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What makes up the Rangers’ manager Chris Woodward’s new philosophy?

Photo: Michael Lark

What makes up the Rangers’ manager Chris Woodward’s new philosophy?

Chris Woodward is getting a taste of the manager life. Woodward was one of six new skippers for their team in 2019 (Reds, Blue Jays, Angels, Twins, and Orioles). In the early run, players have a positive review for Chris Woodward. Rangers third baseman Asdrúbal Cabrera said after Sunday’s game against Oakland, “He has good communication with the players and that’s very important in keeping the clubhouse happy.” This spring, Woody introduced a mental approach to his players. How did he come up with that? Woodward said in Spring Training it’s a philosophy he didn’t use when he was playing and wished he did.

What does “Trust the Process” Mean?

That’s a fair question and not a simple answer. At the plate, the most common phrase is “swing and decision”. What this phrase implies is that the coaching staff assesses if the hitter executed a positive judgment in swinging at the pitch, despite the outcome.  For example, a player can smack a 100 MPH liner right to an infielder. Now does that mean it was a failure of an at-bat? On the stat sheet, it shows an 0 for 1, but in evaluating the swing and at-bat, the liner shows the hitter saw the ball well and made solid contact despite the out recorded. There’s a lot more pregame preparation and data involved on game day than in years past.

The trust aspect of the phrase relates to hitters committing that the adjustments they make will help in the long run, even if short-term at-bats don’t show the progress. The process part is eventually the end result. The hope of this coaching staff is that these players become more successful at the plate, and trust their judgement.

Have the Players Responded?

For the first two weeks of the season, I’ve noticed that the entire lineup used that specific mentality. Now, again the stat sheet may have other ideas, but clearly, the approach on the first homestand changed from last season. On that six-game homestand to start the season, the Rangers drew twenty-eight walks in six games against top-tier clubs (Cubs and Astros). In 2018, the Rangers didn’t draw their twenty-eighth walk until the eleventh game of the season.

The largest visual response came from Joey Gallo. Joey switched his approach from being more aggressive to passive early in the count, and it’s worked. Early on, Gallo lowered his first pitch swinging strike percentage by ten percent compared to last year. He’s also seen more pitches per at-bat and swung at fewer pitches. The result is what folks saw to start the season. In the passive approach, Joey dictates the count, meaning he’ll either A) get a good pitch to hit in the zone, or B) walk. If the pitcher wants to choose option A, Gallo zeroes in and the four home runs in the first nine games are the result. Now there is a downside to the passive approach, Gallo’s strikeout looking percentage increased by 20%. In 2018, 49 of his 207 strikeouts were looking. This season, 8 of his 19 are called third strikes.

Does this just apply at the plate?

Most of Woodward’s focus zeroes in on at the plate, or at least that’s the focus to the fans. However, the club’s focus area include approaches on defense and running the bases. In the first thirteen games of the season, the Rangers committed eight errors, and on pace for 100 errors on the season. It’s an improvement considering the club committed 120 errors a season ago, tops in the American League. The Rangers also stole nine bases in thirteen games, on pace for 112, 48 more than in 2018. Woodward aspires to bring out a more dynamic approach on the bases. He wants his players to strive to take the extra base, but also be more intelligent running the bases too.

Chris Woodward talked about how the baserunning is a vital aspect of the Rangers gameplan as well. “If they’re worried about baserunners and they’re pitching to Joey or Rougie, those guys are going to get better pitches to hit.  We’ve discussed at length with the guys that can run, we just can’t let off the gas when opportunities are presented. You see what can happen: it creates havoc.  Our whole system is based around creating havoc.”

Has it worked for the entire club offensively?

Look, it’s clear that this new semi-passive approach hasn’t translated to success for everyone on the team. A couple of Rangers have had slow starts in 2019, but that doesn’t mean that the new philosophy is a complete failure this early. Delino DeShields has started slowly in 2019, despite DeShields stating that he feels comfortable at the dish, and was given a positive review from his skipper. Delino’s results show in his last few games, hitting in five of his last twelve at-bats.

These players buy into this method, but the most influential task Woodward puts on his guys is consistency. Its one thing to trust the process when things move along nicely. It’s a whole other task to continue esteeming when you’re struggling at the plate. That is a tactic that Woodward and this staff are conveying to his guys. Woody even admits it’s remarkably difficult to do. Joey Gallo is another example. For the past week, he’s scuffled at the dish, and noticing that he’s chasing more pitches out of the zone. He’s still doing a nice job at laying off more pitches than last year, but at certain points in at-bats, he’ll be whiffing on a breaking ball out of the zone, something this staff is still working with him to improve on. Again, this is all the beginning of the process, or end result.

This process is not a perfect philosophy, and just so it’s clear there isn’t a perfect strategy to the game of baseball (trust me, if there were everybody would be doing it). It’s an unfair and frustrating game at times where every logical step to success performs, and yet no results translate. It’s a game of adjustments and how well a player can adapt in a chess match between him and the opposing pitcher/hitter. Isiah Kiner-Falefa talked about the mindset and vibe of this club, even with the departure of Beltre. “It’s awesome.  Everybody’s just kind of meshing together. We all have the same goal.  I think everybody here is tired of losing so everyone’s trying to go in the right direction.  We all have the same mindset, when it’s a collective ego like this, it’s going to be dangerous.”

I’ll say this; this is one of the most determined and unified Rangers groups I’ve seen; hungry for success, together as one. Or as the Rangers twitterverse puts it,

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. My baseball memory bank is dominated by the Texas Rangers with the other 29 franchises sprinkled in. In addition, I enjoy NFL Sunday afternoons and only the first NCAA tournament weekend.

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