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Evaluating Chris Woodward’s first year as Rangers skipper

Photo: Klay Kuban/Dallas Sports Fanatic

Evaluating Chris Woodward’s first year as Rangers skipper

In early November of last year, the Texas Rangers hired a first-time manager Chris Woodward. He had spent the previous three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers after his three seasons in the Mariners’ organization. The goal of the hiring was to bring a younger manager who familiarizes himself with the analytical side that baseball grooved this past decade, and Woodward was the best candidate. A critique on the Rangers was their old-school style, and while that worked in the early 2010s, the technology and analytics had infiltrated the game of baseball as the decade wore on. Before we all knew it, information spewed left and right on hitters, pitchers, and team tendencies. Clubs like the Dodgers and Astros were ahead of the game, and their success shows it. After this year, the Rangers are on their way to share the success. 

Offensively, the coaching staff taught the process of swing evaluation. It’s not to evaluate the swing itself, but evaluating if the hitter made an excellent decision in swinging at that pitch. The goal is to create longer at-bats and have hitters generate more favorable counts resulting in better pitches to hit. Overall, the Rangers are second in MLB in pitches per plate appearance (4.05) and only one of four teams that average four pitches or more per at-bat. Yes, certain hitters needed tweaks in their swing, but the main concern was hitters chasing certain pitches out of the zone.

Woodward mentioned to me a few times, on separate occasions, that the results on the stat sheet don’t necessarily equate to a positive or negative evaluation. Same thing when it comes to the pitching staff. Pitcher’s repetitiveness gets exposed in the analytics, which creates an issue, especially seeing an opponent multiple times throughout the year. Bottom line, Chris Woodward brought a new style to the game that the franchise hasn’t seen. Most players bought into the analytical method during Spring Training while others are still going through an adjustment period. 

What’s the consensus on Chris Woodward? How do the players feel about him? I spoke to Lance Lynn last week on Woodward’s first season as Rangers’ skipper. In his career, Lynn played for managers like Paul Molitor, Aaron Boone, Mike Matheny, and Tony La Russa. “The good thing is [Woody is] just like all of them, and they’ve had success in this league, and you’re seeing what he’s bringing to the table.” Lance added, “He just like the rest of them. [He’s] easy to approach, good with the guys, really good with the new age of baseball. [He’s] trying to implement it the best way we can to be the best we can so if we keep learning with him, we’re going to be in a good spot.”

Meanwhile, Hunter Pence brought up how Woodward’s progressive style and how the information can improve himself as a player. It’s a different style than from managers like Charlie Manuel, Phil Garner, and Bruce Bochy, who Pence played for in his career. 

If there’s one thing I evaluated from Chris Woodward this season, it’s his straightforwardness from day one. He doesn’t flip flop, he doesn’t sugar coat anything and is one-hundred percent the same person as he was on day one. He has a plan, and his determination in executing that plan makes it clear to the players and the media without refining any of it. Each guy knows where he stands on the club and with the skipper which makes players feel that comfort day in and day out. Even during hard times, Woodward showed the honestly. For example, when the Rangers sent down Willie Calhoun on July 16th, Woodward flat out said, “He has every right to say you’ve given up on me or punishing me and he’s not wrong for assuming that because he’s going to AAA.” Woody not only understands the trend of game today but understands his players, a quality not all managers have.

In talking with some of the Rangers players, the one trait that came up often was Woody’s upfront personality. Ronald Guzman told me that Woodward was “Crystal clear and he’s been the same guy since I met him.” The manager made questionable decisions, and every single move the team made didn’t result in success. However, there was an explanation provided each time, and Woodward is always clear to his players each time. Mistakes are going to occur, especially with a first-time skipper.

How would one judge Woody’s first year as Rangers manager? He told me the players are fighting as hard now as they were to start of the season. While the results, on paper, may not show that, I genuinely agree this team has more fight in their game than last season. The series against the Tampa Bay Rays in the last home stand proved this. Although all three games ended within two runs, a Rangers team out of the playoff chase went toe-to-toe with a Rays club coming off a five-game winning streak and that is potentially headed for the postseason. The offense blasted through a relief core that was dynamite all season. The young crew showed resiliency (a standard description from Woody) where last year the team looked defeated from inning one in most games down the stretch. 

Chris Woodward and the Rangers are nowhere near the ultimate goal, and 2019 is just a start. The Rangers’ run to an improbable postseason came short due to offensive struggles and some severe injuries, but overall it was a step in the right direction (despite the late September scuffle). I believe it’ll be a smooth transition into the offseason with uncertainties gone (in regards to who the skipper is), and the club has a plan in place with free-agent acquisitions. The biggest challenge a new skipper has when he takes over is earning the trust of his players, and the players indeed bought into the plan. Rangers’ fans, you have a winner in Chris Woodward. He wants to bring a World Series title to DFW just as bad as you the fans want to.

Credentialed Media Staff Writer covering the Texas Rangers for Dallas Sports Fanatic | 2014 University of North Texas graduate with a Bachelor's in Radio, Television, and Film. I talk about things. Find me on the tweeter @aplinckTX

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