First-year Rangers manager Chris Woodward may not be headed for the postseason this season, but he’s already thinking big about the future.
During a recent visit to Yankee Stadium, Woodward sat down with MLB.com to answer a variety of questions, ranging from next season’s goals to his team playing in a new ballpark in 2020. Here are the highlights.
MLB.com: How would you describe your first season as a manager?
Woodward: It has been good. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed the difficulty of trying to create a new culture, setting a new culture, bringing a whole list of new processes and ideas. I enjoy the idea of leading an organization -- not because I love the spotlight or love being on the top; I just feel there is a better way of doing things, better way of treating people and collaborating with people around me.
MLB.com: The team has a chance to finish above .500, which would be an improvement from last year (67-95). Does that mean anything to you?
Woodward: Yeah, absolutely. I tell our guys all the time, “I don’t care what our roster looks like -- how young it looks, who we have on our roster -- I expect to win.” We do everything we can to win a game every day, regardless who the opponent is. … I try to create higher expectations in every way. I was trying to preach the idea that I don’t care what the experts say we should be, let’s prove them wrong. If we finish over .500, it would surprise people, but I want to create a culture of winning in that locker room.
MLB.com: What was your most pleasant surprise this year?
Woodward: We have had a lot of them. You look at the pitching side with what Mike Minor has done. He is one of the best pitchers in baseball all year. Lance Lynn, I think we expected him to be pretty good. … You look at what some of our bullpen guys have done. We called up guys like Rafael Montero. They have done really well.
Offensively, the steps that Joey Gallo has taken have been a big boost for us [before he was placed in the injured list]. He is almost a 1.000 OPS guy. He is a pretty legitimate threat, All-Star this year. So those things are really cool.
Hunter Pence didn’t have a great year last year, but he really transformed himself to be successful. The leadership he has shown in the clubhouse has been phenomenal. Shin-Soo Choo has had a great year.
MLB.com: What do you want to see the Rangers improve on next year?
Woodward: I would say everything, honestly. There isn’t one thing in particular. I think offensively, [we should] continue to understand the importance of production as far as staying in the strike zone, limiting our chases [out of the zone]. We struck out quite a bit this year, but the guys are working. They are trying to understand the importance of information, using it, from a swing mechanics standpoint.
I think baserunning-wise, we have been phenomenal. We have done a good job defensively. There are some holes we can clean up and get a little bit better at.
Pitching-wise, we have some really good arms, so we have to make sure we can actually execute pitches consistently and be able to get out the best lineups in baseball with the stuff that our guys have.
MLB.com: You played Major League Baseball for 12 years. What did you learn as a manager that you didn’t know as a player?
Woodward: A lot. I played 19 years professionally. I tell our guys all the time, “Up until that last day, I was trying to figure things out.” I was that kind of player that was always grinding and trying to learn and grow. The things that were brought to my attention after I was done playing blew my mind -- [like] the amount of information that you can use to your advantage.
There are things about the swing I didn’t understand. It’s pretty astounding to see the number of advantages we can apply that I didn’t know about when I played, which I have no regrets about. But I’m not going to let our players go back to that old-school mindset. [I want them] to learn and understand some of the newer levels of thinking [in baseball]. I try to make sure I present that to our players and say, “Listen, this is all designed for your benefit. We are trying to maximize you as an individual, as a human being. We are trying to maximize every part of you, and we have a staff that’s amazing at it.”
MLB.com: I get the impression you believe in analytics.
Woodward: Yeah. I just believe in truth. … I’m an old-school soul at heart with an engineer’s mind. When you look at the game now, you can use all these numbers to your advantage. That’s what I want to get our players to understand. All of these numbers in analytics are not scary. We will take the ones that are important and help you understand why that is important for you. If your swing percentage is [low], then you are going to fail. You cannot sustain success if you do those things. The more they understand it, the more they don’t get scared of it, they actually want more of it. We can dig a little deeper with analytics.
The opponent is using numbers against you. You may as well use them back against them. If you don’t, you are at a disadvantage.
MLB.com: You are from California. How is the heat in Texas?
Woodward: It’s hot. In some ways we get acclimatized to it, so you get used to it a little bit. But I would say, overall, it’s a disadvantage for us, because we get tired faster because of the heat. It’s 105 degrees some days with 100 percent humidity. It wears them down. Next year we are going to be in a new ballpark with a roof. So we [will be] able to do things on the field, practice wise, that we couldn’t do the last 25 years.
MLB.com: Like what, for example?
Woodward: If we want to do extra work on the field before a game, we can’t do that right now. It’s too hot. They are going to physically burn out. Once you get out on that heat and you start [practicing], it takes a lot out of you. So they are hurting themselves for games. We have batting cages [indoors], but there is more stuff we are able to do on the field in a more climate-controlled environment, which will help us.
MLB.com: I can see why you're already so optimistic about next season.
Woodward: I got this job to create a championship mentality. I always tell our guys, “Champions do more in everything they do.” The more these guys are aware of how important every little thing is, we are gaining an advantage in every way possible. That’s on us as a staff. That’s on me as a manager to provide that for them. If they do that and we have talented players, we will win. I love expectations. I want expectations. I want our guys to embrace that and not be scared of it.