has allowed just two earned runs over his last 6.1 innings, a span which has included four clean appearances in six attempts. Snyder has noticed a difference in his closer and he sees the confidence returning as well.
“He’s got the demeanor of ‘this is my mound, this is my field, and you know what, I’m not going to let you take it from me’. And we’re trying to instill that attitude of ‘this is my game and you’re not going to take it from me. I’m gonna go get it’. He’s getting that back slowly. I don’t think he’s all the way back, but he’s getting better and better. That’s the thing about closers: When you have a rough day, usually you lose the game. And it takes a closer that is mentally strong to understand that ‘hey, you know what it’s going to happen, it just happened, but I’m going to be out there tomorrow so I need to figure out how I’m going to get up for that’.”
It comes as no surprise that with better defense and better results from the bullpen, the Brothers are finding more success in the win column as well. Since beginning the year 2-7, the team has won five of eight and could find itself back near the top of the league standings with a few wins this week.
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Snyder knows baseball. He played parts of nine seasons in the MLB, the majority of those with the Cleveland Indians. He has also coached at many different levels, including the independent leagues, the minor leagues and in Mexico. And one thing he knows is that the Chinatrust Brothers are a talented team. But something has been missing in the past few years as the team just can’t seem to get it done in the Taiwan Series when it matters most. Snyder is hoping that proper preparation and conquering the mental aspect of the game will put them over the top in 2017.
“The players here are good. Talent wise, we have some really good players. They can swing it, they can throw the ball. It’s just getting them prepared. Preparing, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, here or the States, you have to prepare mentally every day. The ones who make it and succeed and do well at the big league level are mentally strong. So it’s just reinforcing that and making sure that when they struggle what the problem is and trying to help them get through it.”
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Here are some other quotes from the conversation I had with Cory Snyder.
On his expectations of the CPBL
I was in Mexico last year, and it wasn’t quite as good as I thought it was going to be. But here I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Talent wise, they’re really good here. They swing the bat, they’ve got some good arms, they have some impact hitters, and they play good defense. So it’s a very competitive league and I’ve been very surprised and it’s been fun so far.
On adapting to a new team and new culture
I’m not hard headed. There’s not one way to do everything. That way, you can adapt to a lot of things. There are certain ways but it’s just getting through to players. With the coaches, it’s been great. All of the coaches have been outstanding. I think that’s been the difference. In the past, you sometimes have a manager where it his way or the highway. So it’s been kind of a change for the coaches because they’re used to not saying anything and now I’m asking them for their advice, for their opinions. So it’s kind of hard bringing that out of them but I think it’s getting better as we go through it.
On the biggest change he’s had to make to his coaching style
The hardest thing for me is the time. We can’t get into the ballpark and they want us to leave really fast. So changing is trying to squish everything into this little time frame that they give us every day. That’s been the toughest. I’m still struggling with it and I probably will all year. It’s hard to get all your extra work in. Your early work, your extra hitting, your extra defense, it’s hard to get it in. It’s not like spring training where we had time to do all that. During the season, you get the one day off a week, and they don’t want to do anything on that day off, so the other day you need to cram everything into one day and it gets hard. Working on extra stuff one day a week is hard. You need to be able to do it two or three times a week. So that’s been the toughest challenge, figuring out how to get everyone condensed into that smaller time period that we have.
On Chou Ssu-Chi and Chang Cheng-Wei not playing very often to begin the season
[Chou Ssu-Chi] came along a long way in spring training. He’s doing a lot better out there. Also, Flower [Chang Cheng-Wei] is doing a lot better. So I’m moving them around just to kind of give them breaks. I’ve been around long enough where I know when they just mentally need a break. And I just try to make sure that I’m aware of that constantly. I don’t want to push them too hard. You know, baseball is baseball and trust me, I’ve broken a lot of bats up in tunnels. It can be a frustrating game because it is a hard game. I’ll never forget how hard it is. Just kind of finding when that time is that when he needs a mental break. I know [Chou] can play, I know he can hit. In spring training he was hurt for a lot of it, so he’s not physically where he wants to be. So I’m just trying to move him back into it slowly. I mean, he’ll be in the lineup again, he’ll be out there every night again. It’s just one of those things where you have to be aware of those things and try to get guys in there as much as possible.
On getting everyone into games as often as possible
If I can I try to at least get the majority of the bench guys in, or a start once a week or once every two weeks to get them into the game. If we’re way up or way down, like yesterday I got almost everyone on the bench in the game, whether they play defense or hit. Just so they don’t sit too long. I’m just not a fan of that. You know, you sit too long and then all of a sudden you pinch hit them and expect them to get a hit. This game’s too hard for that. So, I try to get them at-bats at least once or twice a week so they can at least get a feel for the game.
On the possibility of bringing up bullpen arms from the farm team
We’d like to. There are some good young players, but to be honest, two or three of them can’t come up until after July 1 anyway. But there are two or three guys who were up here last year that are down there working on some things. We just want to find guys that, you know, it’s not about getting people out, it’s about quality pitches and giving me quality outings. And getting them to understand what a quality outing is, and what it looks like. They’ve gotten hit so much over the last couple of years that they really don’t understand. They think that if they only give up two or three runs then that’s a quality outing, cause they’re used to giving up four or five. So it’s getting them to understand what a quality outing looks like, and hopefully, we can keep doing that.
Click here for a Mandarin Chinese version of this article, translated by Kris Wan.
Click here for a Mandarin Chinese version of this article, translated by Kris Wan.